I woke up one early August morning, and the colors in my room radiated a little brighter. It was if scales had fallen from my eyes; suddenly all of the shapes, sounds, and scents were more clearly defined. I started my day in typical fashion: I showered, ate, and slowly headed off to work. The air seemed to smell a little dirtier, and the morning commute moved a little faster. I parked at the diner and inhaled the brisk air. As I began setting up for the day, a quiet eeriness rested upon the street.
An hour passed, and I opened the door for the first customer. I had served him many times before; his name was Ralph. A dreadful terror came over me when I gazed and realized that he was draped in thin strips of cloth. He reeked of embalmment fluid and moved towards the counter with anxiety. Aside from these subtle characteristics, one could not have determined that he was dead; he clearly had learned how to move and interact among the living.
Ralph ordered his eggs and coffee and spoke his two cents about the weather and the economy. I engaged in the conversation (mostly because it was expected of me), but couldn’t help but be disturbed by the image in front of me. Strangely, I was able to recall that he had been dressed the same way before, yet I had not previously recognized his morbidity.
After a few customers ordered (some living and some dead), my first co-worker entered through the back door. Like Ralph, she approached the kitchen with fear. Her face was pale, and she demonstrated an attitude of longing as she gave me a hug. I had initially been happy to see her, as she typically made me feel valued; on this day, I couldn’t help but notice her ashy demeanor. We exchanged pleasantries, and steadily continued to fulfill our obligations.
All morning it was like this — one customer dressed in rags, another with a paradoxical glow. I couldn’t help but notice that the dead and living interacted with each other as if they were unaware, but my eyes were glued to the gravity of the situation. Like Ralph had earlier, they networked among each other as if there were no discernable differences. While I knew better than this, the silence of the other living bodies set precedence for my own reservations to speak.
Another co-worker clocked in as our lunch rush occurred, and I was greatly relieved at the warmth of his face. Because we had developed a good rapport with one another, I sheepishly inquired about the account of my morning:
“Shouldn’t we tell them that they’re dead?”
“Oh, no!” my co-worker exclaimed emphatically, as if to imply that I had crossed an unspoken line. “It is much better to pretend they are alive! What would be the good in confronting their state? Why… why, they would be miserable! Believe me, it is SOOO much better this way. Look now…doesn’t Doris look happy out there?”
“Oh…I wasn’t aware,” I replied suspiciously, as I watched Doris gaily share the story of her weekend with another customer at the bar.
My co-worker smiled. “Quite alright,” he continued, “you didn’t know. But it just wouldn’t do, you see…to create an unnecessary scene.”
Perhaps it was because I was seeing colors I had never seen before, but I could not shake the conviction that more could be done. What if the dead could also live? Gradually, I became deeply bothered by the words of my living co-worker — had I also been dead, wouldn’t I have wanted him to tell me?
It was nearing two o’ clock in the afternoon when my dead co-worker initiated conversation. She wanted to know if I smelled something. I didn’t know if I had the heart to tell her that it was the scent of her own skin, but I also figured that this might be an opportunity to get to the bottom of the mystery. I recognized that I risked bringing about deep pain, but I gingerly handed her a mirror and stepped aside for a response.
Immediately, she burst into a steady stream of tears. I tried to speak, but every intended word seemed empty. Rather, I placed a hand of solace on her shoulder. She proceeded to slowly shine the mirror on my own image. The blazing glow of my face was noticeably blinding to her, but her curiosity was peaked, and her frail heart became determined not to look away.
Without prior warning, a slight shade of pink began to appear in her cheek. The grave clothes slid away to reveal a shiny white dress underneath. The rest of the spectrum slowly followed, and as mysteriously as when I had woken up alive that morning, my co-worker began breathing with a rich, sweet aroma.
Encouraged by this fantastic turn of events, I began passing the mirror around to all of the dead that I could find. Astonishingly, many of the dead refused to look at the mirror, and many of the living refused to have their glow reflected. My revived co-worker and I did what we could — frantically trying to cast a glimpse of our own glimmer onto the bones of the Walking Dead. However, the task found itself to be daunting. We asked our other co-worker to help, but he was content to discuss the weather.
Consequently, 6 o’ clock soon rolled around, and it was time to end my day. I said goodbye to my last customer, locked the door, closed the shutters, and turned off the lights.