“Preservation in Love,” by Jami Fairleigh

Apr 20th, 2021 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Mishaps with preserved brains are not uncommon. What most people probably don’t know is how often pickled grey matter can interfere with romantic plans. My name is Willoby Walling and I am currently hiding in a steel cabinet. As I am wearing my second-best shoes, you can be assured that hiding in a cabinet, steel or otherwise, was not part of my plan when I awoke this morning.

My day started ordinarily enough, excepting for the flight of my alarm clock out my bedroom window. Disgruntled, I hastened through my morning toilet, confounded by what I should wear. As the Assistant Head Mortuary Assistant, my typical attire includes slacks, loafers, a clip-on tie, and a humorous t-shirt. I take pride in the curation of my shirt collection; the emblazoned phrases and puns must strike the right note between irony and a respectful observance of the brevity of human life. Since my white laboratory coat covers my torso entirely, no one has found occasion to challenge the whimsy and jocularity that I bring to my workplace. But I digress.

My agony this morning was in wanting to strike the right tone with Miss Mirabelle May, the woman I hope to engage in courtship. Two days ago, while waiting in line for my morning snow cone, Mirabelle May cut in front of me. I did not yet know Mirabelle, so, with a sigh, I tapped on her shoulder.

She turned with a half-smile and said, “Yes?”

“As I was formerly at the end of the line, and am now again at the end, at the least you could defend your case.”

“My case? Is that all? I assumed you’d want my name and number.”

“I wasn’t planning to report you for cutting in line. A snow cone does not warrant that level of civil engagement.”

“I suppose the question I should then ask is to what level of villainy must I arise for you to snitch?”

“Madam!” I protested. “Do I look like a scurrilous fellow who’d priggishly tattle?”

“Miss,” she corrected. “Miss Maribelle May. Your shirt does suggest you like to announce facts.”

I looked at my shirt which read, “#1 Cause of Death: Too Many Birthdays” and then back at Maribelle May. At that moment I fell a little in love.

“My name is Willowby Walling and I would like to buy you a snow cone.”

“Thanks, no.” smiled Mirabelle. “I don’t consume ground foods.”

“Then why are you in line?”

“I like to queue,” she said, fluttering her lashes.

Emboldened, I said, “Join me for lunch on Thursday at the hospital. The cafeteria boasts famously long lines.”

“Will unground food be available?”

Having no idea what the cafeteria offered, I nodded with enough vigor that she acquiesced, and we agreed on a time. With an airy flip of her hand, she left before I realized I had failed to obtain her number.

I floated to work whence I found that a busload of elderly cutlery enthusiasts riding a casino shuttle had accidentally backed off a twenty-story parking structure. Even we in the morgue found the level of dismemberment of the recently-deceased astonishing. The Medical Examiner unequivocally cancelled our lunch breaks, personal appointments, and planned holidays until the backlog cleared. Furthermore, laboratory assistants from the State were to be brought in to help. Tasked with the cataloging of organs and limbs in an overcrowded morgue, my impending assignation with Maribelle slipped from mind and the happy day arrived with no way to postpone our scheduled rendezvous.

Thus, today I was faced with the perplexing task of how to dress for a romantic appointment that I would attend to cancel. With a harried grunt, I grabbed a navy shirt that proclaimed, “Future Corpse” and left the house. Skirting an astonishing amount of alarm clock debris, I proceeded to work without stopping for my customary breakfast snow cone.

I knew something was wrong upon arrival at my workplace. A single goggled and masked laboratory assistant, vaguely familiar, sat at a desk on the far side of the room. On the counter nearest stood glass jars numbered one through eighty. Each was half-filled with formaldehyde and approximately twenty were already occupied with human brains. The air hung strangely dead in the room. I donned my goggles and mask and went to check my assignment from the list. The clipboard was not hanging where it ought to be, and I stood awkwardly, hesitant to bother the lone worker with my question.

Without looking up, she called, “You, whoever you are, will assist me today with the weighing and preserving of brains.”

Respectfully I nodded and opened my organ catalog.

“Millicent Aaronson.”

I searched for Millicent’s drawer number and removed the brain. Calling out the weight in grams, I carried Millicent down the line of jars and found the empty jar labeled M. Aaronson. Carefully, I lowered the wrinkled tissue into the liquid.

We worked in concert for over an hour and I was carrying Amos Vyland toward his jar when she called, “Willowby Walling” which to me sounded like “Willow-bye Walling”.

“Willow-bee Walling,” I corrected automatically.


Did she mean to call my name? I certainly was not diseased and had no plans to relinquish my life or brain today, regardless of what my t-shirt said.

I peered at the woman and alarm bells rang in my head as I gazed into Mirabelle’s myopic safety goggles. We were separated by the merest wisp of a counter. I believe I fell mostly out of love right then because, without hesitation, I dropped poor Amos with an undignified plop and ran.

Concealed in a cabinet, I am flooded with ambivalence as I wait for my death. While I’m delighted to have set my eyes upon Miss Mirabelle May again, I am wholly unprepared to become a specimen floating in a glass jar. I regret not reading the labels on the first twenty-jars; I would have had a longer head start had I realized the brains had been donated by my former coworkers.

Polite knocking on the cabinet door signals that I have been found. I sigh and wait to be dragged into the light. I hope my brain will look dignified as it floats in its jar.

“Willowby, I’m afraid that I’m going to postpone our luncheon,” says Mirabelle, her voice muffled by the cabinet.

Postpone? My heart gladdens. Perhaps she’s not planning to remove and preserve my cerebrum today while I’m still using it.

“Oh?” I asked, trying for a nonchalant tone.

“As I parked my car this morning an alarm clock struck and cracked my windshield. My car is my darling and must be repaired tout de suite! I would have telephoned but I didn’t have your number. Are you free for lunch tomorrow?”


Jami Fairleigh is a writer, urban planner, and hobby collector from Washington. She is currently working on her first novel and shares her life with a husband, a trio of well-mannered horses, a pair of dubiously behaved parrots, and one neurotic dog. Her writing has been published by Terror House Magazine, Horror Tree, and Amsterdam Quarterly. You can find and follow her at https://jamifairleigh.com/ or https://twitter.com/jamifairleigh.

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