Keeping it Clean - E. D. James

The stainless steel table gleamed beneath the bright examination room lights. The cranes body was stretched out in the center. It’s feathers gleamed from the cleaning it had been given when it was brought in from the field. The cranes body appeared shrunken to Olivia. She couldn’t tell if it was because it had lost weight due to its illness or if it was merely fact that its death had emptied it of the vitality of life. She photographed the body from several angles, focusing especially on the areas around the cranes beak and anus that were reddened by some unknown irritant.

After she had finished photographing the basic condition of the body she pulled on a mask and latex. She lay the crane on its back and positioned the light so that its breast and torso were brightly illuminated. She picked up a scalpel from the table to her right and then paused for a moment with blade just above the feathers. There was something about cutting into a wild creatures body that always disturbed Olivia. She knew it was irrational. She would chop a roasted chicken with a cleaver without flinching. She loved carving a turkey, carefully cutting the breast meat from the bone and separating the drumstick and thigh with a knife that cut through the tendons and popped the joint of bones apart. But there was something about violating the body of an creature that had been wild and free that was different from preparing a domesticated animal for dinner.

She slit the bird from the neck to the anus, laying it open. She used towels that she placed along its sides to keep its blood from dripping onto the floor. She reached into the body cavity and carefully felt each of the major organs. As she worked her way from the heart and lungs down to the gizzard and intestine she moved from a place where she was wondering why the bird had died to wondering how it stayed alive for so long. The digestive tract was looked as if it had been eaten away by some microscope swarm of piranha.