Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com
When you’ve been shut up in the house for five weeks with no visitors except a colony of ants determined to shelter in place in the kitchen cabinet, your attention tends to wander. At least that’s my excuse. Instead of writing, I go online for tips on how to kill the invaders with the ingredients on hand. Pepper, vinegar, lemon juice, cornstarch. Time passes. The ants march on, unfazed.
I go back to my novel, which isn’t exactly zipping along. I’ve researched the part about resurrectionists, as grave robbers were called back in the 19th Century. Medical schools needed corpses in order to study the human anatomy, but people weren’t keen to donate their dearly departed relatives to be dissected. Public revulsion at the practice gave rise to the lucrative business of body snatching. If a person died from an infectious disease, the body was buried quickly to prevent the disease from spreading. These “fresh” corpses, although dangerous, fetched a higher than average price.
Needing action, I pace about the house. I’d go for a walk around the neighborhood, but it’s pouring rain. In the kitchen the ants are frolicking across the cornstarch. I feel helpless, claustrophobic, nervous. Definitely there’s a tickling in the back of my throat. Like ants. Maybe I’ve caught the virus. All it takes is one errant droplet from some Corona Mary. That Amazon delivery person who brought the TP last night was as maskless and gloveless as a memory of yesteryear. Did the grave robbers of yesteryear wear gloves?
I return to my research. During the American Civil War, nobody knew about germs. Doctors didn’t wash their hands before surgery and coughed willy-nilly without covering their mouths. They had, however, learned how to embalm the dead. The process was expensive and rare until Abraham Lincoln made it popular. The day after he was assassinated, doctors drained his blood and injected him with a chemical preservative. They set his face into a slight smile and when his body went on display in the capitol rotunda, he looked so lifelike mourners reached out to touch his face.
I’ve got to stop touching my face. I turn on the TV. President Trump is offering suggestions on how to deal with the coronavirus. Injecting disinfectant just might be the perfect treatment. He’s heard people talking about this. My Amazon order for Lysol has been pending for weeks and still hasn’t arrived. I rummage through the cupboard for an alternative. All I find is a bottle of Windex. The listed ingredients include hexoxyethanol, isopropanolamine, and dodecylbenzene, which sound potent enough to exterminate the Godzilla of viruses. But how to improvise an injection if you don’t have a syringe?
Think like a prisoner, that’s how! When one of those shut-ins wants to shoot up, he constructs a “binky.” The Internet, as always, is a wealth of information. All that’s required is a sewing needle (got it!), the guts of a Bic pen (yep!), and a paperclip (no problem). But wait. While I’ve been assembling my binky, a crawler has appeared at the bottom of the TV screen advising me not to self-medicate before consulting my health care provider. Ha! My health care provider hasn’t been available for over a month. I eat two chocolate brownies. Two hours until cocktail time. Make that an hour and a half.
I resume reading about President Lincoln. After he was embalmed, he took a two-week train trip across seven states with stops in 180 cities. It’s crazy but I sort of envy him the travel. My trip to Morocco in March was canceled. March is the beginning of springtime in Morocco, lots of sun, not much rain. It’s dark and gloomy here in Seattle today. I wish I had access to a tremendous, very powerful light and could somehow bring that light inside my body as President Trump recommends. If my lungs could get a nice suntan, I’m sure I’d feel better in a minute and be immune to pretty much everything.
But back to the grave robbers. After Lincoln was interred in Illinois, a ring of counterfeiters broke into his sarcophagus with the intention to hold his body for ransom until their best engraver was released from prison. The attempt failed. They hadn’t bargained on the fact that Lincoln’s cedar and lead coffin weighed over 500 pounds.
God, if I don’t stop eating these brownies they’ll have to use a crane to hoist me out of this house, assuming the shelter-in-place order is ever lifted. But I mustn’t complain. I’m holed up with plenty of food, plenty of wine, plenty of time to do my research, and a colony of ants. After the first drink, they actually start to look cute.