I call the Doc and she says she'll be at the ME's office to examine the body in 45 minutes. I turn back toward the family and wait with the other four or five law enforcement officials. I want to give them time, but I also need to examine the body and get it back to the morgue as soon as possible.
The cluster of people in the room prevent me from seeing the father or the child. An older man walks out with red-rimmed eyes. He looks me up and down. "Are you the dead doc?" He blurts.
Wow. I'm not quite sure how to respond. "I guess so," I say, "though I've never been called that before."
"Well, he's dead. That's for sure." The man wipes his eyes and watches me, expectantly.
This time I don't say anything.
"You know, I always watch those weird dead people shows on TV. I get a kick out of that stuff."
I nod my head and give him a weak smile. "They're pretty good." (It's about this point where I remind myself that people all handle grief in different ways.)
Det. Porte walks over and whispers in my ear asking if they should clear out the room, now. I look at my watch. The Doc will be at the office soon. "Go tell the father that in five minutes I will need the room cleared so I can examine the body. That way he can prepare himself and we can maybe avert a scene."
Det. Porte nods his head once and heads into the room. The people surrounding the father and his little girl part like a wave and I get a fleeting glimpse of a tall man with short dirty blond hair sitting in a wooden rocking chair. He's got a bundle of pink blanket in his arms and is rocking it gently. He is looking down at a shock of shiny blond curls peeking out from the top of the wrap. There are tiny alabaster toes visible at the other end.
Oh, you poor baby, I think. Pity and grief well up in me and I suddenly remember the feel of all the babies I've carried out of hospitals and homes over the years. I turn away from the door and walk a few paces toward the wall behind me. My heart is racing in my chest and I feel off-balance. I can feel the sharp sting of tears threatening behind my eyes and I concentrate on a sign posted on the laundry shoot in front of me. "CAUTION: DO NOT LEAVE DOOR OPEN" I read it over and over again. I am on a crumbling precipice and I need to do something quickly to keep myself from falling out of control. I study the red block letters that were spray-painted on the metal door with a stencil. I imagine myself in a gray jumpsuit. I am shaking a can of red spray paint, listening as the mixing beads knock around inside. I place a cut-out piece of cardboard stock carefully up on the metal door, tape it down with masking tape, and spray a coat over the top, making sure it's thick enough so the fat letters will be easy to read and thin enough so they won't run...
When I allow myself back to reality a minute or two later my breathing has evened out and my pulse has slowed. I raise an eyebrow as I turn back toward the room. Cool. I can't believe that worked. Visualization. I'll have to remember that.