The Life, Death and Embalming of Dennis O’Malley

By Matthew Buza

The​​ Life,​​ Death and​​ Embalming of Dennis O'Malley



Dennis O'Malley was the first son of his displaced Irish parents. They left Belfast as refugees seeking a more peaceful life for their family. After leaving Boston when Dennis was eight, his family, including two brothers and a sister, settled in the quaint Washington neighborhood of West Seattle. He grew up within walking distance of Alki beach and spent his mornings sitting on the shore with his feet in the coarse sand looking out over the Puget Sound as the cold rainy clouds mixed with​​ gray​​ fog in the early morning light. He spent his youth curled up under large rocks watching tug boats push container ships into Seattle harbor, delivering goods from around the world. He was obsessed with water and boats, and when the harbor union offered him a job at 18,​​ he jumped at the chance of being on the high seas. That dream would be sidelined as he spent 20 years working as a union lineman tying off ships as they pushed into​​ the​​ harbor. He would never sail more than two miles outside of the city and he never saw the open ocean that was beyond the Sound.​​ 

One day, a rugged ship captain walked into the local bar and ordered a glass of single malt. He sat​​ on​​ the stool and nursed the drink for hours as Dennis watched from the far side of the bar. Every set of jealous Union eyes were on the man, his pressed uniform, the tight hat, and the way his fingers rolled the glass directing its movements in a hypnotic sway. Dennis spent the rest of his life mimicking that motion. He sat rigid with a slight​​ weighty​​ curl to his shoulders as he rolled a small glass of whiskey on the TV stand next to his favorite chair. He would stare off at the distant wall dreaming of walking into a bar and tipping his hat to the lovely tender. He could see himself straddling an old wooden stool and sharing his stories of the open ocean as his arms danced and flowed to great delight.

Dennis was a quiet man who never missed church and wore his love for his wife and two daughters on his sleeve. It was their shock when they found​​ 47-year-old​​ Dennis slumped in his tweed​​ armchair​​ late on a rainy November afternoon. His heart gave out as the glass of​​ 14-year-old​​ whiskey​​ shattered on the ground to be sniffed and licked by the white Pomeranian his children forced him to buy. The only shock greater than his early departure was his will, drawn up without his wife's consent, which requested his body be donated to the university medical program. His wife protested as the lawyer read the document and stated that there was nothing she could do.​​ 

After a short​​ service,​​ Dennis was taken​​ to​​ the morgue and attended to by a veteran mortician, Joseph Thompson. He pulled Dennis's body out of the refrigerator and disinfected his face with a light bleach solution. He then rolled Dennis over and split his rear cheeks,​​ spraying the solution over his anus and wiping​​ with a light cloth. With a barber's care, Dennis's body was slowly shaven clean. His thick and nested chest hair, that his wife loved to run her hands through, was removed and deposited into the waste bin.​​ 

Joseph then massaged Dennis slowly,​​ helping to break up any rigor that had set in on the arms and legs. His fingers ran gently over the years of scars deposited by the harbor work. The lines and patterns dug deep into his skin. Joseph's hands worked in a deliberate pattern pushing and squishing the death out of Dennis. Using a small pump and an embalming needle,​​ Joseph slowly drained all the blood​​ from​​ Dennis's system. His veins and arteries were slowly filled with nearly 3 quarts of​​ formaldehyde and​​ phenol solution. He pulled out a second needle and proceeded to fill the chest cavity with additional​​ formaldehyde in order to preserve his internal organs.​​ 

After a short​​ wash,​​ Dennis was zipped into a black transport bag and loaded into the university medical van. The van navigated through Seattle and backed into a short alley behind the university. Dennis and five other bagged passengers were unloaded into the refrigerator room for storage. Two months later,​​ Dennis was wheeled out into a large room and loaded onto a cold stainless steel table. The door read Anatomy 101. The students began to file into the room and stand next to their assigned tables.​​ Two students​​ nervously stood over the black body bag that bulged in the center. Inside the bag, Dennis rested quietly in his plastic tomb.

About The Author

Part-time engineer, part-time farmer, part-time author, full-time stay at home dad. I’m a Podcast Junkie and addicted to storytelling and radio dramas. I have been known to dabble in the Belgian Trappist Beers.