Gianna dries roses in the kitchen. She hangs them from a clothesline. Light falls on the floor. She preserves flowers like dead saints. In the city, incorrupt bodies sleep in gold and glass boxes. Worshipers pray in cathedrals.
At seven the phone rings. Gianna leaves her apartment. Her footsteps echo through the winding marble stairwell. Outside daylight wanes. Plants grow from the cracks of the old aqueduct.
She passes the cemetery where candles flicker between wilting carnations. Crows perch in tree branches by a black gate. She rings the bell of an apartment building. Inside women weep. Mirrors reflect floral wallpaper in the dim light.
Gianna enters the room of the deceased. She lays her bag on the bedside table and removes some of the contents: plaster, scissors, a spoon, fabric, and sand. She mixes gypsum and water. Once her materials are prepared, she observes the recently departed, noting smile lines and crow’s feet.
A handful of portraits sit on the bureau. Framed pictures hang on the wall, suspended faces smile on the beach, in a forest, before a city sunset. The room smells of rose oil and cedar, of soap and sadness. A clock ticks to the sound of quiet voices beyond the bedroom door. Gianna covers the woman’s snowy hair and wraps her head before pouring alginate over her face. Plaster hardens in a final repose.
When she finishes the death mask, she washes her hands in the bathroom sink. Soap bubbles form a ring around the drain as Gianna dries her hands. In the kitchen, the woman’s son makes her peach tea as they discuss his mother’s life, her years spent as a museum curator, her love of history, and art. Her home is full of sculptures, of bodies frozen in time. A dismembered hand reaches towards the ceiling.
The sun is completely set when Gianna leaves.
Streetlights illuminate the city. Statues of horses drown in fountains. Madonnas stand alone in their grief. People toss coins in the water. Their wishes float as possibilities on the wind. Families take smiling pictures, capturing joy that will someday be forgotten.