POST MORTEM: THE PROLIFERATION OF LIFE AFTER DEATH by JP Relph (3rd place, Flash May22)

There are five discrete stages of decomposition that summarise post-mortem physiochemical changes. For the entomologist, there’s a predictable succession of arthropods. Orders Diptera (true flies) and Coleoptera (beetles) provide the families most valuable to medico-legal investigations.

Seminar Speaker Notes:

1. Fresh Stage
Families: Calliphoridae, Sarcophagidae

Following death there’s a cascade of processes: Pallor, Algor, Rigor and Livor Mortis

Her face darkening, her body stiffening,
still you missed the signs of impending breakdown.
You thought she was just tired. In a way you were right.

The blowflies detect the body within minutes of death

You hadn’t noticed it was terminal,
despite the increasing conflict,
the mortuary chill at mealtimes. In bed.

Gravid females oviposit in natural openings and wounds

Her mouth crowded with accusations, with resentments,
roiling and clamouring,
lacerating your soft tissues.

2. Bloated Stage
Families: Calliphoridae, Silphidae

Decomposition activity increases significantly, the body swells

Her anger billowed and bloomed,
straining the confines of your relationship.
Your confines.

Ammonia-rich gases escape: a chemical attractant for arthropods

She smelled different,
not another’s perfume,
but her own perfume tainted and corrupted somehow.

Predatory beetle species arrive to feed on fly larvae

Friends pulled her from you, stretching her like a tendon.
You spent long nights on a book-scattered sofa, waiting,
your phone screen dark as your mood.

3. Decay Stage
Families: Piophilidae, Histeridae

The body eventually splits under the pressure

She finally ruptured, spilling anguish like foul fluids.
Your silence, your avoidance only widened the chasm.

A peak consumption time for insects: the body is rapidly disseminated

Her anger burnt off, led to a torturous apathy.
More and more of her disappeared.
Reaching for her, your fingers swept through fetid air.

Blowfly larvae disperse from the body, find safe places to pupate

She left when you were at work. You’re always at work.
Hunkering in the comfort of the pinned and preserved.
In the lab-lit absence of blame.

4. Post Decay Stage
Families: Piophildae, Dermestidae, Braconidae

Now mostly de-fleshed, bone is exposed, little nutrition remains

Raw, you scuttled through the days,
weeping over microscopes filled with iridescent Lucilia.
Home was cold and broken. You were cold and broken.

Parasitic wasps take advantage of vulnerable prey and hosts

Something dark and cruel took up space inside you.
You didn’t deserve her. You don’t deserve love.
You are more devoted to the creatures of death.

5. Skeletonisation
Insect activity is non-existent, leaving only scattered puparia

The flat was dusted with remnants, like a cruel confetti.
Concert tickets stuck to the fridge, a handmade scarab paperweight,
featherlight teases of apple-blossom shampoo on pillows.

Only bone and hair remain; this will eventually bleach and dry

Memories of her touch are the powder of moth wings.
Her smile, her blue eyes, fade to photos.
You burrow into your home.

Unlike the previous stages, there is no definitive end to this state

You feel pain deep in your bones.
Its constant screaming is proof of life. You encase it.
Nurture it.
Knowing you will emerge.
You will.

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