“Here he is,” Dr. Moshir said, pulling a heavy key-chain from his pocket. Since Mohsen’s disappearance, it was the first time we were going to meet.

The autopsy doctor waved at the blue shadow of a woman who sat next to the door. “Mr. Mohsen Sobhi’s first wife is here,” he said and the woman jumped off the bench.

Was she the one who’d replaced me -- Mohsen’s second wife? I wondered. She was a small woman in a blue chador, unlike everyone else, and stared at our guide with the same listlessness marking the semi-humans we had crossed everywhere in this morgue.

Dr. Moshir unlocked the door. “Go in,” he said and we walked into the room, the second Mrs. Sobhi behind us. It was like entering a huge freezer, or a slaughterhouse. A lasting discomfort hovered in the air and the synthetic light burnt my eyes. Death floated between the high ceiling and the walls, each wall divided in small compartments, each compartment as large as a coffin.

Dr. Moshir pulled out one of the drawers.

I could feel the heavy breath of the woman behind me. I could count her panting. “He always hated you,” she whispered in my ear. I took a step away from her, glancing at her briefly. She didn’t resemble the woman I’d made up in my head. Her eyes were swollen and red, as if she had been crying for days. She wasn’t even pretty, I thought. She couldn’t hurt me anymore.

Dr. Moshir cleared his throat. “If you can identify this man as Mohsen Sobhi,” he said, reading from the document in his hand, “born in Mashhad on Farvardin 18, 1326, please sign this.”  He handed me the paperwork and proceeded to open the bag.

My rival grabbed my arm, clinging to me, but I pushed her away. The morose spectacle about to be enfolded in front of my eyes was enough. Even without her help, I was probably going to have endless nightmares for years to come. I didn’t need some crazy woman to make the experience more memorable. I wished I could find some numbing thought, some kind of anesthetic belief, God or something.

Dr. Moshir unzipped the bag and the tangible meaning of death punched me in the face. Mohsen stank like any other dead. The white sheet inside the bag had turned grayish with brown stains. Our doctor unwrapped the sheet slowly and carefully – like a surgeon operating on a living patient. Didn’t he know my husband was already dead? I covered my nose under my palms and turned my head away. Even if I couldn’t see Mohsen’s face, I knew it was him. I wanted it to be him. It had to be the man who had left me coldly and heartlessly, without a word, but now all I felt was gratitude for his last gesture of kindness. Otherwise I’d have been this other woman who was devastated by her impossible love.

(To be continued)