Monday, April 23, 2012

156. SHORT STORY MONDAY: Invocations to the Dead by Gill Schierhout

Invocations to the Dead was published in the Caine Prize for African Writing 2010 anthology, A Life in Full and other stories.

Jonas Peterson was involved in a severe accident that left his pelvis crushed in seventeen places and a six-month stay in the hospital. At the hospital Jonas got on well with the nurses and got close to Grace Jaffe. Two years after Jonas was discharged he appeared at Grace's house, when Grace's relationship had gone cold and a divorce had occurred. Jonas was a helper, doing the things most men would not do. He did all the washing, the folding, the cleaning and tidying, and more.

When a job opening was announced at the hospital, Grace encouraged Jonas to go for it. Consenting with her decision, he became a washer of dead bodies for the pathologist. One night Grace was shocked to find, what she initially was a hairless rat, a lung hidden in Jonas's clothes. With his secrets out, Jonas fled the house.

The story begins another two years after Jonas fled from Grace's house at a psychiatric hospital where he had been brought for psychiatric assessment by Grace to determine if the charge for necrophilia which had been brought against him, when he was caught with human parts, would stand. It then alternated between the past life of Jonas and Grace and the current life at the hospital. The information on Jonas given to the hospital reads
 Illegally possessing various body organs, for no legitimate reason. Atypical Necrophilia. No evidence found of defilement of a corpse. Patient cannot give account of his actions. No other compulsive behaviours noted. Some tendency to magical thinking.
And Grace, who had been the first to witness Jonas's affinity for dead people perhaps which resulted from his working at the morgue, was tasked with performing a three-day assessment on him and make up her mind on his condition:
It is now up to Grace, and her colleagues, to answer the Magistrate's standard questions. In your opinion, was the act premeditated? Does the patient show remorse? Is this a rigid pattern of behaviours? Is he likely to re-offend?
Her answers would determine whether he is released on bail perhaps with medication or sent to prison. But before any of these could occur, Jonas stole one of the doctors' car and escaped. However, because six months previous to his appearance at the hospital he had communicated with Grace and had told him he was a changed man, Grace knew where he was heading towards. She followed him, found him, never brought him to justice, and helped in his escape. In all these, there was no love between Grace and Jonas.

This particular story got me thinking. How could one allow one who cuts dead bodies escape or help in his escape? The best should be an attempt at treatment.
About the author: Gill Schierhout has lived in Sydney since 2009. She is a writer, mother, struggling academic, consultant in public health, daughter, dog-owner and aspiring runner. In 2008, her short story The Day of the Surgical Colloquium Hosted by the Far East Rand Hospital was short-listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing. Her first novel, The Shape of Him (Random House, United Kingdom, 2009) was short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Sunday Times Literary Award (South Africa), and nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Set in South African mining communities in the early 1900’s, it tells the story of Sara Highbury, an immigrant from the United Kingdom, and her doomed love affair with a diamond digger, Herbert Wakeford. She also writes a few short stories and is working on a second novel, and on some attempts at literary non-fiction. (Source)


  1. Nice piece!!! Just wondering if Jonas ever got to explain his motive for possessing human parts, and why Grace would help him escape rather than encourage him to seek treatment.

  2. Very psychologically disturbing kind of story, I would think. Your description of it vaguely reminded me of Silence of the Lambs.

  3. This is a morbid and pyschologically twisted story. I should think Jonas would seek treatment with the hlep of Grace.


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