The words were spoken softly and gently, but they hit hard as if he were being slapped.
"I need you to come identify the body of your son," the mortuary owner said in that gentle way people attain when they constantly deal with death. "Mr. Hughes?"
"Yeah," Lloyd replied.
"Sometimes when people die...like he did, especially in intense heat--often, when they've been out of that situation for a few hours, their bodies turn coal black. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. But I need to prepare you...in case."
Lloyd hung up the phone, grabbed his hat and coat, and drove to the mortuary. In 1940, it was only days before Christmas--the holiday that would never happen in the Hughes home again. It was cold, but even with his coat on Lloyd felt eerily chilled. He had no real recollection of the drive to the mortuary, yet somehow he arrived. He grabbed the heavy door handle and entered. Lloyd was ushered back to where the bodies were kept. Standing together with the undertaker, the body was uncovered.
Lloyd held his breath, grateful that the body was not an unnatural black and simultaneously devastated that he was looking at the body of his 19-year-old son. There he lay, handsome as always, but now missing the spark that meant he was Bill. Lloyd checked for Bill's right hand where his middle finger had been damaged in an accident and stood shorter than was usual. On Bill's left shoulder was a one inch yellow butterfly tattoo.
"Well, that looks like my son," Lloyd said in his slow Iowa way. "But then he's got that tattoo. My kids all know how I feel about tattoos. None of them would have ever had a tattoo on them. I don't know what to say," He paused and spoke a little more quietly than before, "I think that's my boy."
The mortician glanced at Lloyd. There was no doubt in Mr. Hughes' face: this was his son. "Thank you, sir, for coming in."