Johnny America


8 A.M.


Illustration of two tattered shoes

There was noth­ing use­ful in ei­ther of the dead man’s jack­et pock­ets: no iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, not even a cou­ple of bucks. Just a lot of lint, as if a cou­ple of balled-up re­ceipts had been left in the pock­ets when the jack­et went through the wash. Sarah rolled him over on­to his stom­ach to check the back pock­ets, just in case. Noth­ing. Ei­ther the man had left his house with emp­ty pock­ets and just died, right there by the train tracks that ran by Sarah’s school, or some­one had got­ten to the corpse be­fore her. She had no idea how a fresh dead per­son should look or feel. The on­ly thing she was sure of was that he must’ve died some­time be­tween last Fri­day and to­day, Mon­day, be­cause she walked by this spot every day and would have no­ticed a dead guy ly­ing in the field on Fri­day. Even with her ear­buds in or look­ing at some­thing on her phone, she would have no­ticed a corpse stretched out in the field.

It was weird be­ing this close to a dead per­son, her first dead per­son. She had al­ways be­lieved that see­ing a dead per­son would make you in­stant­ly vom­it, like they did in the movies or on TV. She’d asked her moth­er about that be­fore, es­pe­cial­ly since she hadn’t ever wit­nessed peo­ple vom­it­ing en masse at the few open cas­ket fu­ner­als she’d at­tend­ed, but all she got back was some vague ram­ble about be­ing shocked when you’re not ex­pect­ing a dead body, but that know­ing you’re at a fu­ner­al some­how pre­pares you for the event, which seemed im­prob­a­ble to her. Sarah had smelled enough dead rab­bits be­fore to know when one was near­by, and knew that dead chick­ens and dead rab­bits smelled en­tire­ly dif­fer­ent from one an­oth­er, so she imag­ined that maybe this dead per­son would start smelling at some point, too, and when he did, it might be the most hor­ri­ble thing she’d ever smelled. Hope­ful­ly some­one would come by and scoop him up be­fore that happened.

It dropped down to freez­ing over the pre­vi­ous week­end, though, which was per­haps the rea­son that the body hadn’t start­ed vis­i­bly de­com­pos­ing. Any day now, it would start snow­ing, and if the body were still here, it would be so cov­ered in snow that no one would even know it was here un­til spring. Kids might take their sleds out here and glide right over him, nev­er know­ing the ir­reg­u­lar bump­ing against the bot­tom of their sleds was caused by a frozen corpse and not just rocks or frozen clumps of dirt. The thought was de­light­ful­ly gross. Sarah’s moth­er was al­ways ac­cus­ing her of hav­ing an im­prop­er sense of humor.

She checked her phone for the time— she still had ten min­utes be­fore she had to wor­ry about be­ing late. Im­pul­sive­ly, she reached down and pulled off the dead man’s shoes off to see if he’d hid­den any­thing in his shoes. Some­times she put mon­ey in her shoes, es­pe­cial­ly if she didn’t feel like car­ry­ing her purse. Noth­ing. She pulled his socks off, too — just in case — re­veal­ing a pair of blue feet.

The blue feet did make her phys­i­cal­ly re­coil. Not vom­it, but it made her jump up and back away. The man’s hands were blue, too, which she hadn’t no­ticed be­fore. So maybe it’s not just the smell of a dead per­son makes you throw up, she thought, un­set­tled. It was hard to look at a com­plete­ly dressed man and not think he was just sleep­ing, save for his blank eyes star­ing up at the sky — which were now star­ing down at the ground, since he was ly­ing on his face — and those blue hands and blue feet. She re­al­ized she had been avoid­ing look­ing at his face, pos­si­bly some nat­ur­al aver­sion to look at the one part of him not cov­ered by cloth­ing. It was in­ter­est­ing to re­al­ize this. She felt she was learn­ing a lot this morning.

She did know, how­ev­er, that she didn’t have time to stay and un­dress the man for fur­ther rev­e­la­tions. That thought in it­self was weird — here was a dead man, and if she want­ed to, es­pe­cial­ly if she didn’t mind be­ing late for school, she could com­plete­ly strip him of his clothes and he couldn’t do any­thing about it. She could strip him naked and just look at him for as long as she want­ed to. He’d just have to lie there with his pur­ple, or per­haps blue, thing ly­ing limply off to the side, un­able to fight back or cov­er him­self or any­thing. She could poke at his thing with a stick if she want­ed to, and noth­ing would hap­pen. It wouldn’t be like when that shit­ty boy she tried not to think about any more jeered and pulled his dick out and waved it at her, some­how threat­en­ing and de­mand­ing and mock­ing, all at once.

She picked up a long stick and poked at the man’s zip­pered fly. There was no re­ac­tion, but part of her was ex­pect­ing there to be, per­haps due to years of “don’t touch” con­di­tion­ing. Af­ter a mo­ment, she poked him again, hard­er. The stick skid­ded against the met­al zip­per and went un­der the flap of the man’s shirt, went in a lit­tle, in­to some­thing soft. Sarah dropped the stick, re­pulsed. The end of the stick came out af­ter a mo­ment, a lit­tle slow­er, still stuck in what­ev­er it had sunk in­to. Now Sarah didn’t want to un­dress the man at all, know­ing that there might be some gross open wound un­der­neath his shirt, a wound she had just made in his cold, dead flesh.

It was time to go to class any­way. She was al­ready late enough that she wouldn’t be able to stop at her lock­er and would have to car­ry her heavy book­bag around with her un­til lunch. De­spite the grow­ing sounds of traf­fic in the near­by streets and the far-off sound of a train ap­proach­ing, the field was still com­plete­ly emp­ty ex­cept for her and a hand­ful of blue-black crows, which watched her with the same lev­el of sus­pi­cion she lev­eled at them. They were ob­vi­ous­ly wait­ing for her to leave so that they could al­so in­ves­ti­gate the dead man.

“A mur­der of crows,” she said aloud, rel­ish­ing the weird­ness of the phrase. “Did you birds mur­der this man?” She point­ed an ac­cusato­ry fin­ger at the birds. A cou­ple of them jumped ner­vous­ly in the air and took off, rat­tled by her ac­cu­sa­tions, but the rest just hopped back a cou­ple of steps, un­will­ing to com­plete­ly sur­ren­der their sta­tion. Sarah picked up her bag, won­der­ing what sort of dam­age the birds and the an­i­mals could do to a body in the time she’d spend at school, and what would be wait­ing for her here when she re­turned at the end of the day.

Filed under Fiction on January 29th, 2021

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