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.
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