Next to a broken set of drawers is a couch with the seat pillows missing and on top of the couch is a mattress and between the mattress and the couch is a dead body. I’m pretty sure it’s dead. The arm dangling down the side of the couch is bloodied and one of the feet are missing from the legs sticking out the other end. I squint and take another bite of my Crunchy Nut. Yep. It’s dead alright.
I think about calling the cops. I’ve never called the cops before. I Google to see if I can just book them online or something but they said in a case like this I should call. They need an app for these sort of things, like an Uber for the police. I decide one of the neighbours would probably call instead.
That night my alarm goes off reminding me to put the bins out. My roommates are away so I can’t ignore it. The dead body is still there but the mattress is gone which means now I can see his face. He’s lying face up, his head tilted to one side so he’s looking straight at me. The blood from his arm stops at his elbow and his mouth and eyes are open. Mosquitoes fly lazily between what’s left of his teeth.
The next morning I rush out the front, half asleep and already late for work. My car starts on the second try and I look over my shoulder to check for oncoming traffic. One of the ladies from down at the retirement village is out walking her dog and I watch her stroll by the dead body. She lets her dog leap up onto the guy’s lap and lick his crotch. I get a funny feeling in my stomach that I pretend doesn’t happen then take off with a squeal.
When I get home the couch is gone but the body is still there. He has been rolled off the couch so now he has his face in the dirt and arse in the air. I feel a sense of loss and sadness come over me. I liked that couch. I ignore the bins so I don’t have to take them back inside.
I get woken up in the middle of the night by my roommates who are home and without keys. I glare when I open the door but manage a bleary hello. Reluctantly I follow them to the kitchen and ask them about their trip. After they’re done I ask,
“Did you see the body?”
We all wander outside. The gravel of the driveway hurts my feet and they walk ahead of me. When I catch up I point across the street but the body is gone.
“That’s a set of drawers.”
I shrug, “Someone must have taken it.”
“Should we grab the drawers?”
“Nah they’re broken.”
A wind whips down the street and I shudder. We argue over who should take the bins inside.
I check the cable ties again and frown. He’s sweating and keeps moving about so much I’m worried he’ll get loose. I’ve always trusted rope more than these stupid bits of plastic but the company won’t fork out for anything these days. ‘Superfluous and unreliable’. Idiots. I use a second tie around both his wrists and ankles. How’s that for superfluous.
He woke up about twenty minutes ago and he hasn’t stopped screaming. I can tell because spit and blood keeps dripping out from underneath the duct tape across his mouth. I’m listening to an old ‘Pavement’ record and can’t hear anything he’s trying to say.
I double check the chair he’s strapped to, kneeling down and running my fingers over the bolts connecting it to the floor. No bends or movement. Good. He’s thrashing pretty badly but the second lot of cable ties are doing the trick despite my misgivings. His head is flopping around something chronic so I loop a final length of plastic around his neck and pull it tight against the back of the chair. His chest is heaving but he’s not moving any more.
I pull a checklist up on my phone and make sure I haven’t missed anything. In my head I tick things off. Towels in the corner are fresh. Three separate drains are clear. I walk around the small five by five metre space we are in and run my fingers along the padded foam walls. No cracks. No gaps. Perfect.
I take a pack of cigarettes from my pocket and place one unlit in my mouth. I stand in front of the chair and for a moment, take him in. His eyes are wild and red-stained and snot is hanging out both nostrils. He hasn’t stopped crying since he woke up. Pathetic. I’ve left him in only his underwear and he’s shiny with sweat.
I think about letting him have a cigarette and think of the irony of giving him a final gift. Instead I step forward and punch him across the jaw. What a piece of shit.
I open the roller door and step outside. It shuts again behind me.
I light the cigarette in my mouth and take a long drag before closing my eyes, letting my body lean against the wall of the storage container. It’s cool out here. It’s hitting the low twenties now that the sun is down and the wind against my face is a dream.
The screaming behind me is dull which means the soundproofing is working. I make another tick.
It’s a beautiful night.
Headlights enter the storage yard and I watch them cut in and out of gaps in containers before turning down the lane where I’m standing. I wave them in and put out my cigarette as the van pulls up in front of me. I can see pink cursive lettering written across the side but can’t make out what it says in the dark.
I replace the cigarette with gum as a woman in a red jumpsuit steps out of the driver’s side. We nod to each other and I open the side of the van. Already out of her seat, Clara steps towards me. She puts a hand on each of my shoulders and I grab her waist, helping her down onto the bitumen.
Tall for her age, but thinner than she should be, Clara takes a moment to breathe in before looking to me. Her head has been shaved since I last saw her and there’s a clear tube running from her nose and across her cheeks, underlining her eyes. Sunken into her skull they are two pits of fire, a contradiction to the fragile frame around them.
I smile at her when I see she’s wearing the yellow dress that she got for her thirteenth birthday. Clara doesn’t smile back.
“You’ve been smoking.” Her voice is faint and she’s breathing rapidly.
“Is he here?”
My heart thumps uncharacteristically and I nod before stepping aside. Clara walks towards the storage container and stops. Her thin fingers are fists and they’re shaking.
Gently I take one of her fists in my hand. It melts and loosens in my grip. I pull out a hammer from my back pocket and place it in her now open hand. There’s hesitation before the fist closes shut again.
I hold my hand under hers for a moment.
“Are you ready?”
I can see trepidation run across her face, closely followed by steely determination. She adjusts her grip around the hammer and nods. I nod back and let her go.
I hit a button besides the door and watch light grow up from the bottom of the roller door. It travels up Clara’s legs, chest and finally her face. There’s a moment of quiet. A muffled recognition. And then screaming that fades as I drop the shutter back down with Clara on the other side.
I sit on the ground, back against the corrugated steel of the container and the woman in red sits down beside me. I light another cigarette and pass it to her. The orange glow as she inhales lights the embroidered pink logo on her breast.
‘The Make-A-Wish Foundation: Dreams come true.’
“Kids, your mother and I have something we need to tell you.”
Peter paused. He relished the tension reflected in the eyes of his three children and forced himself not to grin as he took a deliberate sip of tea. Susan, his wife, sighed and squeezed his shoulder.
“Come on Peter, you’re being cruel.”
“Yeah, what’s going on?”
Peter giggled as his youngest child Frank frowned up at him. He patted his son’s head and Frank responded by kicking him in the shins. Peter’s smile didn’t shift as he knelt down and grabbed the back of Frank’s head, pressing their noses together.
Without breaking eye contact with Frank he said “Kids. We’re going on holiday.”
Frank gasped. Susan grinned. Martha, the eldest, spoke quietly, “Wh-where are we going pa?”
Peter looked up at his daughter.
“Oh. I think you know.”
A penny dropped and the kitchen exploded. Martha screamed and shoved her fist in her mouth. Sally, the middle child, squealed then slammed her head into the dining table. She immediately fell to the floor. Frank gently placed his hands on either side of his father’s face and kissed his forehead.
“Thank you father.”
Peter nodded solemnly then stood back up. His wife, leaning against the sink, wiped a tear from her eye. Peter smiled at her, she smiled back and they embraced. Their lips locked and tongues slipped happily into each other’s mouths. They stayed this way until the room fell silent once again.
Sally stood back up, wobbling slightly. There was a slip of blood down the side of her forehead and she was smiling.
Peter sat down at the head of the table and gestured for his children to do the same. Susan turned to the sink and on her tip toes pulled a small velvet pouch from the cupboard above it. She opened the bag and placed three thin black objects into her husband’s waiting hand. If there was any excitement left in the room it immediately dissipated. Tension returned and Martha whined.
“Ma this is no fair, I was up last time.”
“It is fair young lady, you know this is how we do it. We are all equal.”
Martha crossed her arms and frowned. Peter slammed his fist on the table and threw her an accusatory finger.
“None of that attitude miss. I mean it.”
Martha uncrossed her arms and shoved them in her pockets. Peter did not put down his finger. He pointed to each of his children in turn.
“We are a family. One unit. One body.”
The children in unison repeated, “One unit. One body.”
Peter put down his hand. Carefully, so the children couldn’t see what he was doing, he covered the three objects with his fist, leaving only their top halves exposed.
“Alright children. Everyone choose a straw.”
The Fife’s basement was as large as it was clean. Which is not to suggest either. Most of the area was shut off due to a flooding earlier that year, except for a raised tiled island in its centre. Above that dangled a lightbulb and below it a flat metal bed. There Frank lay with his father standing beside him. Peter was in front of a wooden bench, rearranging objects unseen to Frank.
“Can’t I just do this next time, I’ll be bigger then.”
“I’m sorry Frank, you drew the short straw.”
“Are you sure?”
Peter chuckled. “Of course I’m sure.”
The basement echoed with the sound of metal scratching against wood. Frank wriggled restlessly.
“Can I have the oxy Dad?”
Peter sighed and turned to his son, “I’m sorry Frankie but we’re almost out. We have to save at least a little for the trip.”
“Aw come on, just a bit.”
Peter placed a hand on his little boy’s cheek. Frank pouted and Peter chuckled.
“God forgive me I can’t say no to a face like that. Here you go son.”
Peter pulled a small glass vial filled with white powder from his shirt pocket. Frank grabbed it greedily, twisted off the top and carefully tapped a pile onto the wooden bench. As he bent over to rail the line his father laughed and tousled his hair.
“That’s enough now son. Let’s get this sorted or we’re going to be late.”
Frank turned back to his dad. His eyes were half closed, his mouth smiling and his nose powdered. He laid his head back down on the headrest behind him.
“We’re going to have fun aren’t we Dad?”
“We sure are son, we sure are.”
Little Frankie closed his eyes and his father lifted his right leg. He placed a two-by-four underneath his son’s shin and from the bench behind him he pulled a claw hammer.
“I love you son.”
“I love you too Dad.”
Peter pushed a stray hair behind Frank’s ear, leant down and kissed his forehead. He looked so much like his mother, he thought to himself before reaching over and flicking on a nearby radio. ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee filled the room.
Peter sighed and rolled his shoulder’s back. He smiled.
Upstairs Susan, Martha and Sally sat around the kitchen table. Sally was six spaces away from the end of Chutes & Ladders and things were tense. The three tapped their feet along to the beat coming from downstairs.
When little Frankie woke up, it was to paradise. ‘Despacito’ thumped loudly but there was no basement anymore, only sunshine. His head felt heavy and though it was an effort he tried to lift himself. A large soft palm pushed him back down and Frank welcomed his father’s smiling face into his vision.
“We’re here Frankie.”
Frank blinked and his eyes focused. Bright colours and blurry shapes became roller coasters, became people, became music, fun and happiness. A disembodied mouse’s head leered down at him from every available surface.
They had made it.
Frank laughed without meaning to. He could see his sisters running ahead, his mother chasing gleefully after them. He was moving forward. No. He was rolling forward.
Peter pushed along his wheelchair bound son with care. He slowed down as a group of children ran in front of them and took time to avoid any cracks in the pavement. When they reached the first line for the first ride the pair looked at each other and scoffed. Peter’s wife put an arm in the crook of her husband’s and one of Frank’s sisters sat on his lap. Together the Fife family laughed and laughed and moved straight to the express lane for the disabled.
Little Frankie smiled and fell back into unconsciousness.
Everything is foggy.
Why am I so.
There is a cut just under the knuckle of my left thumb and I don’t know when it got there or how but it has been there at least the last few days and it is not like it is bleeding or there is a scab just a small flap of skin that folds back when you play with it and I couldn’t sleep this morning and I was tugging on that flap of skin this morning and it was raining outside and the sun was still faded outside and I could hear dogs barking outside when under my grip the cut gave way.
The flap of skin pulls back. And I keep pulling.
The skin peels back as one whole layer. I wait for it to break but it holds together. I feel my stomach push itself up my throat as I watch myself skin myself. A thin translucent and bloodless layer, soft in an awful way rolls
past my knuckle,
down the back of my hand
I reach my shoulder and pass out.
I wake up next to someone I don’t recognise and my eyes are blurry and I am freezing I am warm. I can’t move. There is a cocoon of air around my body and it is invisible and sinister holding me tightly and I want to get up I want to get out but I can’t move I can’t move my mouth and it is open and I try to say something but I can’t speak I can’t move.
My eyes focus. The someone next to me isn’t a someone at all. It is human shaped with a full head of hair, elbows, arms, legs, but without body without flesh without bones.
Empty holes replace eyes and mouth.
It is then I realise that the someone is not a someone but a something that belongs to me. Belonged to me. I lay paralysed next to my own shed skin.
Tears fall from my eyes and I feel all of them. The moisture, the salt, the lingering trail it leaves as it falls down my cheek. I can feel, everything. And it hurts. My lips shake as I try to, if not say something, at least shut my mouth. My teeth are moving in my gums and oh god I can feel them moving. Waving in the smallest possible way, shaking from side to side. I can feel them.
I can feel,
There’s a breeze coming in from under the door and I can feel the dust that has been carried on it from the front door to here. The mattress underneath me is a desert of glass with each granule of sand a hair from my head or dirt I have brought here before. They cut into me. I am freezing, I am warm.
I can feel
Why am I so
I am terrified.
I stare open eyed next to half of myself and I want nothing more than to be unconscious again. Unaware. Disconnect myself from this reality and remain in the safety of isolation. I force blackness into my skull and wait for it to overwhelm me.
But something stops me.
But something runs over my hips.
But something pushes the black away.
Soft, smooth, safe. Hands and arms that are not my own run reassuringly across my stomach, up ribs, along my throat and push against my chin. They close my mouth. Arms, of which I can feel every imperfection, every pore, every hair, close a loop around my waist. Warmth runs down my spine, curls down to my knees and around my ankles as legs entwine my own. A mouth moves itself to my ear and whispers.
“You are okay.”
Words spiral down to my brain, like water down a gutter. They splash down and crash carefully against the walls of my skull.
“You are okay.”
I can move again. I lift my hands to my face and see someone completely new. Pale and blurred around the edges. No scars, no acne, no wrinkles, freckles, tan-lines. They are new. I am new. I see someone new and I am not scared. I am okay.
My skin is clarity and my mind is reflected in it.
My hands move down and I fold my fingers between those wrapped around my middle. I shut my eyes and feel content.