Don't Tell Mom There's A Body Outside
With glazed eyes, frozen and locked on to the well-oiled abs of the men on the TV, Mom announced there were frozen slabs of macaroni in the freezer. That’s dinner.
I cooked for my younger brother Terry who was dressed up as Bill Clinton for Halloween even though Halloween was a week away. He had a frizzled, pubic white wig taped to his head and a faded blue suit that hung limply past his wrists. We ate outside. The weather was still nice. The faint glow from the TV acted as the porch light that had burnt out two months ago. In between bites of irradiated-tasting noodles, Terry pointed out the body sprawled out in the middle of the yard. I was surprised I hadn’t noticed it sooner. It was a man. The muscular build was a dead give away. Short, curt hair mashed down and torqued to an angle against what jaundice-colored grass there was left. Pale skin; a vacant left shoe exposed a wool tube sock with a big toe jutting out of a hole. Terry and I stood over him.
Looks like he fell out of a tree, Terry said, which didn’t make sense because there were no trees in our backyard.
His body was capable of a neat chalky outline and only his wrist was contorted and shifted in a way that felt unnatural, up and backwards barely touching the underbelly of his own arm. Terry prodded him with his lanky cigar—Bill’s prop—made out of the severed handle of a broom. He relayed back to me that he was dead, for sure dead. I told him we couldn’t tell Mom.
Each day after school we would hang around the body. Work on homework, read books. We propped our heads up against the bony ribs like a nice pillowed headrest. Terry dug through the pockets of his tattered jeans and found three pennies and a nickel, a flattened carton of cigarettes, and a stamp on tattoo, the kind that falls out along with the dusty crumbs of a cereal box. I helped Terry press the tattoo on right over his thin chest. It was a heart with an arrow shoved through the pulpy center and as he stared down at his sunken chest he decided he’d be a sailor next Halloween. At night after Terry had fallen asleep; after Mom had tumbled off the side of the couch, I would go downstairs and peer through the window into the stale night to try and see if the body would move, if at any moment he would begin to crawl back onto his feet, stretch his arms and yawn, be on his way as if this place, this backyard containing a grill infested by a hive of wasps and a trampoline with jagged broken springs, was only a rest stop.
When Halloween finally came around Terry held the body’s head while I used my oil-paint set and morphed his face into a gray wolf to the best of my ability. I ran my brushes along the sides of his temples, over his eyelids. I had never looked into his eyes before that moment. Each pupil was bulbous, the rest of his eyes were gaunt and bloodshot. Besides the mauve-blue hue to them, they reminded me a lot of Mom’s. Terry wanted to see and I barked for him to keep his head still or else the wolf would turn out to be a whole other animal entirely.
After our laps around the neighborhood we walked through the kitchen and past Mom right into the backyard. Fun time? Her voice was an octave higher than usual, Terry shouted and told her all about how each neighbor had trouble guessing who he was, even with the cigar in his mouth or tucked between his legs. I peeked outside just to make sure that Mom hadn’t found the body. Sure enough the body was resting peacefully right where we had left him.
As Mom dug her paw into Terry’s pillowcase, excavating a fist’s worth of candy, she patted him on the head and shuffled back to the couch, back to the TV as the sound of her nails gouging into plastic wrappers drowned out the voices of whoever was talking.
I took Terry by the hand and we went out back. It was getting colder now. I could see my breath linger loosely as it drifted up towards the sky pin-pricked with stars. Terry and I both gave the body some of our candy. I put a couple of peanut butter cups deep into his mouth, the tips of my fingers brushing up against his sharp-edged molars while Terry tucked a Hershey’s bar right in between his lips. For a while we shuddered and froze, staring at the body once more never ceased to amaze us. Should we tell Mom now? Terry asked in between inhaling strands of licorice. I told him no, that we never could tell her. I told him that the body was ours and would never be hers.