FICTION January 7, 2011

What They Did with the Body

Ross balanced his father's eye on the tip of his nose. It quivered, and rolled up the bridge of his nose, then slipped back down. He was continuously surprised by the weight of it.

Diana had a fistful of Mr. Reed's nerves. These had been pulled out of his body like the long white worms that threaded through the bloated bellies of starved African boys. Diana couldn't decide what to do with hers until Ross knew what to do with his. In the meantime, she worked it between her fingers, imagining static electricity from the nerves explained the tingle in her skin. They felt like coarse hair.

Ross said, "Joanna."

"Ross," she said.

Ross was trying to think of a way to ask her how it felt to stomp his father's lung into a fine paste. There was no polite way of asking. He rolled the eyeball over his knuckles like he was doing a coin trick.

Diana said, "You should knock before you come down here." And then, "What do you think I should do with my share?"

"You could see if they'll burn."

"That's a good idea. You don't want to leave anything identifiable."

Ross Reed offered his lighter. It had a polished chrome case, into which he had carved the sign for anarchy. Diana spread the nerves out on the coffee table, on a mirror they kept there, which they liked to say was for cocaine, though it was really for fixing her makeup after they smeared it. She flicked the lighter open and held the flame to Mr. Reed's nerves. The flame licked her fingernail several times before the nerves took. They were like kindling, and the fire spread quickly throughout them. There was a sizzling sound, and sparks popped from the nerves, which glowed from their insides.

"Pamela would hate this," said Joanna. "She won't say what she did with hers."

"What did she get?" said Ross, who dropped the eye in his pocket.

"It was his liver," said Joanna. "Not the whole thing, I mean, but a big piece."

"Well she'd better get rid of it," said Diana.

Ross Reed said, "My dad was a fucker. He liked to wrestle. He would get angry or horny or something, or he would say I was making a fool of myself, and then we had to fight about it. When I was a little kid I thought it was funny. His secret weapon was tickling me. All he had to do was tickle me and I would fall over, and then he could work my back over with his elbows. He called that Chinese Massage. Sometimes he would sit on me and fart. He thought he was so funny. I guess I encouraged him. I did laugh."

Diana warmed her hands over the burning nerves. Joanna sat down between them on the couch and pretended not to notice the way her thighs touched theirs, or the warmth that rolled through them. She was conscious of not having shaved anywhere for seven days.

She checked their faces to see if they felt what she did. There was nothing.

"It got more serious as I got older," said Ross. "One time I punched him in the cheek. The next time he gave me a black eye. His knee got put in my stomach. I dug my nails in his thigh. He pulled my hair. I actually broke one of his ribs after that. He told the doctor we were playing football. I felt awful, even though really it was his fault. My step mom made us stop after that."

"That's fucked up," said Joanna. Her sister was sweeping the ashes off of the mirror and into his garbage pail, which was overloaded with soda cans, strawberry Gogurt tubes, Snickers wrappers, fun-sized M&M pouches, and pieces of broken glass from a lamp he'd thrown the night before against the wall. The broom that stood in the corner still glittered in its bristles with grains from the shatter.

"You should bury that too," said Diana. "Do what you will with the eye, and then bury that memory. Say it into a hole and close the hole up."

"Do you think people like me?" asked Ross. Diana and Joanna pretended not to hear.

They watched television for several hours, saying very little, ignoring the smells their bodies made, until the girls' father was due home, and then they went upstairs to pretend to do their homework. Through their windows they could see the latex factory, and its many various smokestacks, and the heavy black plumes like long apostrophes that it poured into the air, and the smoke shadows on the dead land that surrounded the factory. The pink teddy bear she liked to squeeze between her thighs was sitting on her bed like it was waiting for her. She knocked it to the floor with the back of her hand, and took the other, wholesome bear (the mint green one, which she only held like a baby) to her desk.

There was a folded piece of yellow notebook paper hidden in a seventh-grade social studies book beneath several others on Diana's desk. She excavated the paper and unfolded it, smoothing the creases. There were several names written on the paper in a very small hand. It was a list of people Diana thought should die. She had written Ross' name at the bottom to see how it felt, and then erased it, but the pencil's impression remained.

Beneath that shadow of a name she wrote her own.