It’ll Find You All the Time – Jane Black
July 21, 2021
You can feel her through the gloves. You can do your best to keep from touching her, but she’ll find her way in. Bone is sharp, sharper than glass and that’s something I didn’t know till I was picking it out of walls. Eddie and I bring extra pairs these days, pull them right over the other. Yellow rubber that makes me feel like a 50’s housewife as I sponge at the wall, doing my best to be gentle.
She had tried to make our job easier, laid two plastic shower liners on the floor to try and keep her blood from leaking into the carpet. Maybe it was out of the kindness of her heart. She sat in a chair on top, pulled the trigger with her toe. She had left the door locked. Wanted to be left alone. She also left the overhead fan on high. Maybe she wanted to be comfortable, but it means one thing to me.
Room splattered red all around in a ring, flecks of her grey stuck to the tv and dripping down family photos and old la croix cans. She spills out of the plastic and all over the rug, crawling under and waiting somewhere dark for me to find her. She seeps down walls and cluttered bookshelves. She crowds the ceiling with her touch.
She tried to be nowhere and now she’s everywhere at once.
The window is smeared with soap scum and dead mosquitos, sun falling over the scene all dreary and stained like a goodwill dress. The bloody shards of bone catch the scraps of light that struggle through, wet and glistening on the bed, on the lampshade, everywhere and everything beaded with her skull. Her room is a pomegranate and we have to spend all day picking out the seeds.
And it will take all day. We’re in no rush. Me and Eddie listen to music and take our time and stay out of each other’s way, don’t ever talk much inside. The families usually leave well enough alone. The room still an open wound even if the body is gone. They let us do what we need to, even if it takes a couple hours too long. Which is good for my paycheck and my back.
I scrub the wall over the headboard of her bed, looking down at the anxious splatter huddled on the comforter. On her pillow, a stuffed bunny looks up at me with button eyes. I take it aside, put it in a plastic tub by the door along with the other personal effects. A framed photo of a group of girls at graduation, smiling in that unsure way. A watercolor painting of the salt marsh about a mile down the road. A cable-knit sweater, loose threads hanging off the sleeves. A dozen other little wilted things. Her dad can decide if he wants to try and scrub the fluid off or throw them away. They’re all pieces of her too, just like the kind I seal up in blue under the label “Biohazard.” Both will probably end up in the same trash. Sometimes they even ask me to take it there on my way out. Bag it and bury it. Wrapped in plastic in a landfill only a couple miles from where the rest of her will be cloaked in pine.
A part of me wants to keep everything she touches.
When we leave after three more hours Eddie tells her father everything we did. Had to rip up some carpet, had to spray everything down, anything important is by the door. He keeps it brief and cordial, he’s good at that. I can’t speak a word to her dad. Not when I just spent the whole day tasting his daughter’s blood on the air. She makes her way, even through the mask. I brush right past him and head straight for the truck, leaving the screen door rattling its fists behind me. Shitty little shotgun house and it’s still better than the trailer I sleep in every night.
I tear off my gloves on the lawn and that’s when I feel her again. Scratching at my skin. She falls into my palm looking like a dog’s tooth, one of those jagged ones at the back of the maw. I think briefly about letting her fall into the grass or throwing her out onto the street. I think briefly about keeping her somewhere safe where no one could ever forget her. One of those velvet cushions with the knuckle bones of saints, a glass display with the body of Lenin.
Everybody wants to throw her away, what’s so wrong about letting people see you? Put you in a box, leave you to the worms, why can’t you ever have the gift of people looking in your direction? Open the coffin, empty out the bags. Put her all back where she was. Let her be, let no one ever touch her again. Lock the door and clean the window and let everyone peer in. Let everyone see what happened. What she made of herself. An open air sculpture, a monument to all that remains.
Down the road, two boys play under the shade of spanish moss, shooting nerf guns at each other and screaming. All at once, I feel disgusting.
I slide into the passenger seat and grab Eddie’s half empty coke, the metal hot to the touch from baking in the southern heat. I jam my fingers into the top and let her fall in with a lonely drip that splashes some up on my finger. Warm and sticky. Can was just gonna be my ashtray anyway. I fumble around the glovebox for a bic and light a camel, my hand shaking as I smoke out the window. A screen door slams. Eddie walks up stuffing his gloves into his pockets. He flashes me a grin as he opens the door and puts his keys in the ignition.
“Wasn’t too bad, right?” Eddie says. I pass him a camel as we pull away and the sound of the boys laughing and wailing shrinks away behind the oak trees, swallowed up by the dust on the road and I’ll forget that one day too.
“If we have to clean up after another 12 gauge, your next job will be at my place and I won’t be there to help you much,” I say with a smile and my hand hanging in the breeze. Let the wind flow through my fingers, let it all leave me.
“Your place is a piece of shit, man. And knowing you, you won’t even lay down a sheet or nothing. I’ll pass.”
“You can’t pass.”
“I’ll call in sick. They’ll send the whole thing to the dump, you’ll be real trailer trash.” I laugh and picture a Winnebago tomb. He slows down to pass a gaggle of flashing lights, a little white nissan wrapped around a telephone pole. We both rubberneck a bit at the torn metal on the asphalt as we cruise on past. Squinting in the sun and wondering if the patches of shimmer are oil or blood. He lets out a low whistle and as I turn back to him, he has the coke can at his lips.
“Must’ve been going at least 45. Nasty stuff,” he says as he takes a sip of cola. I wonder if he felt her or if she stayed at the bottom with all that warm sugar. I wonder how long she could stay in there before melting in the acid and corn syrup, shrinking away into a honey sweet disease. He notices me staring and gives a little shrug. “I don’t give a fuck if it’s flat, man, I’m thirsty.” I know better than to tell him.
We stop at the Wawa to grab lunch but I’m not too hungry. A beer and a snickers. When we stand at checkout, the boy at the register tries not to let on that he can smell us from across the counter. As he gets our change, Eddie palms one from the Take A Penny, Leave A Penny.
“See that? I can make money even when we’re on break. You oughta learn to hustle like a professional loser, might be able to retire someday,” Eddie says. The boy behind the counter gags as he gives me a handful of change. He tries not to touch my skin. He does his best not to breathe us in, like it might kill him. He turns away from us and apologizes. Eddie doesn’t seem to notice. He takes a look at my handful of nickels and back again at his own clutch of quarters. He swipes mine and heads to get another coke with a playful strut.
I wander back outside and sit down on the curb, letting my boots lay in a pothole. Across the road there’s nothing but trees marked for removal, orange ribbons tied around their waists like princesses. Birds chitter away somewhere up in their arms. I wonder what it pays to chop down trees for a living and if it feels just as bad.
After a couple minutes, Eddie comes out with his coke and an egg sandwich. He sits down next to me in the afternoon sun with a lazy sprawl. “Boss called,” he says as he pops the tab. “Says we got a wrist job on the other side of town. It’s a clean deal, he stayed in the tub. And get this, guy’s family doesn’t even wanna deal with the place so we don’t have to bother. Fuck, we could show up an hour late and say we’d been there the whole time and nobody would know.” I open my snickers and it’s already well on its way to melting, my nails sinking in as I take a bite. I still taste her. “So am I gonna have to call in sick tomorrow?” he asks with a grin and a clap on my shoulder.
I can smell death on my fingers.