The story came to me after stumbling upon some autopsy photos of JFK and a few other celebrities online (Sharon Tate, River Phoenix, et al.), and a site dedicated to photographing celebrity grave sites and reprinting death certificates. Needless to say, this was a pretty glum period of my life. But I became fascinated with who these self-proclaimed “death hags” were, and what appears as “Death Hags Anonymous” pretty much unspooled from that fascination. The bit about Charles Lindbergh’s baby was inspired after seeing a photo of its decomposed remains. To this day, I’m not sure if the image was real or not, but it was grist for the mill, I suppose. – Zachary Houle
Death Hags Anonymous
“I don’t sell photographs or death certificates,” the scruffy-faced stranger said.
He sat across from me in the dank pub. A pint of Guinness was on the table. It was in a beer mug that lay between us. He’d yet to touch it. Both of his hands rested flat on the table. I could see his ring finger on his left hand. It had been cut by a third. It’d been cut at the top knuckle. It’d been turned into a bloodless stump. I tried not to look, but I couldn’t turn away.
“I do, however, offer other objects related to our topic of conversation,” the man continued.
“Like what?” I asked him.
“Lots of stuff,” he said with a smile. “Antiques.”
“Why don’t you do pictures?”
“Any kid can download and print pictures off the Internet. They can also get them out of the tabloids. Pictures of dead celebrities are hardly unique. That’s when they’re not fake.”
I took a sip of my Coors and stared this guy in the eye.
“Jake told me you did pictures.”
I wanted to get a picture of Buddy Holly, dead. Jake showed me a copy of the death certificate. It seemed kind of a gross way to die. Blood had run out of Buddy Holly’s ears when he died. Part of his skull had been scraped away in the plane crash. His balls had been scratched, too. Jake said that this guy might have a picture of the body. I wanted to see what a plane crash could do to a person. I mean, a celebrity.
He smiled, and I waited for him to pick up his glass. That stump was beginning to bother me. I think he could tell.
“I told you,” he sighed. “I don’t have any pictures for sale.”
The man then fished around in the pockets of his suit jacket. It was draped behind him on a rack. He flipped a business card towards me. It didn’t have a name on it. It only had a pager number and a Web site address.
“Here. Why don’t you take a look around on the site? Maybe you might find something else you like. I’ve got to go.”
He pushed back his chair. He stood up and flagged down our waitress. He flashed her a twenty. She grabbed it eagerly.
“Hey, where are you going?” I asked.
“Keep the change,” the stranger told the waitress.
The stranger then vanished into the crowded room. I could have chased him, but I didn’t want to cause a scene. I let him go. His card and his beer mug remained on the table. The mug was completely full. I didn’t drink it. I only drink the kinds of beer I know. American ones.
I got up and headed home. On the way there, I passed a car accident. There was just one car, a tiny Hyundai, flipped over there on the roadside. Some cops were covering up bodies with yellow tarp. For a second, I felt sorry for these people – the dead people. They wouldn’t be dead if they were driving a Ford.
I drove away. As I drove away, I wished I had a camera on me. I could have gotten a great picture of the scene. Then, I’d really be “in” with the death hags.
But then I realized that the dead people might be on the news tomorrow. I didn’t need a camera. There was always someone else to do the dirty work. That’s the great thing about this country: You can get anything, if you want it bad enough. Well, sometimes. If you’re lucky or famous or have enough money, you can.
I’ve worked in public schools as a janitor. I’ve done it all my life. It’s the only thing I’m good at, besides taking out the trash. My wife might beg to differ. But that’s only because she’s wanted kids.
One great thing about being a janitor is that barely anyone noticed you. I usually worked alone. I would arrive some 15 minutes after school let out. The only person I would usually run into was the principal, some guy named Fairfax. He was a real asshole. He always left for home not long after I’d start my daily ritual of dusting, mopping and waxing. I always ran into him in the halls not long after I’d start working.
He rarely had anything decent to say to me. He didn’t have to. I was the lowest rung on the ladder.
One time not too long ago, he walked by me in the hall.
“That’s a real mess,” he said. He said it like a fact. Then, he pointed to a small pile of dust and grit that he’d almost stepped in.
“Sorry about that,” I said cheerfully. I felt splinters work their way into my big, thick hands. “I’ll clean it up.”
“Just make sure,” Fairfax replied. He then walked carefully over the pile. A moment later, he left the building. Whistling.
For a second, I felt like chasing him. I wanted to take my paws and wrap them around his neck. But then I was able to simmer down. I realized I’d get to work alone for the next three or four hours, cleaning out all the classrooms. Then, I wouldn’t have to worry about Fairfax, not until the next day. That thought made me feel a little bit better.
I then went about my job. I emptied out all the garbage bins in the classrooms and wiped down chalkboards. I’d only wipe down chalkboards whenever I don’t see PLO. PLO stands for Please Leave On. If I wiped down a PLO, there’d be hell to pay. I only wiped down boards that don’t have PLO written on it.
It was a pretty quiet job. No one bugged me once Fairfax left. Nobody else was there.
Sometimes, I’d get to see what the students have thrown out. You find the most interesting stuff in the washrooms, in the garbage bins. I’ve found condoms there. Sticky condoms. Condoms filled with fluid that wasn’t water.
Another time, I found a crack pipe. You’re not supposed to find crack pipe in schools very often, and that’s why I wasn’t sure it actually was a crack pipe. It’s gone now, so I guess I’ll never know what it was. But I think it was a crack pipe.
Anyway, after I’d be done cleaning, I’d come home and crawl into bed with my wife Dolly. She works as a secretary. She’d always be sleeping when I came home. That’s because she’d work during the day. We’d only talk on the weekends because she works during the day. I’m usually sleeping during the day. That’s why we’d never talk.
When she did talk, Dolly would only bitch at me to have kids. That’s all she’d talk about. Kids, kids, kids.
OK, once she said I should quit my lousy job. She said I should try to go back to school and get a decent education. Another time, she complained that I wasn’t doing my share of the housework.
I told her, “I clean up after 500 kids every day of the freakin’ working week. Why should I do any more?”
That was a mistake. It only got her started on having kids again.
I’d get it on all sides, I tell you. I’d get it from Fairfax. I’d get it from Dolly. I just couldn’t win, especially with Dolly. I’d often grab another beer and pretend I wasn’t listening. It’s all I could do until she got the hint. Sometimes, it would take awhile.
That’s why I’d go to the bar all the time on Friday nights. I’d do it after I finished cleaning up the school. That way, I could put off seeing Dolly, put off the weekend. I liked the peace and quiet a bar stool had to offer. I’d sit and think about a whole lot of nothing, just to clear my head. I liked to sit there, drink my American beer.
A little while back, I met up with a couple of people. They were at the bar. They had funny pictures and they called themselves death hags.
Death hags, I’ve found, are a strange bunch of people. They sit around, taking about dead celebrities all the time. They don’t care if anyone is listening. In fact, they might start talking to you. This is what happened to me. There I was, minding my own business. Then, they started talking to me.
Jake was a death hag. Jake told me that night he’d been to Hollywood. He had the pictures to prove it.
“That’s me,” he said. He said this to me just after the first time we met. He pointed to small glossy photo on the bar top. He was clearly in the picture. Jake had nice teeth.
He was standing beside a gravestone. It belonged to someone important. This person had been someone important, except they were now dead. But maybe they were important because they were dead? I don’t know.
I didn’t recognize the name of the dead person. Jake had been standing on top of this dead person’s grave in the picture. That mustva took balls, I figured. What if there’d been a zombie attack or a hand came out of the earth or something? I saw that happen in a movie once.
“That’s nothing,” said the guy next to him. I’d find out later his name was Simon. “You should show him the other stuff you’ve got there.”
The other stuff turned out to be stuff that nearly made me wanna barf. I didn’t barf, though. Not that night, not ever. I held it all in. I was a man, you see.
Jake had a bunch of pictures of real famous people. Most of them I didn’t know, but one was JFK. JFK was a real famous person when he was alive. He got more famous after he was dead, though.
In the picture, JFK was on a metal slab. He had a hole in his neck. Brains came out of his skull like pink macaroni and cheese. His eyes were wide open. He looked alive.
“Man, where’d you get this stuff?”
Jake looked at Simon, who grinned.
“You like it, huh?” said Simon.
“I’m just curious, that’s all,” I said. “Just curious.”
“That’s what they all say.”
Simon lit a cigarette, then looked at Jake. Simon said something about a dealer he knew. A guy who could sell me pictures like this. I said I wanted pictures like that. Jake said I could get some.
I was able to get a phone number before we got chased out of the bar. A bouncer ran us out of the joint, told us to never come back. Jake told me this happens often. Lots of bartenders didn’t like death hags showing pictures around. It might scare away the women. Without women, Jake said, bartenders can’t make money. Men are not there for the beer, he said, but the women.
That night, I went home to my wife. Dolly was awake when I crawled into bed. I hit the pillow just as I heard her voice.
“John?” she said. “Is that you, John?”
I groaned. She shook me with a bony hand.
“When are we going to have kids, John?” she asked.
I rolled over on my belly and pretended I was dead.
“When are we going to have kids?” she asked again.
I buried my head under the pillow. Eventually, Dolly fell asleep. I liked her better when she was like that, when she wasn’t talking about having kids. She’s kinda like JFK when she’s sleeping, lying there on that slab. The only difference is that she’s not rich or famous, like JFK.
I guess I married the wrong woman.
The UPS guy woke me up that morning. I was expecting him, but he still woke me up. It was a weekday. Dolly wasn’t home. She was at work, doing something. Maybe she was doing something important. I don’t know.
The UPS guy rang me up. I met him at the door.
“Sign here,” he said. I took a plastic pen and signed something on a giant calculator.
I was in my boxers and wife beater. The UPS guy didn’t seem to care. Dolly would have screamed at me if she’d saw me answer the door like that. But Dolly wasn’t home. She was at work.
The UPS guy gave me the tattered cardboard box. It was tiny. It was as wide as it was long. It made a perfect square.
The box was leaking. A tiny drip of white stuff came out of the corner.
I wandered around the apartment, holding on the box. Simon had sent me the box. There were lots of other boxes and suitcases scattered around the living room. Dolly had all of her stuff in these boxes. She had them there just in case she had to leave again. She didn’t want to have to do all kinds of work repacking everything if she had to leave again. That’s what she told me. She would leave again if I hit her.
I wondered if I could put the package in with her boxes. Then, I realized, she might take it. She might take it if she left. I couldn’t hide the box there. Where could I hide it?
Christ, I hated tough decisions.
The reason I got the package is because I’d told Simon and Jake that I couldn’t get any pictures. The stranger didn’t do pictures. Just antiques.
“Shit, I’m sorry,” said Jake. “That’s too bad.”
He and Simon were sitting across from me at a table in the bar. They were sitting at the same table I’d talked to the stranger at. They were grinning and looking at each other funny. They were trying to not crack each other up, I could tell. Then, Jake turned to me and said, “Hey, you should check this out.”
He pulled out a picture from a brown envelope on the table.
It was a picture of a woman in a field. Two cops stood near her. She was naked. She’d been cut in two, right at the torso. The murder had happened a long time ago. Jake said all the blood had been drained from her body. Then, she’d been dumped in this field.
“You like that?” said Jake.
“I guess,” I said.
“That’s a really famous case,” said Jake, putting his finger on the body. “It’s still unsolved.
“She wanted to be an actor,” added Simon. “She wanted to be famous.”
“What’s her name,” I asked.
They told me.
“I don’t know her name,” I said. “Was she ever in anything?”
Jake and Simon looked at each other.
“No,” said Simon.
“No, but I think they’re making a movie about her,” said Jake.
I nodded. It was never too late to be famous, once you were dead.
“I hope it’s a good one,” I said.
“I hope so, too,” said Jake. “Not like that one about Andy Kaufman.”
“Yeah, that was a pretty bad movie,” said Simon.
I took a sip of my beer. “Who’s Andy Kaufman?”
“He used to wrestle women,” Jake said. “Then he died. Cancer.”
I turned to Simon. “Are there any pictures of that guy? You know, dead?”
“Maybe,” Simon said. He looked at Jake and started smiling again. Jake started grinning real funny, too. Then Simon turned to me and said, “Hey, do you wanna see a real dead body?”
I shrugged and acted real calm. You couldn’t act excited, not when people were going to show you something. People can smell it. See, when we were dating, Dolly never showed me her tits. She didn’t show my anything until the day I didn’t care anymore. Only then did she show me her tits. By then, though, I didn’t really care much. I was too busy drinking and watching TV. It was annoying, the way she’d show me those tits of hers.
“How do I get to see a dead body?” I asked, real calm-like. I took a sip of beer.
Simon told me he worked in a museum. They had all sorts of old stuff. One of the things they had was the skeleton of a baby. It was a famous baby. It’d belonged to some guy who’d flown across the Atlantic. I remembered reading about him in school, when I was young. It had been in history class. Simon said the guy’s name was Charles Lindbergh.
The baby was now dead. Charles Lindbergh’s baby, that is. Someone had kidnapped it. They’d wanted a lot of money in ransom, but the baby somehow died. The guy who kidnapped the baby was captured. Now, the baby was famous. The baby was famous because he was dead.
“What was his name?” I asked.
I didn’t know because I’d failed history class.
“The same as his father’s,” said Simon. “Jake has a picture here somewhere.”
He rifled through the photos on the bar. He then stopped at a black-and-white photo.
“Ah, yeah. This is it. Are you sure you haven’t eaten yet?”
I said it didn’t matter. Simon shrugged, and showed it to me. He said he’d gotten it from the Internet. I looked at it. I wished it were in color, like that JFK picture. I even said so to Simon and Jake. But then Simon replied that color didn’t exist when this photo was taken. Not in pictures, at least. Maybe life was in black-and-white, too. Seemed to be that before the 1940s, just about everything was black-and-white. These days, everything was in color.
I looked at the picture again. It was pretty gross for a black-and-white picture. The bottom half of the baby had been eaten by animals. All that remained of the lower half were bones. Something like skin hung in flaps off the rib cage. Or was it the baby’s shirt? I really couldn’t tell.
“How do you know that’s the baby?”
Simon tapped the baby’s foot.
“Lindberg had to ID the baby by the foot,” he said. “The foot is all curled and deformed, see? The baby was born that way.”
“Oh,” I said.
“We have this baby’s skeleton in the museum,” said Simon. “It goes on tour every now and then. You’re in luck, though. It won’t be on tour for another six months.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Nobody would know it’s gone. I could let you borrow it for a hundred bucks.”
I bit my lip. A hundred bucks was a lot of dough. But it was a baby. Dolly wanted a baby.
“OK, sure,” I said, just as the bouncer appeared.
“Hey, didn’t I tell you guys never to come here again?”
The bouncer had appeared at our table. We now sat at tables because we didn’t want the bartender to see us anymore up front. The bartender didn’t like us. Neither did this bouncer, I guess.
Simon gathered the pictures. We got out of that place, as we didn’t want to cause a scene. We never went back. There were other places to drink in town anyway. We hit two more of them that night. Then I went home and waited. Waited to get the package I now held.
I took the package into the bedroom. I sat with it on the bed. I had to be very, very careful with it. It was leaking. It said Fragile on it. Fragile meant that the package could leak even more. You can learn a lot as a janitor.
There was a note from Simon on the package. It was tucked in with the waybill. It said, “Hey, John. Do Not Expose To Sunlight. Do Not Water. Do Not Feed After Midnight. That Last One’s A Joke. Best, Simon.”
I sat on the bed with the package. It was wrapped in brown paper. I felt an itch, an itch to open the package. I found that I couldn’t. I wanted to, but something was preventing me from doing it. It was like I had these voices insides my head. They were all saying it was one thing to see pictures, but another thing to see a real, live, dead body.
I didn’t know what to do. I was faced with a real problem. Eventually, I just stuck the box in my sock drawer. I covered it up with socks.
I went back to bed. The sun shone outside my window, but I needed rest before work. I always slept during the day. I guess I was a vampire.
Before I went to sleep, I could hear something dripping. I lay there in bed and hoped it wasn’t the baby. That’d really suck. I don’t know how I could explain the dead baby to Dolly.
I guess I didn’t think this one through.
I went to work later that day. The same day I got the package. The strangest thing happened when I went to work. I found a tiny finger in the wood shop. I found it during the first fifteen minutes of doing my job.
The finger had been sliced off clean at the knuckle. It’d belonged to a child. It had been easy to find. I just followed the trail of blood. Tiny drips. They led behind a small pile of lumber. I don’t know what Fairfax’s problem had been. It hadn’t been hard to find at all.
The accident had happened at the end of the school day. Something had happened with a child at the band saw, and Fairfax said they couldn’t find the finger. They’d looked and looked, and just couldn’t find it. So I was ordered to search the wood shop room first. It was empty. The room was locked.
Fairfax said that I wasn’t to touch anything. The school board would be looking at the scene first thing in the morning. If I found the finger, I was to tell Fairfax. He would be working late in his office, and I could come show him the finger. If I found the finger, there might be a chance that it could be reattached. The child might get his or her finger back. That’d be cool, I guess. That’s what I told him. Fairfax, I mean.
When I found the finger, I dropped into a large garbage container. It belonged to the shop room. I cleaned up some of the blood on the floor. I did it quickly. I didn’t like the sight of blood. And that finger … . I shivered just thinking about it.
I saw Fairfax again later on. He was working late because of the accident. He was moving papers on his desk. He was looking at the telephone, almost expecting it to bite him. He asked me if I found the finger. I said no. He cursed. Then, he looked at me. I guess he didn’t like what he saw. His eyes grew out of his head, you see.
He said in a low tone of voice, “You know that shirt is quite inappropriate. Please change it. Quickly now.”
I was wearing a T-shirt. The T-shirt had a picture of a bald-headed Gook on fire. It had been taken during the Vietnam War. There were words on the shirt. They read Rage Against The Machine. It was some rock band. I never heard any of their music. But the shirt was cool.
The shirt had used to belong to Simon. He’d given it to me. He said it made me look like a real death hag, so I wore it to work. I wore it to work under another shirt, but I took that shirt off and put it around my waist. I was hot, you see. Cleaning made me sweat.
“Okay,” I said to Fairfax. I put the long-sleeved shirt over the T-shirt. I put it on and buttoned it up. I put it on and wished I had a mop. I wished I had a mop to put slivers in my hands.
I left Fairfax and went back to cleaning in the wood shop. I wiped down the band saw blade. I made it shine. The rag was bloody. I threw it in the trash. I then took the trash out of the green barrel and then I took it to my truck. I put it in the back of the Chevy half-ton.
Normally, I left the trash out for the dump truck. It came on Saturday. This time, I had something I didn’t want to throw out. It could be worth a hundred bucks. Maybe.
When I was done taking out the trash, it was time for a break. I passed Fairfax’s office. He was now shredding some papers. He pretended he didn’t notice me.
I didn’t have Simon’s number. I didn’t have Jake’s number either. I tried calling the guy who was supposed to sell me some pictures of dead people. I called from the staff room. The stranger wasn’t available, though. The phone kept clicking on the third ring. A mechanical female voice kept asking me for a phone number. It was too bad. I could have sold him that finger. I’m sure he had a hundred bucks. He could afford imported beer, you know.
I would try again later. I decided that when he didn’t pick up. Then, I called Dolly. She answered the phone on the third ring.
“Some kid got their finger chopped off in the band saw at school,” I said.
She didn’t say anything for a moment. Then she said, “John, is that you?”
I said, “Yes, it’s me. Some kid got their finger chopped off in the band saw at school.”
“Oh,” she said. She sounded bored. Then she said, “When are we going to have kids?”
I talked to her. I said, “Dolly, quit joking around. Some kid got their finger chopped off in the band saw at school.”
She didn’t listen. She asked me when were we going to have kids again.
I hung up on her. Damn woman. Everything was about kids. She had a real one-track mind.
I walked past Fairfax’s office again.
“You shouldn’t be making calls on work time,” he said as I passed by.
“Okay,” I said.
I tried not to punch the wall. The only reason I didn’t was because it’d hurt. I was tried of hurting.
Later on that week, I was back at the bar. I was taking a gulp of Coors. Then, I realized that I should show Simon and Jake the finger. Maybe I could get the money I spent on Charles Lindbergh’s dead baby back? I thought about it. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
“Hey guys, I have something to show you,” I said to the boys. “It’s in my truck.”
I quickly finished my beer, and took them to the half-ton. I opened up the back, and opened up the garbage bag. The bloody rag was there. So was that part of the finger. I pulled it out of the bag.
The finger now looked like a shriveled little raisin. All the blood had run out. It felt flimsy between my fingers. It didn’t even look like a finger. It was just skin and bone. I don’t know why I was so scared of it before. Here, it was nothing. It didn’t even look like a finger.
“What the hell is that?” said Simon.
“It’s a finger,” I said. “Some kid had it cut off in a school accident. You want to buy it?”
Simon approached me. He wanted to take a closer look. Then, someone retched. It was Jake. He was throwing up in the parking lot. I couldn’t believe it. Someone might see him. I told Jake to knock it off.
“That a real finger?” said Simon.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s yours for a hundred bucks.”
Simon raised an eyebrow at this. Jake kept puking. Thick, chunky liquid. It poured out of his mouth.
“That’s sick,” Simon said.
“That’s just sick. C’mon, Jake, let’s take off.”
I couldn’t believe this. This was not supposed to happen.
“It’s just a finger,” I said.
“I’m not buying a fucking finger,” said Simon. “That’s sick.”
Then, Simon led Jake away from the green blob of jelly he’d left on the pavement. It looked poisonous. Jake seemed to be crying and puking at the same time. He was led away. What a baby.
“That’s disgusting,” said Jake, walking away. “Disgusting, man.”
“You don’t want to buy my finger?” I asked.
“C’mon, Jake,” repeated Simon, pulling Jake by his arm. “Let’s get out of there.”
I didn’t get it. Why didn’t they want my finger?
I guess I’ll never know.
I was soon left alone in the parking lot. Jake and Simon drove off somewhere in a car. Simon was the driver. The car came towards me. Jake rolled down his window. The car slowed down.
“Freak!” he yelled.
He threw up again as Simon pulled away. Liquid dribbled down the side of the door. It wasn’t blood. Usually, you see blood on car doors whenever there’s an accident. Then, rubber burned and the car disappeared around the corner.
I haven’t seen Simon or Jake since. I hope is that they don’t come looking for the baby. I don’t know if I can give it back. Not now.
I stood there for a while. Then, I chucked the finger. It flew through the air as far as I could throw it. It landed in traffic. Some car on the highway next to the parking lot ran over it. Flattened it. Skin flopped over the pavement. It looked like part of a tire blown off.
The finger was worthless to me. I was no longer scared of it. I also couldn’t get any money for it. Maybe it was because it didn’t belong to anyone famous. I guess that’s why Simon and Jake didn’t want to buy it.
All I just hope is they don’t want that baby back.
I have my reasons.
I opened up my sock drawer. It was just the other day, except this day was Saturday. I looked in the drawer. I noticed something wasn’t there. I ran my hands under the socks. They were wet. They smelt like paint. I think that was because of the fluid. The fluid that was leaking, that is.
Anyhow, there was this huge space between the socks.
The package. It was gone!
Shit! I thought. Where could a dead baby go?
Right then, Dolly came into the room.
“I had it right here,” I said, saying it to Dolly. “It was right here.”
I motioned to the sock drawer. I motioned with all of my hands. Dolly didn’t notice. She just looked at me from the door.
“Have you seen a package?” I said.
“What package?” she said.
“I had a package. It was in this drawer, between my socks. Did you see it?”
“I don’t know what package you’re talking about.”
“Oh,” I said.
She then changed her tone of voice. She leaned on the door, too. She looked sexier somehow.
“John, when are we going to have kids?”
Christ, there she was. Always talking about kids, she was.
“Please don’t go change the subject,” I said.
I pointed at the drawer. It was open.
“There was a package here. It was clearly here when I left here yesterday. Did you see it?”
“You said we could have kids, John. You told me once.”
“Answer me. Where’s my package?”
I pointed again. I pointed at the sock drawer.
“It was here. It was just here yesterday.”
Dolly didn’t seem to care. She just twirled her hair with a finger. It was long hair. Brown hair. It was starting to turn gray at the roots.
“When are we going to have kids?”
I exhaled, and put my hands on my hips. This was getting us nowhere. And I had something else to tell her. I thought about it.
Then, I said, “Dolly, I have to tell you something.”
I had been meaning to tell her something. It was something important. I’d been putting it off. I had been afraid to tell her. See, the day before, I’d gone into work. Fairfax was there. He called me into his office. He shut the door behind him.
“I have bad news,” he said. “It’s very bad news.”
“OK,” I said.
I smiled. I waited to feel the slivers entering my hands. They didn’t come. Not then, anyway.
“We have to let you go,” said Fairfax. “There’s just no more work. I’m so sorry.”
I had to think about this for a second. I had a thought. It was a good one. I often don’t have very many of those. It didn’t involve me throttling Fairfax. That thought only came to me down at the bar later on.
“What do you mean there’s no work?”
“There’s just no work.” Fairfax shook his head. “Nope. Just not enough to go around.”
“This is a school,” I said. “Schools need janitors.”
“There’s no more money for a janitor in our budget.”
He smiled as he said this.
“Oh,” I said. Then I realized something else. “What about the kids? Kids are always messy.”
“The kids will have to be less messy, I guess.”
Fairfax shook his head. He swung it limply, like he was in mourning or something. Then, he looked at me. He looked at me and opened the door.
“I’m really sorry,” he said. “You can go now.”
I looked at him. I scratched my head.
“Please, go now,” he said softly. “I don’t want there to be a scene.”
“Oh, OK,” I said cheerfully.
And that was that.
I went back out to my truck. I sat behind the wheel for God knows how long. I was opening and closing my hands. Opening and closing my hands. No reason. It just felt good. Then, I had an idea. It was a good idea. I got out of the half-ton. I opened the back of my truck, and grabbed the garbage bag.
I had to give Fairfax something. I couldn’t just leave without giving him something. I couldn’t just leave with school property.
“Thank you,” said Fairfax. He took the garbage bag. It didn’t have the finger in it. It just had some wood shavings, dirt and a bloody rag.
“OK,” I said.
I stood there in his office. I shifted between feet. Right foot. Left foot.
“You can go now,” said Fairfax. He looked bored. He was reaching for the phone. It didn’t look like it could bite him this time.
“OK,” I said.
I turned around and left. I guess Fairfax would know what to do with the garbage bag. That was his job. His job was to know what to do. Always.
Now I stood in front of Dolly. I had my hand raised. I had my hand raised like a student in a classroom. I never raised my hand in school. I was never smart enough. Now, I had my hand raised.
“Put your hand down,” said Dolly.
“Where’s my package?”
“Put your hand down,” said Dolly.
“Where’s my package?”
“Please, put your hand down,” said Dolly.
She was scared. At least, she looked that way.
I put my hand down. I put it down across her face. My fingernails caught her cheek. They pulled the skin back. I didn’t mean to. But they pulled the skin back. It was an accident. It was an accident, I swear.
Blood rolled down her cheek. It was in slow motion, like how you see it done on TV. She put a hand against her cheek. She looked at me. Then she said something. She said it in a broken voice.
I put my hand away. It’d done too much damage.
“Where’s my package, Dolly?”
She said something to me.
“I took your stupid package and threw it out!”
Something came over me. I don’t know what it was. It was the same something that came over me sitting at the bar. I was thinking about Fairfax, you see. I was thinking about the things I could just do to him. Now, I did them to Dolly.
When I was done, she looked like a car accident victim. She was just lying there on the floor. She was lying in a small pool of blood. All I needed was a tarp to cover her. Maybe some thread to keep her lips from moving, too.
“Your damn box smelled!” she said. “The damn thing just smelled.”
“Why did you throw my package out?” I asked her. I wished she could just answer the goddamn question.
“I told you! It made the whole place smell like a funeral home!”
I couldn’t believe it. Dolly had thrown my box away. Who knew where it was now? The garbage truck had taken it. You never know where things end up after a garbage truck takes it. I mean, it goes to a dump, sure. But what dump? And where in that dump? And would it be crushed? You never knew these things.
I took a different tact with Dolly.
“Who said you could throw my package out?”
Dolly looked up at me. She must have thought I was crazy or something. I thought about what this could mean. It took me only a minute.
“Shit,” I said.
I stepped over her. I walked around the apartment. I tried not to trip over the boxes and suitcases. She’d left them in the living room. She’d left everything packed up from her last move. Just in case she had to leave again.
“Christ, you threw my package out.”
“I’m leaving,” said Dolly. She had picked herself up off the floor. She was wiping her arm with blood. The blood came from her face. She looked at me oddly. Like I was crazy or something.
“I’m leaving you again. I mean it this time.”
I barely heard her. I was thinking again. I was thinking worrisome thoughts.
“Jake and Simon will be so pissed,” I said. I folded my arms and shook my head. “I can’t believe this. You threw my shit out.”
“John, did you hear me? Did you even hear me when I talk to you? I said I’m leaving.”
I walked back towards her. I was wondering what I could do. Wondering what I could do to get the package back.
“I can’t believe you threw my shit out.”
“You hit me, John. Look at this. I’m bleeding.”
I looked at her. She was right. She was bleeding kind of badly, in fact. She could have used a rag or something.
“This is horrible,” I muttered, referring to the missing baby.
“No kidding,” she said, holding her face.
I looked at her. I realized she wasn’t talking about the package. See, I noticed now that she was crying.
I froze. My stomach sank. I realized that I hadn’t told her the important stuff. And now, she was moving toward the front door.
“Wait, I have something to tell you.”
“I’m leaving. Don’t say you’re sorry. I’m not going to listen.”
“I’m not going to say sorry.”
“That’s why I’m leaving. I really mean it this time.”
“But I have something to tell you.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m leaving.”
“But I have something to tell you,” I said, gritting my teeth. Crooked teeth. I grabbed her by the arms. I turned her around. I had to convince her.
I stood there. I didn’t let her go. She looked at me. She looked at me like a deer crossing in front of a car. I wanted to tell her something. I wanted to tell her I’d lost my job. Fairfax had fired me, you see. I had to tell her.
I looked her in the eye. She looked away. Then, I understood. My eyes widened. I knew what I had to tell her.
“Dolly, maybe we could make a baby?”
The door slammed. Dolly was gone. She left as I was watching TV. I was watching TV with a beer in my hand. It was a Colt .45. Now there’s a real American beer.
I didn’t worry about Dolly. She’d be back. She hadn’t taken all her stuff. I could convince her to make a baby. I could convince her when she came back. She always came back. Last time she did. Maybe this time, too.
I wasn’t worried about Dolly. It was Charles Lindbergh’s baby I was worried about. I hoped nobody would be looking for it. I don’t think I could replace it. Babies are one of a kind, especially dead ones.
I sat in my chair. I was watching one of those newfangled Reality TV programs. It showed footage of car chases. Most of them ended with someone dying. Bodies were thrown from car wrecks in grainy video.
I scratched my crotch once, watching TV. I was wearing my wife beater and boxers. I scratched my crotch and remembered that Buddy Holly had itchy balls when he died. It said in the death report he’d scratched his balls when the plane hit the ground. Honest to God.
I watched TV. Then, I heard a knock at the door. I turned down the volume and went to answer the knock. I opened the door and saw two police officers. I had a lump in my throat. I nearly shit myself. People often do that when they die.
The cops looked at me like I was guilty. They had their hands on their guns.
“A young girl from the neighborhood has gone missing,” the second cop said. He reached inside a large brown envelope. It had been tucked under his arm. He pulled a glossy sheet of paper out.
“Have you seen this girl?” he asked.
I heard the sound of two cars colliding on the TV behind me. Somebody’s head had gone through a windshield. I could tell. I was now almost an expert on these things. I was a death hag, you see.
I took the photo in my hands. I looked it over. The girl had shiny teeth.
“No, officer, I have not seen this girl.”
Both of them seemed happy with my answer and left. I closed the door. I shuddered in relief.
I sat down with my beer again, and watched TV. My heart slid back down my throat. I washed it down with beer. Then, I just felt nothing. I didn’t think much about Dolly, about Fairfax, or Jake and Simon for the rest of that afternoon. I just watched the TV, and thought of the girl the cops showed me.
I hoped the cops wouldn’t take too long to get new pictures of the girl – the really good ones. You can find them sometimes in a newspaper or maybe on the Internet. Anyone can find them, if you look hard enough.
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