i know i've been silent for a long time here. i've been writing, but a little on a lot of projects. this is one i began at the beginning of summer and have only just now completed. but yes, i've been in a dry spell... what am i, a weed or an alcoholic? either way, it is what it is.
was going to split this in half, but decided to just post it in total for now. may change my mind in the future. i do have an interview i did with these characters, i'll be posting that in a few days, as i did with Pony and all that there.
hope you guys enjoy!
thursday, 3 september, 2009. 10:05pm.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
I saw my first body while playing in a sectioned corner of Gail's mortuary, building prison forts and G.I. Joe palaces out of Legos. I've seen boundless amounts of bodies since then, seeing as I live above the mortuary.
Gail's my mother.
"Gail, Eddy, when I'm working."
Momma had a strict way of doing things, as methodical in life as she is in preparing the dead.
"Gail, there's a man on the phone. He said it is about Mrs. Pote again."
I was careful in delivering the message, perfectly reciting it word for word, as I'd practiced beneath my breath while coming down the wide concrete steps leading to Momma's workplace. I'd been watching television, but had to answer the phone because Mr. Harding was with a customer again, and Hanna leaves for an hour after lunchtime.
Momma sighed, removing a pair of gloves before going over to a phone hooked into the wall. It's a special phone that never rings, but she can pick up calls from the other line, if they're important enough.
While she was preoccupied, I moved closer to the table to see who Momma had been working on this time; that way, I won't be surprised when I see them later in the viewing room. I wasn't quite tall enough to see onto the table, and had to stand on tiptoe and hold onto the edge, pulling myself up and staring at a little boy. He looked a bit bigger than me, older, but I figured he seemed friendly enough. Not like the boys down the street, big boys already in school who never looked like they'd want to play.
"Hi," I whispered--Momma was on the phone, and I wasn't allowed to talk loud if she was on the phone.
"I'm Edwin, what's your name? Your hair is really yellow, like mine. You want to play?"
I waited a moment and then nodded, letting go of the table and dropping from my toes so I could dig into one pocket; my fingers curled around a small figurine, and I pulled it free of its denim prison with some difficulty. It was a soldier I got from a plastic bubble in a machine once, and I reached up and placed it standing on the edge of the table before reaching into another pocket and finding a rock, a penny, and a plastic ring in the shape of a frog.
I put the frog on the table and whispered, "This is you. I'ma be Jaydee. Ok?"
I'd only managed to put the rock and penny back into my pocket before Momma finished her call and roughly shooed me away from the table, handing me back the frog and soldier with some distraction.
"No, he's the frog, Momma, I gives him the frog!"
"Eddy, not now, go upstairs."
I knew from the tone of her voice that now was not the time, so I huffed and clumped back up the concrete stairs and then upstairs to our apartment. In my room, I stepped over a deconstructed battlefield consisting of an old teddy bear and more G.I. Joes, and walked over to the windowsill. It was open slightly, letting in warm summer air, and I put Jaydee and the frog on the green-painted wood.
No longer having to whisper, I said, "'Kay, you're the frog, an' I'm Jaydee. I try to shoot you, and you just hop away. 'Ribbit ribbit.'"
I played with my new friend all afternoon, until Hanna called me for a snack of sliced cheese and sour cream crackers, which is my favorite flavor ever. And I told her about my day since she'd gone.
--- --- ---
The alarm went off across the room, forcing me to roll out of bed and quickly shuffle over to turn it off, yawning into the resulting silence. The time read 4:45 in the morning, and by the time I'd slid into a fresh pair of briefs, jeans, and a shirt, it was only four minutes later and I was already heading downstairs to the kitchen.
The front part of the main floor is dedicated to Gail's mortuary, but the back part is made up of our kitchen and living room, which basically contains a sofa and television. When there's someone in the viewing room, nobody can be in the back, because the noise carries to the front and that's highly unprofessional.
I try not to be home when there's someone in the viewing room, if I can help it. Fortunately, it's been a slow week, and unless there's an emergency sometime today, the house should be relatively quiet--I know there's a viewing scheduled for three, but I'm never home until later anyway.
The smell of bacon and coffee drew my mother downstairs some thirty or forty minutes after I'd started on breakfast, and I had her mug poured and sugared before she even made it to the small table.
"Be just a few minutes on the eggs, Gail."
She sipped her coffee; "It's Mom when I'm not working."
I shrugged; "Sorry, force of habit."
We have this conversation every morning.
Our silence was comfortable while I fried up a pair of eggs for her and a quick scramble for myself, and our silence remained comfortable as we ate. Afterwards, I left her the dishes to scrub up--I cook, she cleans, and vice versa--and headed back upstairs for my school things, the sun just brightening up the sky as I left the house and began the walk to school.
About two houses past the corner at the end of the street, I noticed a gummy blotch on the road and drifted closer out of idle curiosity, only to find that the gummy blotch was a bird that had been run over. I got close and squatted down for an even closer view--pretty much completely flattened and on its side, it was easily a day or two old.
Studying it a moment, I pulled my bag over to my side, easily finding the small digital camera I keep in a special pocket. I snapped a few quick shots before satisfied, standing back up and looking them over again. Four of the dead bird, two from a one-eyed cat I'd seen in a window sometime last week, a few dead squirrels, an empty condom wrapper floating in a restaurant toilet, and various other odds and ends I'd needed photographic evidence of at the time.
"Found ol' Alfred, I see."
A low drawl made me glance from the screen on my camera to someone dressed all in black standing near the corner. At my glance, he motioned towards my gummy blotch, which I came to understand was Alfred.
"Yours?" I asked, and he stared at me a moment before snorting.
I shrugged and put my camera away before walking down the street again, but paused when I heard, "Oi! You not waiting for the bus?"
I looked back at the kid standing on the corner with a lit cigarette in his hand, his outfit as noticeably bleak as the bird adhered to the pavement.
And with that, I turned back and continued walking, making it to school about ten minutes before the morning bell.
I take notes on legal pads. There were four stacked in front of me, purple ink vivid against the yellow pages--purple because I like it. Also spread before me were two encyclopedias open to articles on necrophilia and cremation, an anatomy reference book the size of Alaska, three books on photography in varying degrees of relevance, and a Hardy Boys novel. The last one was there because I planned to check it out later.
I noted the approach of someone in that vague way you notice the passage of time, but it wasn't until he settled himself down in the chair opposite mine that I really took note of him.
It was the guy from this morning. His black clothing seemed even more stark than before, so black it must be relatively new. Unlike a lot of the kids I've seen dressed such, his skin wasn't pale and untouched by the sun, but lightly kissed with a tan--there was a scar just above his right eye, a white slash against darker flesh, but I didn't look at him very long before returning to my note taking.
He reached out and grabbed one of the photography books not actually open at the moment, pulling it over closer to him and awashing me in the stale scent of past cigarettes and the sharper smell of fresh marijuana.
"Writing some paper?"
His voice was almost gravely, surprising me, and I waited until his dark brown eyes flicked up before saying, "No."
"So what's all this for, then?"
"Just wanna know."
Raising an eyebrow in mute derision, he shut the book; "You're weird."
Been hearing that since forever, you'd think they'd find something new. In the resulting silence, he drummed his fingers against the book, a low thrum of muted bone and flesh.
"You really live at that mortuary place?"
I nodded, copying a paragraph short-hand about the difference of film size when taking close-up pictures of such things like insects--you can try with digital, but it just doesn't come out very well. If I can talk Gail into it, I'm going to spring for a traditional camera by my birthday. And by 'talk into it', I mean, 'bug the hell out of her until she gives in'. Actually, all it might take is a threat not to answer the phones when she's working.
"And you take pictures of dead birds?"
He paused, and I could feel his eyes on me, even though I'd not looked up from the page I was copying from.
I glanced up; "Whatever I feel like. …Going to a cemetery after school, though. The one with the big angel."
"To do what? Take pictures?"
I smiled briefly at the thought of a close-up shot of the angel's serene face; "Maybe."
Dark brown eyes blinked, almost startled by something, but then he asked, "Can I come?"
I'd seen a silver stud in his tongue when he spoke.
I shrugged; "If you want."
I didn't hold out much hope that the guy'd really remember once school was out, but I hunkered down by the student exit on the off chance that he might, flipping to a new page in a legal pad as I wrote down some brief observations about the day--the color of the sky, the smell of possible rain despite not seeing any clouds, and the way the sun light against concrete and varying degrees of metal sheen on student cars sparked against my eyes. I wrote down snippets of conversation from people passing by to get to their cars or the lines of parked buses idling for the required ten minutes past the final bell.
A small black bug lit against my shoe and I noted that as well before putting my pad aside so I could transfer the bug from my shoe to my hand, bringing it in close to my immediate line of vision.
"You look like some nerdy retard."
The voice was droll, but mine was absent as I asked, "Do you know what kind of bug this is?"
I blew gently and the small beetle fluttered away in the draft before righting itself so it could fly away. Gathering up my pad and pen, I put them into my bag alongside my camera and that Hardy Boys novel before placing my legs beneath me so I could push straight upright, shouldering my bag with ingrained ease. He didn't carry anything.
Conversation was minimal as we walked--me leading and him just tagging along. We talked about what grade we were in, what classes we were taking. If we'd seen this movie, or that one. If I'd seen a dead body. He returned to that twice.
"Is it weird? Like…just weird?"
It ate at him, like a small flesh-eating virus attached to his nose.
"They're cold, but friendly enough."
I pulled out my camera as I answered, mind only on the thought of capturing the play of shadow on someone's stone garden dragon. Wading through ankle deep weeds and grass, I ploughed through their front lawn and crouched down before the statue, looking at it through the camera a moment, judging the shot before firing off a few clicks with some satisfaction.
I then returned to the street, where the guy was standing there, just staring at me; when I noticed his expression, I blinked. "What?"
Rolling my eyes, I continued down the street, and it took a few moments for him to catch up. To eat up the silence, he fished in one of the many deep pockets in his baggy black jeans, coming up with a slightly bent cigarette and relatively new lighter. Its clear casing was hot pink. The precise way he lit up fascinated me, and when he noticed my attention, he raised his eyebrows and mutely offered me the cigarette.
"No thanks, Gail's trying to quit."
That made his eyebrows rise even more, although he retracted the offer and sucked in instead, waiting until his exhale to ask, "Gail some personality of yours, or what."
"You know, there aren't that many documented real cases of people having more than one personality?"
"You one of 'em? Because that's pretty cool."
I snorted; "No. But if Gail smells that cigarette on me, she'll make Hanna buy her a pack, and then have to put forty dollars in my account because the penalty fee is rising. I'll end up eating celery for dinner again."
We came to a gas station and I made a detour to go inside, my tagalong putting his cigarette out against a metal post and repocketing it before following me inside.
"So Gail's…what, your mom?"
"And Hanna is…?"
"The hostess. She cleans the main floor, except the kitchen and living room; those are ours; I do those."
I walked with some purpose down an aisle housing basic cleaning supplies. Not for any real reason, but I always walk down this aisle first, before heading over to the candy.
"Do you…you know, work on them?"
I glanced at him, voice contemptuous, "On the bodies? I'm not licensed. Gail could lose hers if I did."
He nodded, and I quickly palmed three packages of Starbursts before heading to the counter to pay for two.
He waited until we were halfway down the block before saying, "I totally saw that."
"Only had money for two." My logic is infallible.
The angel's face was as serenely dispassionate as I remembered, and I stood beneath its somberly gentle, down-turned gaze as it towered above me a good three feet or more.
When I was younger, I always thought angels were bright beacons of hope and comfort, and therefore, ought to be smiling to beat the dickens. In every portrayal, they're never looking the person straight on, unless in part of a mural where their very positioning is above the average viewer's height. And they're never smiling anything more substantial than that smile of the Mona Lisa. Do angels have teeth? Would flashing them in a smile make them seem more like phony salesmen? Maybe.
"Thought you were gonna take pictures."
"Said I might."
But I conceded his point by pulling out my camera and stepping back a pace or two before zooming the viewfinder onto the angel's face, judging the shot before taking a few. I stepped back even more and clicked some full shots before satisfied, turning to see I was being watched with a lazily critical eye.
"What, I've got a pretty ass?"
My quip startled a laugh out of him, a budding grin that he hid behind his knuckles before shaking his head and leaving it free to pull across his face.
"Prettiest thing here," he drawled, and I raised an eyebrow.
"Stone, dirt, and fake flowers. That's some competition."
The scar above his eye was bright against his skin, drawing my eyes as he laughed, and before he could stop me or even realize what I was doing, I raised my camera and snapped a quick shot of his face. The flash surprised him a bit, his laughter ebbing as he stared with some puzzlement, but I just quirked a small smile his way before putting my camera in my bag and walking over to a low stone bench situated beneath the shady limbs of a large tree.
I sat and pulled out a package of Starbursts, my legs crossed and feet tucked beneath my knees as I spread the packaging out in my lap, already to the point of unwrapping a lemon by the time he'd wandered over to join me beneath the tree, even though he lingered by the trunk.
After eating all the lemon pieces in silence, I just as silently sorted through and picked out the orange, cupping them in my fist and holding the group out in an offer he didn't readily take, not until I shook my hand a bit in impatience. Accepting the oranges, he looked at me a moment before shaking his head and sitting down beside me, carefully lining the pieces on his black-denim-covered thigh. I watched him then choose a piece from the middle of the line, chipped black nails working at the wrapper with anal concentration of removing it without tearing.
"What's your name?" I asked after he'd slid the orange candy past his lips and gently worked it over with his front teeth a bit.
He transferred the candy to one side of his mouth before answering, "Called Buddha."
Sunlight filtered down through the leaves overhead and dappled his face with a few moving gold spots, a length of dark brown hair falling over his forehead and into his eyes.
He glanced out at the graves and let out a small breath; "Quiet."
I nodded; "They usually are."
After I'd finished the first Starburst package, I opened the second as I'd done the first, again transferring the oranges to him and keeping the rest for myself. During the transfer process, my fingers brushed his palm and he twitched, as if the action had caused some irrational or automatic response before he'd managed to kill it. I ignored it in favor of eating a red starburst, the sweet juice of the candy somewhat tart as it burst against the back part of my lower jaw, causing the entire mandible to tingle. I love it when that happens.
After the second package was gone, we continued sitting in quiet for a couple minutes before he finally stated, "I gotta go."
"See you tomorrow?"
I looked up as he stood, his dark eyes not looking at me but the ground near the bench's legs, so he didn't see my brief nod, forcing me to repeat it once his gaze finally flicked to my face.
Even before he was more than a couple feet away, I dug out a legal pad and purple pen, continuing my observation notes from earlier--this time I included a brief notation about Buddha, and that he accepts orange Starbursts without question or complaint.
I stayed in the cemetery until light began to darken into orange, signifying a drawing sunset--the light was fully gray by the time I made it home. Hanna leaves at five-thirty most days, and it was almost seven when I walked through the door, surprised to see the woman behind our front desk, her head bent over whatever papers she was working on at the moment.
When the click of the door shutting behind me aroused her attention, she lifted her face and offered a smile, which I easily returned. I've known Hanna nearly all my life, she looked after me quite a bit when I was young.
"A late viewing?" I guessed, and her smile turned wry, causing me to nod and head up the stairs before Gail catches me and accuses me of gumming things up.
Our upstairs is fairly large, enough that before this house was what it is now, it was considered a separate apartment, although it had to share the downstairs kitchen. I deposited my things in my room before grabbing the memory card from my camera and heading down the hall to the small spare room we've made into a study or computer room--a lot of Gail's books and records are kept here, as well as the relatively ancient behemoth desktop set up in the corner.
I spent several hours uploading my recent pictures and editing them in the different programs I've managed to wheedle as gifts over the years. A few of the angel pictures I sent off to a few sites that publish amateur photos with small monetary prize amounts; made fifty dollars overall last year with two black and white photos I sent in of a raccoon that got into a neighbor's trash.
Eventually, the stench of sauerkraut rose up from downstairs, not only signifying that the late viewing was over, as well as Gail being 'in a mood', but that dinner for me was definitely going to be more Starburst. I don't eat sauerkraut, under any circumstances, and wasn't looking to start anytime soon.
-- -- --
I read Hardy Boys and sipped tepid chocolate milk made odd from the taste of cardboard carton. My lunch tray was picked clean and shoved off to the side, the toe of one sneakered foot tapping an absent beat as a descant played through my mind, too high to grasp and hold onto if I really paid too much attention to it.
A yellow-wrapped square of candy dropped over my shoulder and onto the book, and I stared at it a moment before glancing backwards--I missed him, movement at my side pulling my gaze in time to see Buddha sit down next to me with the remainder of his own package of Starbursts.
"Nobody reads Hardy Boys anymore," he stated, and I glanced down at the page.
"But I read all of Nancy Drew already."
His expression was incredulous and reluctantly amused, but he said nothing more on the subject, eating Starbursts as I turned back to my page.
"Can I come over?"
"Today?" I didn't look up.
"Have a viewing today, I'm not going home until late."
Wrappers crinkled. "Where are you going?"
I looked at him, seeing him frowning in concentration at one wrapped candy square, his nails again picking at it so as not to tear the packaging.
"Don't know yet."
"…Want to come over?"
This time he looked at me, and I thought a moment before giving a shrugging nod.
"We're taking the bus," he announced, popping the candy into his mouth and chewing it on the left side of his jaw.
"I don't ride the bus."
"We're taking the bus," he repeated, tone stressing that there wasn't an alternative.
"You're taking the bus."
There was a pause before he stood and gathered his things and prepared to leave; before he did, however, his hand lowered to my shoulder, fingers tightening as he again stressed, "We're taking the bus."
I winced and gave a quick nod, the pressure letting off as he walked away and I rubbed at the spot, feeling his fingers long after he'd gone.
Guess I'm taking the bus.
Crouched down on my heels, there was rough brick at the base of my spine and a yellow legal pad pressed to my knees as I jotted down a few notes about the overcast sky with its faint smell of future rain showers--mild, maybe sometime in the middle of the night. Exhaust lay heavy without a breeze to drive it off the concrete mecca bus loading area, and it cut my lungs if I forgot I'd planned on breathing shallow.
Absorbed thus, I didn't notice my company until black-toed boots peeking from black jeans walked up to my side and paused, forcing my gaze upwards in a squinting frown, my eyes hurting from the over-gray of the sky.
He jerked his head, and I sighed inwardly before following, weaving through the idling double lines of yellow buses until we hit the right one. I rode the bus a few times when I was a kid, but being picked up in front of a mortuary marks you strange, kids figuring out you live there is a stigma that never wears off.
There were a few curious faces at seeing something unfamiliar in me, but the vague interest morphed to disinterest soon enough as I perched on a seat next to Buddha. His fingers tapped his black-clad thighs, nail polish chipped and scratched, but still shiny. It drew my eyes time and again, until I was forced to jot a note about it.
"What's that about my nails?"
He leaned in close, having managed to catch sight of the note as I wrote it--I flipped the pages down and stowed the pad away once more, and he sighed, slumping back against the seat.
As soon as we exited the bus, he waited for the vehicle to make it some way down the street before lighting up a cigarette, an odd set to his shoulders, but I couldn't figure out what made it so. We said nothing as we walked the street just before mine, the overcast sky still heavy, but made more so by the general lack of activity on the street beyond our own.
We eventually stopped in front of a rather ordinary house, not much setting it apart from the rest but for that it was a warm butter yellow and had little vegetation in front other than the actual lawn. He stood in the street as he finished off his cigarette, casual despite that remaining odd set to his shoulders, and I figured he was probably nervous. That's the normal reaction, right? To be nervous?
Anyway, once the butt was flicked and stomped out, we walked up to the front door of the yellow house and he produced a key, wrestling with it a moment as he worked the sticky lock. Eventually though, we were inside.
Almost immediately, we were beset by a medium-sized dog wagging and huffing with excitement, and Buddha bent at the waist to run both hands through the animal's fur, sharing the dog's gaze for a moment, as if they could beam thoughts to each other.
The odd set to his shoulders had all but disappeared when he straightened.
"Taser," he said, and it took me a moment to realize it was the dog's name, and I nodded, the dog sniffing my shoes and giving a brief sneeze before trotting off around a corner, nails clicking on wood flooring.
The house was quiet as we walked around the same corner into a fairly open kitchen that melded into a living room just beyond, but even further than that was a door that became a room. We entered that room, a bedroom…Buddha's, apparently.
It was relatively small, and messy, a cramped feeling to the space because every wall was occupied with some kind of furniture; bed and dresser, a table thing housing a television, and a two-tiered desk covered by stacks of paper with drawings and writing all over. The desk was the only surface that showed any semblance of order, and Buddha walked over piles of clothing and things, shoving crumpled blankets aside to clear a space on the bed he indicated I take with a flick of head.
I complied, out of my element but used to that. Instead of sitting, he went over to the dresser and began rooting around the drawers, giving me time to look around; there were posters up, just one or two and mainly bands I'd heard of but never listened to that I was aware. There was one though, a mountain scene featuring a castle--German, looked like. I studied castles a few years ago.
There were a few framed photographs as well, what looked like family portraits, but they only had Buddha and another boy--Buddha appeared to be in middle school then, his closed smile awkward in the way that happens when you're told to hold a smile for too long.
The other boy was a bit older, a brother I guess, and if Buddha's a gothic kid, his brother was even more extreme. Face pale to the point that make-up was surely used, black mouth and eye paint, angry black clothing and piercings. His smile, though, showed teeth in an easy grin, as if someone had told a joke just before the flash went off.
I felt Buddha turn and catch me staring at the photo, turning my gaze enough to see the way he didn't look at it.
"Brother?" I guessed, and he frowned slightly at me.
"Yeah. He left couple years ago."
He came and sat on the bed, holding a small, flat tin that opened to reveal…joints. I didn't say anything as he picked one up and worked at lighting it, that sweet-harsh smell of pot quickly filling the room once he had. I watched him smoke some, forgetting to take notes due to my fascination with the way smoke curled from his nose when he released it, his ease and methodical way of going about it.
He shook the hair from his eyes before swiveling a glance my way; "Never share my weed, but…you want some?"
I shook my head, and he stared a moment, like maybe I had something on my face although I'm pretty sure I didn't.
Then his gaze narrowed, became inquisitive, so I wasn't surprised when he opened his mouth and asked, "Why'd you come over today?"
"You asked me to."
He snorted; "Do you do everything you're asked?"
My lips quirked; "Almost never."
That drew a smile from him, and he worked at finishing off the joint and stowing away the excess in that flat tin.
He left the bed to return the tin to his dresser, and despite myself, I got up and walked over to the desk, finally sating my curiosity about the stacked papers; flipping through, I drew the conclusion that they were a project of sorts. It looked somewhat like a comic book or graphic novel, but was intersected with pages of handwritten text as well--maybe more like an illustrated book.
Before I could do more than skim over a few paragraphs--something about a shadow that ate minds or souls or something--a hand reached out and took the sheets from me, placing them back in order before they were returned to their position on the desk.
"Hey," his voice was soft, almost wondering, "hey…."
The hand that'd taken the papers from me reached up and fingertips touched my cheek, my sudden awareness piqued sharper than it'd been in a while, and I dimly felt my heartbeat spike hard with adrenalin. Even before the fingertips went from my cheek to my shoulder, firming a grip to somewhat pull me in, I knew he was going to kiss me before he did.
Maybe I knew from the moment he called out to me yesterday morning.
As soft as his fingers had been, his kiss was clumsy, our kiss was clumsy, but I didn't mind. It took a moment of trial and error, but we finally worked out a right way, an easy way of kissing, and I'm pretty sure I was the one to change it further, introducing moist to the equation, and then more. Tentative movement of tongues, and a painful thrill of exhilaration tightened my heartbeat into a fluttery pulse.
He tasted bitter, thick in the gruesome aftermath of cigarette and joint, but the feel of him and that metal post overshadowed his taste until the awkwardness of standing and kissing forced me to pull away. I was blushing, I could tell, and breathing heavily, but he wasn't much better, an unfocused quality to his gaze that I couldn't figure the origin, eventually deciding it didn't really matter.
Whether from me or the drugs, or both, it didn't change the fact that we'd…well.
I returned to the bed on rubbery legs, sinking down in the same spot as before and watching him, aware of him, as he came and did the same. We didn't look at each other, at first, and I worried at my lower lip even as I stole a look, seeing him finally turn towards me. His mouth opened, as if he was going to say something, only for it to close with aborted thought. Before he could repeat the process, I solved the problem by leaning in for another kiss, which he took, no wasted time on closed mouth fumblings as we went straight to the part that sent crackles down the back of my neck.
An undercurrent of thought managed to still flow through my head, and at some point I came to the realization that this is why I'd come over--I'd guessed somehow, in his asking, that given the chance, we'd come to this.
His mouth left mine and my eyes slit open, only to drift shut when his lips pressed to my jaw line, awkward and still good as I let him keep doing it. Wet suction below my shirt collar, hidden, but I couldn't have found it in me to care if it wasn't.
At some point, the kissing tapered off but we lay together on his bed, bizarre tangents on the mattress; my head was pillowed by a lump of blanket and my wrist to the base of my skull, staring at that poster with the castle.
"What's your name?" he suddenly asked, voice soft and sleepy, but hard enough with curiosity.
There was a beat, and he finally yawned; "Okay, 'Why' it is."
I snorted, turning my face just the slightest to him; "Edwin."
"Already asked around, actually, but thought…," a yawn, "…it'd be more polite to ask."
I shrugged, not caring either way.
"You got your camera?"
I nodded, and he pressed, "Can I see your pics?"
I thought about it a moment, and then figured it wouldn't hurt anything. I sat up and moved over him, reaching for my bag just on the floor and digging out my camera, powering it on and getting it to the 'review' option.
I kept hold of the camera but lay back and situated so he could see well enough, thumbing through my stock at a leisurely pace. I didn't pause much on pictures taken before I'd known him, but slowed down on the dead bird, and the cemetery. When his picture came up on the screen, he grabbed the camera and dragged it down closer to him, staring intently at it.
"What are you looking for?" I asked finally, and his reply was absent.
"What you were."
"That's easy, I was looking at the shadows made by the sun against your face."
Dark eyes flicked to mine, staring a moment or two before shifting back to the camera and clicking through the last couple of photos. When he came to the beginning again, he returned to operation mode and sat up, moving quickly in hooking fingers in my shirt collar and pulling downwards, his expression one of self-satisfaction as he smoothly raised the camera and snapped a shot.
I pushed his hand away and reached for the camera, looking at the last shot; my expression was bemused and wide-eyed, with developing half-moon blotches dotting my upper chest. A blush pulsed up in my cheeks, but I didn't hit 'delete', although I did turn off the camera and push fully upright, moving towards the side of the bed.
"Where you going?"
"And I can't come over."
His question was more of a statement, but I shook my head. "Not during a viewing."
"Where the family views the body."
He was quiet, watching me put my camera back into its pocket in my bag, and his sudden movement caught me off guard. An arm went around my back as he knelt on the bed, overbearing, and I couldn't help but lean away, warily side-glancing until he lessened the height and kissed me again, softer and less clumsy than the first.
I couldn't have fought, and I wasn't much inclined to after the initial reaction to personal space invasion. It was indulgent, kissing, a selfish act performed with someone else for the same purpose, but I knew somehow that our purposes weren't quite uniform. What I wanted was different than what he wanted, I knew that, but it didn't matter.
It felt heavier, grew so, hands touching me--no longer feather soft, but firm, drinking in the weight of flesh over form, praising the strength of life roped over muscle and bone, the weight of me. Fine beads of sweat cropped up along my temples and back of my neck, I could feel them in the flush of my skin, and then….
A hand was on my jeans, pressing the y-seam--I felt his thumb alongside my semi, and I panicked.
I flailed him off me, a squirming mass of chickenshit, and moved off the bed, pointedly not looking at him as I gathered my bag.
It was only as I was near the door that I heard that same soft vocalization as before; "Hey…hey."
I paused, and saw him still kneeling on the bed, face open.
He asked, "Want a soda?"
The randomness of it forced a smile from me, and I turned my head with a slight nod, smile still evident.
The one soda turned into four, sitting on his sofa watching television for hours. It was already dark by the time someone returned home for the day other than Buddha, an older man coming through the front door and pausing to shuffle through what appeared to be mail. A much older, graying version of Buddha.
"I smell mary-jane."
The man's voice was as gravelly as Buddha's, even, but much deeper.
Buddha twisted on the couch; "Yeah."
"I dare hope that it is not mine."
"Thank God for small favors."
And thus said, the man disappeared down a hall, and that was that. Buddha twisted back and returned to watching the television screen, only peripherally aware of the way I was staring.
Finally, he glanced over; "Dad works late, because Mom's gone a while."
A moment more, and he added, "Well, she left a few years ago."
"Because of your brother?"
He didn't say anything, reaching forward and shaking cans until he found the fullest one, passing it over and sipping from another. I was sure the can had not been mine, an attempt of distraction, but I didn't mind.
Hanna answered the phone Saturday morning, her voice florally professional before she paused--I felt her eyes turn to where I stood hiding in plain sight between two potted trees.
She put the line on hold; "Edwin, line two for you."
I listened to the viewing just starting in the other room a moment before nodding, heading over and punching the button for the line.
"Want to come over?"
I thought about it, but it was the sudden, hysterical screaming that made up my mind, a particular phrase sticking out from the mess.
Hours were spent on the couch watching his television, more than I watch in an entire week consumed in just a day. More soda cans littered the coffee table, and I had a hickey forming on the inner curve of my shoulder, remnants of sticky, soda-kisses on my lower lip. We were alone in the house, had been since I got there early, and his ease assured me we'd be alone for a long while yet.
"You did what now?"
"Put his wife's picture in with his coffin, the wife who died about five years ago. He gave me a picture at her viewing."
"I got that part, but why was there a fuss?"
"Didn't know he remarried."
It had been a compulsion, as soon as I saw the man on Gail's table, I'd recognized him. He was a bit older than I'd remembered, but old enough that five years didn't matter much. When his wife died, I'd been at the viewing, sitting in the back and watching the people mourn. The old man had been kind, eyes sad even though he smiled and gave me a dollar, letting me have a picture when I asked for one. So, when I'd seen the man, I got that photo from a box of things and put it into the coffin once it was in the viewing room, feeling like it ought to be there.
Guess his new wife didn't think so.
"I want to come over." He leaned over and set down his can, an empty sound against the ring-scarred wood.
I looked at him, his back still slightly bowed as he looked at the television with his elbows resting on his knees, forced indifference.
"You want to see one," I guessed, and he looked at me, and I saw I was right.
He sat up and moved closer, gravelly voice smoothened over with spun candy as he agreed, "I want to see one."
A hand went to my stomach immediately after, and I knew its intention before it moved down, and suddenly, I knew. There was a trade here, tit for tat, quid quo pro. And as soon as he knew I'd realized the deal being made, he grinned sharply and with more spine, moving now with confidence.
Pressed against the arm of the couch, jeans and underwear pushed to my hips and Buddha kneeling between my lower thighs, I could only watch as he bent down with smooth ability. Eyes wide and unseeing as I stared up at the ceiling, entire being focused on the metal tongue piercing against my skin, slick pleasure pooling in my lower gut and the sweat dampening the shirt on my back.
I ended up leaving Buddha's with a T staining my shirt, but most of it had dried by the time I walked through the front door and to the kitchen. Gail was there, reading a novel while absently forking up spaghetti, and I helped myself to a bowl before sitting down across from her.
"Have someone coming tomorrow," I announced, and she nodded, eyes never leaving the text on the page.
A strange floating dream came to me in the night, a whispered conversation between two small boys, playing frog and soldier.
-- -- --
I sat at the reception desk, poring over a large tome of Civil War photos and accounts. It was Sunday, and we were technically closed--Gail usually goes out on Sundays.
A glass of cranberry juice sat near at hand, lukewarm and tart, disappearing in small, appreciative sips as I turned the stiff pages.
Just after noon, the bell sounded, and I sipped my juice, staring at a picture featuring a mass grave. Older men and young boys, all jumbled into orderly chaos. The bell sounded a second time, and I stood, taking a moment to memorize the faces in the line of the men who dug the hole before I went for the door.
Buddha's face appeared dull and uninterested, but his eyes spoke differently as I let him inside. Without returning to the desk, I led him over to the wide, concrete stairs, heading down to Gail's workspace.
I turned on the lights, the room lit with sharp florescent lighting and dully glinting from the metal tables in the middle of the room and the counters and sinks against one wall.
I let him take the room in a moment before heading to another one, having to unlatch a heavy mechanism before swinging open the smoothly-weighted door. I flicked on the light--we only had one body waiting for Gail's touch at the moment. An older woman, maybe old enough for a kid in high school--all that was visible of her was her neck up, dark brown hair already braided back.
I walked over, finger gently smoothing an errant strand of hair from her face, lips pulled back into a slight smile, as if greeting an old friend--sometimes, they feel that way. I've seen so many now, they're very much like friends.
Buddha jerked out of the room, startling me as I watched him hurry across the main room to one of the sinks, sounds of vomiting coming soon after. I calmly turned off the light and closed the room up again, heading over towards Buddha and turning on the tap to wash away the evidence of his upset and turning it off again once it was gone.
He was complacent enough as I led him back upstairs and towards the back of the house, where I sat him down on the small loveseat in our living room. I had to sit down next to him, seeing how there was no place else, and ignored the quiet sobs shaking his shoulders for a while before getting up and heading for the kitchen.
There was a clean dish rag under the sink, and I got it damp with hot water, heading back to the living room and handing the rag to him for his face.
The cloth covered his eyes for a few moments before he abruptly turned, the side of his hand thudding against my sternum and pulling a grunt from me even as I flinched back. Another blow fell and I leapt up, not thinking as my fist jabbed at his face, connecting with a meaty thwack, my body already turning to bolt--fight or flight.
I guess I do both.
My footfalls clacked on the concrete stairs, and I crouched in the darkness of Gail's mortuary, breathing hard and nursing my right hand against my chest, knuckles hot and swollen beneath my fingers. After a few long moments, I heard the distant noise of the front door, and slowly crept my way back upstairs.
Everything was silent, and the Civil War tome was gone. Bastard.
-- -- --
Four yellow pages full of purple ink and heavy handed scrawl. When deep in thought, my fingers roamed those written words, feeling their grooves as though Braille.
Books on composers, the construction and history of the violin, and how to raise ducks.
I saw a familiar black-clad form enter the library, and was suddenly immersed in my own writing, nose lower than necessary as I copied paragraphs and phrases of interest--and maybe things I really didn't care about in lieu of being able to be writing something.
A book hit the table, sat a moment, and then slid forward, only coming to rest when my hand stilled above a yellow page. I said nothing, and he said nothing, we both sat there saying absolutely nothing at all.
After a very long pause, I returned to my writing, ignoring very small sounds coming from the opposite side of the table although my curiosity itched me to look up with all the force of a sneeze during a moment of silence.
After a while, the sounds stopped, and then…Buddha walked away.
I waited until sure he was gone before glancing up, my eyes drawn to that Civil War book. On its cover, carefully spelled out in lemon Starburts, was the word, 'Sorry'.
I stared until the bell made up my mind.
I was one of the last ones who made it on the bus, eyes cutting through the sea of faces until I saw the one I recognized--he sat looking out a window about halfway back, expression slackly bored and faraway. I made my way for his seat, not once gaining his attention, not until I slid down next to him, startling him into glancing over to see who would dare to do so.
There was some poignant silence between us before I finally spoke; "One of those lemons was stale."
Unable to help himself, he barked out laughter and I offered a slight quirk of my lips.
Buddha sat cross-legged on my bed, fingers fiddling with an unsharpened pencil he'd plucked from the nightstand--I'd made him take his shoes off once upstairs, which he'd done without complaint, and his feet were fish belly white but covered in natural callus. There was a viewing downstairs, but we'd gotten to the house before it began, upstairs and quiet as mice.
He was brooding, I could see and feel it…as well as the fact he didn't protest when I took a few pictures of him sitting there, staring down at the pencil in his roving hands.
"Wasn't what you thought it'd be, was it?"
My question was quietly musing, and he appeared to chew on it a bit, mulling it over a long while before he replied, "No, it wasn't."
"…Felt less than you thought you would."
His eyes startled up to meet mine, those dark eyes, and I turned to one of my bookshelves, absently looking through my camera's viewfinder but not so much with the thought of finding a good shot.
"…Thought it'd be like…standing on a cliff and knowing you're about to jump, the way your body locks up and you gotta talk yourself into it. But it wasn't…it was just…queasy."
I sat there, thinking on how it might feel to someone else, seeing a dead body. Most people, they're bothered more by the thought of their own mortality, I think, when they see someone else whose connection's been severed. It's fragile, isn't it, that transition from inhabiting our meat suits to vacating them. I don't know people all that well, but some things even someone like me can figure out, and I figure Buddha intimately knows that fragility of the flesh.
"…You said your brother ran away."
His shock was palpable; "God, how can you…? Fuck."
I got it now, the reason behind…everything. I don't know why, but it turned my stomach sour, nerves fluttering along the skin of my wrists and fingers.
He was quiet for a very long time before he suddenly spoke, voice deceptively calm and benign, in that way of speaking when you're saying something too important to miss but unable to handle a bigger fuss.
"Didn't leave a note but…I think it was a girl. I saw a girl around a few times, and then…then I didn't."
I didn't look at him, knowing he needed the distance…but his silence was so long that I looked over and caught his responding glance.
He swallowed and looked away, voice the same tone but lower; "Used a garbage bag over his head. Lay on the floor and just…went to sleep."
"That happens a lot," I muttered, and he looked at me, gaze intense before it lightened as he gave off a slightly derogatory laugh, eyes bright until he blinked it away.
We sat there in silence for a few moments until he moved, whispering, "Hey…hey."
Startled, I turned into his kiss, dry and friendly, and it never warmed beyond that. Still, small flecks of heat spread across my stomach, my hand skimming his neck and shoulder as my lips twisted into a slight smile. Dark eyes on mine, not happy but content, almost amused as he pulled away and lay against my pillow, staring at me as I snapped off another picture of him.
"You're weird," he informed me, and I shrugged, making him roll his eyes.
I got off the bed and pulled out an older camera, a Polaroid I never use because I don't have more film for it. He watched as I fiddled with the settings, putting the timer in place and setting it where I wanted, quick to lean closer to him, holding the pose until the flash clicked and a black Polaroid slid from the camera.
Waving it through the air waiting for it to develop, I felt him shift and look over my shoulder, the two of us watching our faces appear as though from air itself. After staring at it for a few moments, I turned to the side table, digging through the small drawer until finding a marker and penning in green ink, 'Edwin, Gary'.
"You shit, I hate that name."
I snickered a bit, noting how he didn't even bother asking how I knew.
The smell of his cigarettes announced the return of his attentions, the camera pushed away and that same flickering heat spread from my stomach down to the bottoms of my feet as I laughed. This wasn't love, or lust, but a friendly mix of both, and…it was good.
--- -- -- -- -- -- (epilogue)
Footsteps clacked down the wide, concrete steps, the gait familiar enough that I didn't look up, my hands busy.
"What did I say about dead people on your birthday?"
"It's poor taste to eat cake while working on one?" I guessed, and heard an amused snort.
I glanced up and saw the tall man leaning against the wall, arms folded over his chest as he stared at me with fond irritation.
"I said no working at all."
"You said nothing of the sort. People don't stop dying and having funerals just because it's my birthday." But I was grinning a bit, seeing Gail coming downstairs behind him with a pointed expression on her face--I quickly wrapped things up, knowing she'd take over for me.
This is still Gail's mortuary, although she rarely works on bodies as much as she used to, leaving that to me as she handles the business aspect of things, keeping us running smoothly.
Buddha stood patiently by as I cleaned up and removed my protective gear before following him back upstairs.
"You reek of chemicals, you know," he informed me, voice dry as we continued up to the second story, heading to the room I still call my own. I moved back home after graduating and earning my working license, but used to dorm with Buddha until he transferred schools for a business degree. We never lost touch though, not once.
"You say that every time you're over."
"Because it's true? And you wonder why you can't keep a boyfriend?"
I snorted; "I never wonder that, just you."
"Oh, I know why you can't keep a boyfriend."
Reaching into my closet, my voice was muffled as I searched for something navy and warm; "Oh? Figured out the secret after all these years?"
"Yeah. …You smell like dead people, with a personality to match."
"I don't know, it suits my purposes," I mused, exchanging the t-shirt I wore for a navy button-down and smoothing out the minor wrinkles against my abdomen.
"Except for being a nerd?"
"My occupation has gotten me laid more times than I can count, ass."
"Not hard when you can only count to four."
I laughed good-naturedly, and was treated to his warm chuckle, his eyes following as I changed out my natty jeans for ones better fit for going out.
"I invited Ashley," he announced, and I pulled a face.
"That guy is weird."
"He's a PR agent."
"Like I said, weird."
"Well, he canceled, but if he'd gone Bates on me, you could make me pretty for my funeral."
I flashed a grin; "Discounted, sure."
I bent to re-tie my shoelaces and felt a hand skim the small of my back, low heat flickering along my skin at his slightly-beyond-friendly touch. The hand pulled away when I sent a pointed glance his way, and he again chuckled, keeping his hands to himself as I finished with my routine.
"You look like a good, little boy," he commented, and I gave a sly grin.
"I am a good boy."
"Hardly! …You really should let me put you in black leather one of these days."
"You wear enough black for both of us."
It was true, he still only ever wore dark shades, although he'd matured his wardrobe over the years, slacks and button-downs in addition to angry band shirts and chained jeans.
I walked past him for my wallet on the dresser, but his hand reached out for my arm and hovered a moment, making me pause to look at him--his expression was serious, something heavy behind his eyes before he looked down with a sudden bout of embarrassment.
His words having failed him, he moved closer, his hand moving to the curve of my shoulder as he pulled close and kissed me. It was different than the quick presses we give now and then when we're in a good mood, and it wasn't like the ones full of lust whenever our teasing grows too heavy to ignore. This one sent my stomach spinning off somewhere, my breath a bit sharp when he pulled away, watching me watch him.
"…You can't keep a boyfriend because I chase them off," he confessed, and my eyebrow rose up in question.
"Don't like sharing you," he said, voice strange, and I suddenly got it. There are things friends do and things they don't, and we've done it all except this.
My agreement startled him, dark eyes wide as he stared a moment before a grin grew there, spreading across his face. He kissed me again, something sweeter than we've had in a long while, perhaps ever, and it was good.
On the way downstairs, he suddenly quipped, "Hey…morticians do it on gurneys."
He glanced behind him, and I teasingly amended, "…They do it with embalming fluid."
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --