by Christopher Dorsey
“Well, she’s dead.”
“I’ve got eyes. You need a professional exam or something?”
“No, just,” he said.
“What a waste, a real waste. Where have we come to, Lord.” The other surveyed the body. “Her parts might still work, though.”
He thought about it. “Nah, I doubt it. She’s been here too long.”
“Frozen pipes, know what I mean?” He kicked a side panel.
They stood in the cold, ears attuned. The other lay his rifle across the peeling hood.
“And what about the girl?”
“I’d say even more dead. Shame.”
“Where you think that dress came from?” He peered through the rear driver’s side window. “That’s pretty crazy innit? When’s the last time you seen something like that?”
He slid a nightstick from his belt and shattered the window with a quick whipping motion and leaned in to get a better look. Her skin was as white as the upholstery but the dress was radiant, a color he couldn’t match to a clear memory.
“Looks like the sun,” said the other.
That’s it, the sun. He glanced up at the perpetual slate sky. “That’s it,” he said.
“She’s pretty. Least I think she is.”
“They all were, weren’t they? Man, remember the ladies?”
“No…and I don’t want to.” The other coughed and spit. “Whatsa point.”
At the rear of the vehicle they popped the trunk but found nothing useful inside. Half a container of window wash, a scored tire iron. An empty can, its label deeply faded. He picked it up, smelled it. It smelled like nothing. D-i-n-t-y M-o-o-r-e. He spelled out loud, saying each letter with care, as if trying to retain something of his smoked memory.
Closing the trunk, he moved around to the passenger side and got into the back seat, noisily settling with his filthy garb into the stiff plastic. A strange nervousness came over him, as though he needed to say something. Clear the air.
“I, uh, like your dress a lot.”
“It looks kinda familiar, where’d you get it from?”
Still nothing. So he waited. If she was going to be stubborn, he could be too. He had all the time in the goddamn world.
“Hey look, I gotta take a shit,” barked the other from the edge of the wood. “Just keep an eye out.”
He finally gave in and turned to face the girl, removing his cap and flattening his grease-wracked hair. Her eyes were gaped and pale, staring dead at the back of the driver’s seat. Silver radiated from her earlobe. Reaching out, he examined the earring and its clear plastic “gemstone.” The earlobe was solid ice and did not move when he prodded it.
Then he said, “If you won’t talk, fine. Just trying to be polite. I’ll do it on my own, I guess. Alright…in fact…I’m going to tell you a story.”
She let him continue.
And so he told her a story, one that just then occurred to him, like a fresh-melted pool of recollection. One about two lovers who meet in the backseat of a cab. They’re polite but don’t speak much. But the man, he has a crystal ball dangling before him, he can see their future. He sees them arrive at the same campsite, going down to the dock together. They don’t talk, just look out over the water at the great flapping birds that move along it with no sound. He sees them at dinner, and then in the same room together. And then they start seeing each other and eventually she relocates to make things work. He sees her wearing a dress the color of sweetcorn when they marry. He sees them debating: kids or a house, can’t do both. And in the new house he sees they have their own space, but it is divided, and over time her space gets smaller and smaller and she only comes out of it for necessary things. He sees their talk go from animated to dull—and back to nothing at all like the very first minutes of that ride. And he’s resentful of this wasted time, and she is too, and, by chance, they both pack to leave the very same night, without the other’s knowing. He sees the house eventually boarded up, and sees himself moving onward, never hearing from her, and her picture starts to fade in his head. Until one day he hails a strange cab in this desolate area and suddenly there she is. He sees she’s stayed fixed in time and place, still wearing the dress, still cold and unresponsive, now locked in her own infinitely small space. But he’s glad to see her again all the same and he tells her so, and he means it.
He removed a tattered glove and carefully dusted the glass shards from the hem of her dress and her chalked knees and then rested his hand there.
“So, you think that was an alright story? Familiar, huh?”
Before she can answer, he hears a pop. Then another. He knows these sounds. An engine roar from down the road and he sees the other, standing before the trees, rifle shouldered, pants to ankles, and then another pop and he watches the torso jerk back as if yanked by invisible string. He’s upright, still supported by a tree, but his movement is over. The engine booms nearer.
“I don’t care what happened, he says to her. I don’t care! I forgive you. Do you forgive me?”
They’re almost on top of them now, still firing at the body on the tree.
“Know what?” he says. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll defend my family. Forgiveness or no.”
He takes the butt of his rifle and punches the rear window clean and aims with a practiced calm. He goes to squeeze the trigger and tells her,“Hush now. We’ll be fine.”
Because he’s already seen what happens.