The Dead Are The Dead And Do Not Care

David Brown sags on the side of the ship and gets rained on. Fog has swallowed up the shore, and there’s nothing to choose between the rumpled steel grey of the sky and the dimpled steel grey surface of the lake. The winch goes down into the water, and he, and the three others on the boat, stand motionless watching it turn.

The divers break the surface like so many sleek-headed seals. The two sailors help them on board, take them below to change clothes, drink coffee, thaw. He and the woman move to the winch, start plucking the bodies off as they clear the rail, neatly wrapped in plastic. They are lighter than they look and he is grateful for the bags that keep them together and out of sight.

Six bodies; a carful.

They have been searching the water for three days; 59 hours. Another boat, erased by the weather, is bringing up the vehicle; a larger winch creaks through the rain. At this point they know names, faces, dates, or suspect they know them, or think they do. He knows those stories, but holds them suspended while they work; these six have nothing but time.

Ways of Coping

The room is as composed as a photograph, from the spray of just-opened blossoms to the white muslin curtains weighted down with blood. The body itself is tumbled artfully in the middle of the floor, one arm gracefully extended. David Brown thinks: he was beautiful. He was beautiful and he is dead.

What he means is: here is a riddle. Or, is there a riddle here? Is there something to discover, to unravel, to figure out, or is there merely a long chain of events with a prosaic beginning and blood at the end?

Here is what he knows about the dead man: name, age, address. All of these found on an expired driver’s license in the leather wallet in the man’s left hip pocket. Also in the wallet were a credit card, a library card, two membership cards for nearby grocery stores, and a collage the size of a business card with a baby’s head and a bird’s skeleton on it.

Here are the things in the room: three wooden chairs; one orange couch; one elaborately patterned throw rug; five hundred and seventy books, mostly genre fiction, four hundred and twenty three of which are paperback; one battered coffee table. On the coffee table are one glass, one plate, one fork, all used; one package of Fatimas, out of which four have been taken and almost certainly smoked, but not necessarily (missing from the room: an ashtray; the smell of smoke); seven empty beer bottles, comprising three different brands, which suggests a dilatory cleaning schedule more than alcoholism.

About the body: skinny jeans. One white sock, one black. Shoes are missing (he makes a mental note). Tight white t-shirt with an airbrushed picture of a howling wolf, heavily stained with blood. Hair mussed, though intentionally, modishly; no sign of violence. And of course the raw red gash of the throat with the remote, seraphic face above it, empty now of whatever it might once have held.

By Such Signs Will You Know Him

He fell into the habit of lingering in the café for five or six hours, reading the paper, sipping cup after tiny cup of espresso, working the crosswords and people-watching. The clothes were slightly too tight, slightly too stylish, telling him that he was living in exile, a foreigner in a vast uncertain country. He didn’t notice the language any more, and the cars and the buildings wouldn’t have been so completely out of place in certain parts of Philadelphia, but the clothing always nagged at him. It was so nearly what he was used to; more strangeness would have been easier to overlook.

The people fascinated him. He began to recognize faces, voices, patterns: the old man who bought a coffee and a croissant every afternoon; the students who lingered defiantly over their books and their arguments; the fights that raged in a second-story room every evening; the women who sneaked out in the morning and came prowling back at night. Old habits stamped and filed away the ticking of the machinery of the neighborhood.

So he was unsurprised when the police came one day. Their cars so boxy and funny. There has been a murder, they announced. Does anyone have any information?

Ah, said David Brown, at home in spite of himself, hating himself for it.

Showings at 1:40, 3:15 and 5:30

“The way it figures,” David Brown said, “they were sitting in the middle of the movie theater and he leaned over to kiss her and slid the knife in nice and easy under her arm. It couldn’t have taken more than a minute or two and then of course they just looked like a couple of kids making out during the movie. She wouldn’t have said anything with her mouth full of his tongue, not that she could have anyway, the knife hit her lung pretty neatly. Maybe she sighed a little, or moaned, but that wouldn’t have surprised anyone very much.” His hands twitched and spilled sugar all over the table. “It was perfectly done. He slipped out during the movie and just never came back. The chair was tilted back and kept her from slumping forward. Nobody realized she was dead until the ushers came in to sweep up afterwards and found her blood all over the floor. In the dark it would have seemed like just another spilled soda.” He lit a crumpled cigarette and held both hands up to his face to smoke it. His eyes through the smoke were red and burning and utterly weary.

A Lifetime Between Daylights

For two long, glorious weeks in New Zealand David Brown lives without thinking. He hikes, he fishes, he marvels at so much beauty in such a small space. He avoids newspapers, radios, televisions, computers, phones, anything that would connect him to the world, to other people. He can’t quite avoid everyone, but he keeps his interactions to the absolute minimum. When he says something, people are surprised at his accent. It’s all very soothing. He’s sleeping more, almost four hours a night; it feels sinful, indulgent. An orgy of sleep.

Of course it can’t last. He’s hiking through the mountains feeling almost human again when he comes across the body, soaking wet from the spray of a waterfall. He knows it’s dead as soon as he sees it, right in his gut, doesn’t need to roll it over and look for what killed it, though he does, anyway, because what else can he do? He writes down everything he can for the police in Wellington.

He doesn’t get any sleep that night. In the susurrus of the city he hears a waterfall; the summer sweat on his face feels like so much spray on the face of a young woman dying in the mountains.