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Fiction #272
(published March 30, 2006)
Dead Redhead
by Errid Farland
Max brought donuts to the bar. They were left over from work. Missy Peterson always brought donuts to work, and Max never took any, so he didn't feel bad when he took the nearly untouched dozen on the day he left work early due to a sudden illness. The donuts were untouched because of the carcass they found out back. It wasn't your typical carcass. It had been dead for a couple of days, for a couple of Memphis humid summer days, where the thermometer and the humidity both climbed to over ninety, degrees and percent. Hence, the carcass had decayed. Maggots writhed happily in all the cavities and in the holes punched here and there on its nakedness. It was a girl carcass. She was a natural redhead. She might have been young and skinny, but her belly was bloated and her fat had rendered and soaked the cardboard box she was lying in, so it was hard to tell.

Most everybody came out and looked, but only briefly because, well, it wasn't a pleasant sight but it was an even less pleasant smell. Max looked. He was transfixed, in fact. He walked around the body, moved in close, and closer, and closer, so he'd see every detail. She had been posed. She lay on her back, her knees were bent and spread, and her hands rested on her breasts, like she was cupping them, not like she was covering them.

Max looked because he needed to look. He needed that close connection with death, especially the death of a young woman, and especially death where the corpse was so distorted. It disturbed him, stirred up in him long forgotten emotion, but it also answered some of the confusion of the thirteen-year-old boy who crouched inside him, afraid and uncertain. He stayed and looked until the police arrived and shooed him away. When he went back inside everybody was milling around in Missy's office. They were all ashen faced and speculating, and nobody seemed to care about the donuts, so Max picked up the box and said he had to leave. "I don't feel good," he said.

He stopped at the first bar he came to, The Golden Gloves, and ordered a draft Miller Lite. He picked up the jelly donut first, and bit into the wrong side so the jelly squirted out and dripped on his shirt. He scooped it up with his finger, then licked it off.

"Donuts and beer, eh?" the old bleary eyed man two stools down said.

"I'm diabetic," Max said.

"Then you shouldn't be eating either one."

"No, I shouldn't," Max mumbled, his mouth crammed with donut.

"I saw a dead woman," he said, by way of explanation.

"Dead woman!" the old man said.

"Redhead," Max told him.

"Where'd you see her?"

"At work. Somebody dumped her over the weekend. She stunk," he said, his mouth again crammed with donut, this time a chocolate bar.

"Hold on, now, son," the old man said. "Hold back on them donuts, there. No use killing yourself over seeing a dead body."

"You ever seen one?" he asked, reaching for the caramel covered buttermilk.

"A dead body? Oh, sure, sure. Can't live this long without seeing one from time to time."

"My first. Had maggots, even down there," Max said, taking a third of the buttermilk donut in one bite.

"Naked, eh?"

Max nodded. "Redhead."

"Yeah, you said that."

"Might have been pretty, hard to tell." His voice came muffled and garbled through the donut.

"I expect so."

"All bloated and maggoty," he finished off the caramel buttermilk, and picked up the glazed.

"You're going to make yourself sick, son."

"I think I knew her. Well, didn't know her, just saw her around. I think she lived in my apartments, down on the end, or her boyfriend did."

"Did you tell that to the police?"

Max shook his head. "Had a rose tattoo on her ankle. Lots of women get roses on their ankles, though. But how many are redheads?"

"Probably not many. You ought to tell that to the police."

"They probably saw it."

"No, I mean about her living down the way from you."

"Had big nipples. Pink ones. With white skin," Max said. "Not that I ever saw them when she was alive."

"Son, don't eat another donut."

"It's okay, I've got my insulin," he said, half of a second glazed donut in his mouth. He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a needle to show the man.

"Is there someone I can call to come get you?"

"I can still smell it," he mumbled through donut.

"You think eatin' them donuts is going to make the smell go away?"


"Well, then, I guess if that's what you need to do."

"Excuse me," Max said, "I have to go puke."

"You go right ahead."

Max left the bar without drinking his beer or finishing his donuts. He gave both to the old man, who thanked him, though Max suspected that he didn't really want the donuts. The puke had been sweet and sticky and had burned his throat, but still he smelled her. He invented a life for her as he drove home, a mother and father who would collapse in grief, an older sister who would come from out of state, and a younger brother who would be called out of class to receive the news. Just like they had called Max out of class to tell him about Marcy's accident. She'd gone under a semi on a day about as hot and humid as this one. She'd had the top down on the convertible and the radio blaring. It was the first time he remembered hearing the word 'decapitated.' He'd wanted to see her before they put her in the ground, but they didn't let him.

He pulled over and puked again, and wished he had another donut.

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