I Saw A Dead Body Today
A dead body. Someone had died, right there on the sidewalk, on a busy street, on a beautiful afternoon. A bright mess of yellow. An officer standing at the head. The loose ends of police tape fluttering from the mast of a stop sign, already drooping as the plastic slacked in the sun.
He found himself staring across the street at the scene. Cars passed but they didn’t register; his vision was transfixed on the yellow. The crinkled material had a specific texture, the same as plastic tarps, but those were always blue, in garages, as IKEA bags, as shrouds for dead bodies before they were hucked into the bay. There was no red-stained concrete, no cruiser with lights flashing. It was banal. It was unacknowledged.
He felt nothing. He didn’t know what to feel, and he didn’t know how he felt about not knowing.
He knew this would happen one day, of course. Detectives solved crimes, murders, ones filled with passion and hate and motive. Suffering and grief were in his future, he knew that when he applied to the academy. He would right a wrong, ensure a loved one could find some peace, that this would never happen again, at least by one killer’s hand. But, here, there was nothing he could do.
A commuter made their way down the sidewalk, attention glued to phone in hand. The officer called their attention, pointed to the other side of the street. The pedestrian shrugged and did as they were told; it was just a minor inconvenience, this corpse, this former person blocking the sidewalk. No different than a tree branch, something to be swept away and never thought of again.
“I saw a dead body today,” he wanted to tell someone, but it would only invite questions. Who was it? Did you find any clues, are you gonna solve it? Tell me all the gory details, I want to use this for my story, for my podcast. But they would be unimpressed, there was nothing to see, nothing to ponder. They would forget as soon as the conversation moved to another topic.
“But how do you feel?” someone might ask, which would be worse. Because he still felt nothing. He could check the news, look up the street, the exact intersection, see if someone had written about it. An overdose, heat stroke, death from exposure when the weather’s a pleasant 72 degrees with not a cloud in the sky.
But what would that accomplish? That he hadn’t hallucinated the experience and all those concrete details? The blue-green-grey of the bicycle helmet, laying on the ground, yet no bike nearby. A water bottle, empty, upright, next to the helmet. The fluttering tape, loose, ineffective. Nearby construction had more barriers and warnings than the scene. “Scene,” like out of a movie, or a book, but with no conflict, no mystery to solve, just details without answers, a person he could never know, could never help.
He wasn’t a detective yet; he was no better than the obsessively Googling amateurs. And he thought he could just stumble upon a crime scene and save the day, like in all the books he read growing up. But someone had died, a man, a woman, a conjoined twin, an octopus, he had no way of knowing, the tarp concealed it all. But what other explanation was there? What else could fit the facts, would let him forget?
It would have been easier if he hadn’t noticed, if he walked some other route, had disassociated through the experience, none of it reaching his conscious mind to be processed, to resurface in his nightmares and subsequent beautiful afternoons.
Perhaps he would know, in time, how to feel. Perhaps it would find him in a day, a year, a minute, striking him like a truck or a bullet or a rush of white-hot lightning in a vein and seize his brain and force him to understand, to know the turmoil of what this other person went through, this other human being, to feel some fraction of the suffering they had before being reduced to a neat three-by-nine foot area of obfuscated horror, too banal to pique the interest of anyone else, too grotesque to bring up in polite company, to expect anyone to understand.
Or perhaps this memory would fade, replaced by other deaths, other bodies. Then he might finally know how to feel.