Remains of the Day

May 24, 2012

Collin slid down in the passenger seat. Wedging his head between the seat and the doorframe, he stretched as much as possible and grimaced at the ache in his legs. “I told you we should have taken the SUV.”

From behind the wheel, Lacy asked, “With gas prices the way they are?” She let that sink in a moment before adding, “You’d probably be more comfortable in the back. We could put the bags up here.”

The highway slipped past them in the washed-out pastels of the dawn breaking behind them.

“Honey?” Lacy prodded. “Do you want me to pull over so you can climb in the back? You must be tired. You drove all night.”

Silence.

“Honey?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Collin snapped. He grimaced again and put his left hand on her thigh. “I’m sorry, Babe. I’m just –“

“Worried,” she finished for him. “I know, Sweetheart. But we’ll be there soon. Another hour at most. It’d be nice if you could get a few minutes of rest before – well – your brother – “ She reached for the stale bottled water in the console and sipped at it. “Someone needs to be thinking straight when we get there.”

“Brent is fine, he’ll be fine.” Collin sighed. “He’s always pulling this shit. It started in high school. He gets everyone upset and we all come running. It’s what he does.”

“Oh, shit, I hate that,” Lacy cried. She moved the car closer to the center line.

“What?”

“Something dead.”

Collin stared at her, his tired mind trying to decode her words.

Lacy glanced at him. “In the road,” she explained. “Something dead. I’m not looking, I’m not looking, I’m not looking.”

She was such a softy for animals. It was one of Lacy’s qualities that toppled Collin from lust into love several years earlier. He smiled a little and squeezed her thigh again as he turned to look out the window.

A blackened, dirty smear of blood in their lane, something round by the fog line on the right. A raccoon?

Collin stared at the dead thing as the car rushed past it. He sat up a little and shook his head as if to clear it. “Lacy,” he began softly, “what did that look like to you?”

“I told you, I didn’t look. I never look. What if it was a dog? I don’t want to see that. If it was a dog, I’d cry.”

“It wasn’t a dog.” Collin’s lips felt numb. “I know this is gonna sound crazy, but – it had an ear. And a neck.”

“Gawd, don’t tell me,” she cried. “I don’t want to hear this.”

“Lacy.” Collin pondered for a moment before adding, “Lacy, it looked like a head.”

She made a wry face. “Christ on a pony, Collin.”

“No, seriously. It had an ear. It looked like a head. You know. A human head.”

She glanced at him again. “This is a joke, right? ‘What’s that in the road, a head?’ Right? Ha ha ha. Very amusing.” She didn’t sound amused.

Collin reached for her bottled water and took a deep drink. “I must be really tired.”

“The back seat – “ she reminded him.

He waved off the suggestion. “I can’t sleep. Maybe some music.” He fumbled for the remote and switched on the CD player. Rhianna came blasting back at him and he quickly switched it off again. “Christ on a pony is right,” he sighed.

An enormous oak loomed on the side of the road ahead, denuded of leaves but still towering in defiance of the otherwise-empty Midwestern landscape. Collin watched it approach. “Funny,” he remarked.

“What?”

“That tree. It’s limbs look like arms.”

“Limbs look like limbs,” Lacy said, then giggled. “It’s got great composition. If you want to get your camera, I’ll pull over.”

“No, no. Let’s just get there and get this over with.” Collin sighed again. “Fucking Brent. He probably stopped taking his meds.”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine like you said.”

Collin stared at the tree as it ran up on his side of the car. “He’s an assho- Fucking shit! Fucking shit, Lace!”

The little car swerved in the lane. “What?” Lacy cried. “What? What the fuck, Collin?”

He pressed his hands and face against the window as they zoomed past the tree. “I don’t believe this.”

“What?” Lacy cried again. “You almost made me wreck the car!”

Collin unbuckled his seatbelt and turned around in the seat, kneeling on it. “There was a leg in that tree, Lacy.”

“Oh my god, you are so full of shit!”

“No, no, I’m serious! There was a fucking leg hanging over one of the branches! Swear to Christ, Lacy!” He stared out of the rear window as the tree retreated. “It had a tattoo on the calf.”

Her lower lip began to tremble. “You’re scaring me, Collin.”

He flipped around back into a seated position. “You gotta turn around.”

“No way.”

“Lacy, I swear, there was a leg in that tree!”

Lacy’s mouth was set into a tight frown. “I told you to get some sleep, but no. You had to go and be a big urban fucking cowboy, driving practically all the way here by yourself. Now you’re seeing things. Great.”

Collin stared at the road ahead. She’s right, he thought. I’m tired. I’m just overtired and stressed out. He ran a hand over his face. “If Brent hasn’t killed himself, I swear I’m going to kick his ass.”

“Just be calm, honey. Please? Stop this shit and just be calm. We’ll be there really soon.”

He let out a deep sigh and slumped back down in the seat. “This is so messed up. I hate my brother.”

“No, you don’t, Honey,” Lacy crooned. “If you didn’t love him, you wouldn’t be so worried. Just calm down. We’re almost there.”

Collin stared at the stark barbwire that separated the highway from the emptiness beyond. “I can’t believe I took off work for this.”

“That’s what I love about you,” Lacy assured him. “You have a huge heart.”

He responded with a non-committal grunt as he watched the triple strand fence to their right. What was it for, he wondered? What did it keep in? Or, what did it keep out? And who was responsible for stringing it across these empty miles?

There was something dangling from the fence just ahead. A broken fence pole, Collin thought. Maybe Lacy was right, maybe he should get out his camera. He fumbled behind his seat and came up with the case, but it was going to be too late. They’d be past it in a minute.

Collin watched the broken piece of pole suspended in the unforgiving wire as they approached it. Damn, he thought, that almost looks like a wrist.

“Fucking shit! Fucking shit!”

The little car swerved again. This time, Lacy was screaming. “God damn it, Collin, stop that shit! What the fuck is wrong with you? Do you want to get us killed?”

Collin turned and stared straight ahead.

“Collin? Collin?”

He looked at her. “That was an arm, Lace. That was a fucking arm.”

She stared back at him, heedless of the road. Her normally tanned skin was blanched of color. “Collin,” she croaked hoarsely, “Babe. You’ve got to keep it together.”

“It had a tattoo. I saw it. It had a USMC bulldog on the bicep.”

“Collin, you’re – “

“I fucking saw it, Lace,” he shouted.

She turned her face back to the road, silent.

“You gotta believe me!”

“No, no, I don’t,” she hissed. “Just do me a favor, Collin, and keep your ass in that seat and close your fucking eyes until we get there. Okay? Okay? Or is that too much to fucking ask?” She was screeching by that point. Drops of spit flew from her lower lip.

Collin stared at her. “Babe – “

“No, fuck you!” she screamed. “You’re losing it, Collin! Just sit down and shut up or I swear I’ll turn this car around and we’ll go back to Chicago! Shut up! Shut the fuck up!”

Christ, I’m losing it. Like Brent. Like Mom. Lacy is right, I’m losing it.

The remaining miles were passed in silence until Lacy maneuvered the car off the road down a dirt driveway. She saw the emergency vehicles parked in front of Brent’s ramshackle trailer. She saw half a dozen dogs milling around the EMTs, their tails wagging, begging for attention.

“Oh, god,” she moaned.

Collin opened his eyes.

The car was still rolling when Collin jumped out and ran toward his sister. She was dressed in almost nothing in spite of the frigid Autumn air and there was a new tattoo carved across her décolletage.

He wrapped his arms around her and felt her shaking. “Brent?” he asked.

His sister shook her head. “I don’t know, Coll, I don’t know,” she sobbed. “They say there’s a suicide note. I didn’t see any fucking note, but I got here first and there’s so much blood. Oh, Coll, there’s so much blood!”

Lacy came up behind them and gently peeled away Collin’s weeping sister. A uniformed policeman approached them.

“Officer,” Collin said to him, “What – I’m his brother – what’s going on?”

The officer shook his head and turned to gesture at another man in Dockers and a button-down shirt who was walking out of the trailer. Collin took a staggering step toward the civies-attired stranger who had suddenly become the most important person in Collin’s shrinking world. “Sir? Sir?”

The man stopped and asked, “Are you family?”

“I’m his brother,” Collin answered.

The man sighed. “Your brother left a note that indicates suicide, but – “ He stopped.

“But?” Collin cried. “But what? For Christ’s sake – “

“There’s no body,” the man interrupted.

Collin took a step backward. “No body? What does that mean? How can it be a suicide if there’s no body?”

The man stared at him while producing a card that he shoved into Collin’s numb hand. Collin stared at it. County Coroner.

“I don’t understand,” Collin said.

“There’s no body, just the note and, well, some evidence.” The Coroner regarded Collin suspiciously. “When did you arrive?”

Collin nodded. He could hear his sister’s breathless sobs from somewhere behind him. “We just got here. We drove all night.”

The Coroner moved in closer and dropped his voice. “We have a note indicating a suicide. It seems to match the handwriting of several journals and other pieces of writing your brother left behind, but we’ll have an expert look more closely at that, of course. That wouldn’t be a necessity except for the other evidence.”

“Which is?” Collin prompted. He glanced over the Coroner’s shoulder and watched the other officers as they ignored his brother’s insistent pack of dogs.

“The bathtub. And the saw.”

Collin stared at him.

“It would appear that a body has been dismembered in the bathtub,” the Coroner said softly.

One of the dogs barked and reared up on its hind legs, begging for a pet or a treat. One of the policemen stopped to stroke its shaggy head.

Head.

Collin felt a chuckle rise up in his stomach. He tried to swallow it, but just when he thought he’d conquered his mirth, it exploded out of his mouth. He was aware that everyone was staring at him, but he couldn’t stop. He bellowed laughter. He doubled over with it, then fell to the ground howling.

“Collin!” Lacy ran to bend over him. “Collin! Honey, what is it?”

“His head,” Collin roared, wiping tears from his cheeks. “His head! And his arm and his leg, too!”

The Coroner gestured for an EMT. “Sir, you’re in shock. Let this medic take a look at you.”

Collin waved the EMT off, chortling. He pushed Lacy away and rose unsteadily to his feet. Only Brent. A suicide. Scattered body parts. The ultimate conundrum.

Taking a deep breath, giggling once more, Collin straightened up. He cleared his throat. “I believe I know where you can find the body.”

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