We get off the bus at Dad’s house to spend the weekend, and my sister goes racing in at top speed. “Daddy! Daddy! Miss Jako said my handwriting is better! I got a gold star! Look, Daddy!” Lucy’s babbling suddenly becomes a high-pitched shriek of absolute terror. I find her in the living room, sobbing and scrambling away from the sofa where Dad is sleeping by the beer cans and the cigarette butts.
No. Not sleeping.
Also. Not Dad.
I scoop up Lily. She’s wild, clinging so tightly that she could be drawing blood. I feel dampness soak through - she must have wet herself. The television is too loud, playing the menu screen of a DVD over and over and over.
“Lulu, shhh. I’ve got you,” I whisper. She’s big, for a 6 year old, and I’m thin for 11, but somehow I carry her while I look for Dad. That scream should have brought him running. But he’s in his own bed. Asleep. Not dead.
“Daddy! Wake up!”
“Dad!” I sit on the bed and shake him. “DAD!” I shake him harder, then pull his hair, then tickle him. He doesn’t wake up. But he’s alive. I can’t explain how he’s different from the body in the living room. We can just tell. One of them is a person. One of them is dead.
But what if Dad doesn’t wake up soon? Will he be dead too?
“I want Daddy,” Lucy whimpers. “I want Mommy.”
“I’ll call Mommy. I’ll call her right now.” I promise.
Dad’s phone is on the nightstand, but when I press the buttons and swipe the screen, nothing happens. I keep trying, and trying. But it doesn’t matter. The battery is dead.
“It doesn’t work,” Lucy says.
“Yeah.” I don’t know what to do now. “Do you know where Dad’s charger is?”
“Mr Redface probably has a phone.”
“Him.” Lucy says, and points towards the living room.
Sometimes Lucy is smart. Borrowing a phone from Mr Redface isn’t as scary as borrowing a phone from a dead body. But I’m still terrified. I drag Lucy with me, every step, because I won’t let go of her hand. Except I’m her big brother and I’m supposed to be her hero. Even if it feels horrible touching a dead leg. And there’s no phone.
“Lucy, you check his other pocket.”
“No, you do it!”
“I don’t want to touch him again.”
“You can go on the back of the sofa, and reach in.”
“I’m scared! You do it, Simon!”
“But you’re littler! You’ll fit on on the sofa!”
“You’re older! You do it!”
Neither of us wants to reach across the body. For me, it’s because of his hands. What if they touchme? What if they grab me? I let go of Lucy, for the first time since her first scream. She hugs herself, and steps up and down, over and over, like she has to pee. Doing the pee-pee dance, Dad calls it.
I wish Dad would wake up.
I climb onto the arm of the sofa by Mr Redface’s feet, and snake slither up the back. I’m too big to fit up here. I wish Lucy would do this part.
Mr Redface’s chin is sticking up. His beard hair is short and scraggly and grows in different directions, and he has two big pimples. I think of the North Star, and those pimples are my stars. I just have to slither that way. While the stupid dvd menu plays at me.
I wonder how he died.
I wonder how long Dad has.
It is much harder to get my hand into this pocket. I have to squeeze my hand between Mr Redface and the sofa, and it feels disgusting. It doesn’t feel like a person anymore at all.
“Is there a phone?” Lucy pleads. She won’t stand still.
“I don’t know. He’s heavy!”
“Oh! I can help!” She sits and braces her feet on the sofa and pulls on Mr Redface’s belt loop.
And I come tumbling down off of the back of the sofa onto the top of Mr Redface.
I feel him go squish under me, and there is a loud sound like a fart, but from both ends at once, and I try to hold my breath, because I know that dead people are supposed to smell worse than anything, and roll off as fast as I can, and land on Lucy, and I think I’m going to throw up, then Lucy starts laughing.
“You made him poop his pants!” And I can’t hold my breath any more, and when I breathe, I can smell it too. It doesn’t smell like dead person. It smells like poop.
“You made him poop his pants!” I retort. Then we are wrestling and rolling and howling because it’s so stupid that dead Mr Redface just pooped his pants on the sofa.
Then when we can’t breathe for laughing, I go to check his pocket again, but this time I reach over him because I already fell on him, and what’s more gross than that? He does have a phone. I don’t know his keycode, but I push where it says “Emergency”.
“911. What is your emergency?”
“Mr Redface is dead. My Dad won’t wake up. We’re at 83 Old Bridge Road. My name is Simon Alston.”
It turns out to be a bad furnace that killed Mr Redface. I don’t remember his real name. He came over to watch movies with Dad, and he fell asleep on the sofa and never woke up. And Dad fell asleep too and almost never woke up. So if this wasn’t our weekend to visit Dad, he would be dead too. Me and Lucy try not to think about that.
Instead, I wait until she is with all her friends, and then I make a very long farting noise, or I sneak up behind her and whisper, “You made dead Mr Redface poop his pants,” because I’m her big brother. I’m not just there to hold her when she’s scared.
Mr Redface was inspired by a Flash Fiction challenge on Terrible Minds. The challenge: To introduce a dead body in the first paragraph.