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Obituary Game

This one is a little...outside the (shoe)box...of what we normally run. But when a story is this fucking good, fuck the rules. That's punk rock.

There are several themes here in the Gutter. File this one under, "It's the lies we tell ourselves that allow us to go on living."

Obituary Game by Rasmenia Massoud




It took three days to find the carcass after we first noticed the smell. The cloying, putrid stench of decomposing. No matter how many windows we opened or how many cans of fresh spring breeze chemical disinfectant spray we emptied, that death stink permeated everything.

After three days, it dawned on me that it was the scent of rot being slow-roasted. I slid the refrigerator away from the wall and found it looking up at me, or maybe it would have been, if its eyes hadn't dried and shriveled. One little wing had gotten stuck in those hot metal parts.

Cameron watched me put the dead bat into a shoebox. "Crissakes, Melody. Just throw it in the fucking trash."

"I wasn't planning on having a funeral. Just back off."

He jerked in his chair like he might jump out of it, and then turned his head away. "Whatever."

He went out that night. "You can come if you want," he said.

What this means is: I don't want you to come with me, but I don't want to listen to your bitching, or hear you calling me an asshole.

I spent the evening scrolling through the obits in my hometown's newspaper, scanning them for familiar names, curious to see who didn't survive long enough to make an escape. There's a special kind of satisfaction in lasting longer than the girl who looked down her nose at you in 4th period biology; in knowing where the creep who felt you up in 8th grade is buried.

I look at the years to see whom I've outlived.

Born in ’82. Died yesterday. I've outlasted this stranger by three years. I win. Most names listed in the obituary section belong to old people. Most people, they die with thin, white hair on their head. That cheers me up. This is proof that a long life is possible, not just something people say you can have if you drink lots of water and avoid trans fats.

When Cameron comes home, his knuckles are bloody. Again. "Got into a fight at the bar," he says. I don't ask what he was fighting; why he has bloody scratches on his neck.

"You're reading the obits again?"

"I get curious."

"Curious? What good does curiosity ever do anybody?"

Up on the roof a few weeks later, the scratches have almost healed, but there are dry brown lines on the skin of his neck. They'll disappear soon and it'll be like they were never there. Bloody wounds crust over, turn to dry skin flakes and vanish to dust.

The bats fly around one another, swirling in a small, living tornado. In the purple orange of dusk, they almost look like birds. Sometimes, one flutters by close to where we sit drinking rum and Coke in big plastic cups. Cam swats at one, even though it doesn't come close enough for him to reach.

"Fucking things have rabies," he says.

"It won't bite."

"All animals bite if they're scared enough. Or crazy from rabies." He picks at a dried scab on his knuckles.

We look down just as something tiny and black hits the wall and slides down to the ground. I run down the stairs with my big plastic cup, leaving a sticky, stinking trail of booze and soda. What I find on the ground is a gasping black mouse with wings. I dump the rest of my drink in the dirt and scoop up the broken thing in my cup.

"What do you think you're gonna do with that nasty little fucker?" Cameron's chest is heaving from running down the stairs after me, all puffed up from showing me his authority.

"It's hurt."

"Don't touch it."

"I won't."

"Little fuckers have fucking lice."

"Jesus, Cam. I'm not gonna touch it."

"It's dead. You can't fix it."

"It's still breathing."

"Breathing doesn't mean anything." He takes a big drink from his cup. "Fuck this. I'm going to the bar. You can come if you want."

"Okay," I say, looking at the dying bat in my cup.

"Never mind. I'll just stay home."

"No. I mean, okay, go."

When Cameron comes home from the bar, I'm sitting on the couch with a shoebox in my lap. I'm trying to feed a moth and bits of lettuce to this injured bat. His tiny mouth is open, small puffs of air going in and out with the rapidity of fear.

"You're still wasting your time with this shit?" He peels his jacket off. His T-shirt is wet and reeks of beer. He notices me noticing. "Spilled my beer."

A couple of hours after Cameron passes out, I take my shoebox over to the desk. I scan through the recent obituaries. Most of these people were born before my parents. And their parents. Most of these people lived through war. They came from a world I've seen in documentaries and history books.

But this one, born in ’85. Peace Corps. Loving husband. A baby boy. She died three days ago. I beat her by six years. I win.

Next to me, the tiny panting builds momentum, speeds up, and then stops. I tap the box. Nothing. I hear Cameron in the next room, snoring off his drunk, his body sloughing off claw marks, becoming dust flakes for me to vacuum up tomorrow and the next day.

I stare at the dead thing in the box and tell myself over and over again: Six years. I win.


Rasmenia Massoud is an American writer living somewhere in France. She is the author of the short story collection Human Detritus. Some of her other work has appeared in various anthologies and online at places like The Foundling Review, The Lowestoft Chronicle, Literary Orphans, Metazen, Full of Crow and Underground Voices. You can visit her at: http://www.rasmenia.com/