By Matej Purg
It happened on a Tuesday afternoon, a block or so from where I parked my car. I was certain to get a ticket now, navigating hordes of slow-moving tourists standing in the way, taking pictures of themselves. Everyone’s so self-obsessed these days. I was carrying a scorching tall Americano from Starbucks before I died. Starbucks is not my favorite, but it does the trick. I was walking down Melrose under the blistering sun when I made a sound — the kind of sound a deflating balloon would make, or a dying elephant, or a kid playing tag who trips and falls onto the concrete of a preschool playground. I dropped dead, face-down into a slew of exploded ketchup packets. Some sight I was. The fall fractured my cheek when it smashed on the gum-stained sidewalk. No biggie. I didn’t feel a thing. A gush of saliva drooled from my mouth, contorted into a Fratze of grotesquitude. Then I pissed and shat myself. Death spells the end of dignity.
There weren’t any warning signs before I died. I just died. I’d been given a clean bill of health back in November. Dr. Varlotta even fingered my prostate. He said it was “decent,” whatever that means. Doesn’t matter now. I spent my last day just like any other Tuesday, bored at work.
After I died, I waited for doves to lift my soul toward the heavens. The sky didn’t part. There was no ray of light to guide me upstairs. I guess that only happens in those Jesus flicks. Anyway, I wasn’t swallowed up by any horned and pitchfork-wielding demons either, so at least I had that going for me. I laid there, soaked in coffee, a stampede of flip-flops and sneakers strolling past. Nobody stopped to check on the dead guy spread across the middle of the pavement. They kept a safe distance from the obstacle on the ground. I must’ve been just another passed out wino to them. I should’ve done this thing a long time ago, died young and left behind a pretty corpse instead of this expired carton of milk. I wanted someone to cover me up, but that someone never came. I didn’t want them to see me this way. I wanted to decay and get it over with, evaporate and disappear into what comes next, anywhere but this sidewalk next to a head-shop.
A flattened bag of Cheetos lofted over me. A dog sniffed me out, marked his territory on my elbow before his master could yank him away. A cockroach traversed the sidewalk, crawled up to study my face before backing up, unsure whether to scuttle away or to chow down. It dashed around me, then hesitated by the pool of ketchup and threw me one last glance before getting crushed by the rubber sole of a suede Nike. Now there’s two of us dead in the middle of the sidewalk. At least I’m not smeared across the pavement. I should consider myself lucky, I guess.
Some time after school let out, a little girl knelt down by my head. She must’ve been five or six. She wore striped leggings, a glittery tank top and a princess veil. We locked eyes, hers curious, mine porcelain. I wanted to reach out to her, talk to her. I wanted to tell her, “If you wanna be a princess, be a princess,” and move the strand of hair from her face.
“Don’t touch it!” her mother shrieked and pulled her away from me before she could brush her fingers across my ketchup-smeared forehead.
So I’m an it now. That’s just great.
The temperature dropped as foot-traffic dispersed and dusk began to mute the sky. The head-shop’s fluorescence put a spotlight on my body. My phone rang. It was my turn to pick up the boys. My wife didn’t know why I wasn’t there. She must’ve been furious, rushing from work as she cursed me out on voicemail. I wished I could hear it.
A roar headed towards me, some teenage skater kid. He stopped next to my body. I remembered the joy of skating down sidewalks, scaring old folks, eating shit in my old torn-to-shreds Vans. Those were the days. The kid got back on his board and stormed towards me, trying to ollie my corpse. His wheel grazed my ear. Then he was gone. I missed him already.
I was afraid that I’d never leave this spot, that I’d rot away while everybody passed me by, covering their noses and mouths. Rats would nibble on me in the dark, coyotes would gnaw on my bones, until all that was left would be my ripped clothes with no trace of me inside them.
Someone tapped my shoulder. Fucking finally.
“Dude,” a woman said.
“What are you doing?” a guy said. “It smells. I think he pissed himself.” Oh yes, yes I did. His loafers looked much more comfortable than her cork wedges with her purple toenails sticking out from the opening. Her shins were shiny, freshly shaved.
“Shouldn’t we do something?” the woman said. “This guy needs help.” She’s a little late for that. I don’t need help, I just need to be sanitized off the sidewalk.
“Do what?” he said, with a hint of rushed annoyance. “Carry him home, give him a bath, feed him a meal? And then what? Have a threesome?”
“You’re stupid,” the woman laughed. And they were gone, and that was that.
It began to drizzle. My clothes were getting wet. I hated the feeling of damp fabric on my skin back when I was alive. The phone rang again. I wanted to pick it up and tell her I was sorry for abandoning her and the boys. Come on, I begged myself, un-die. They must’ve been in their pajamas by now, brushing their teeth. I should’ve been glad I wasn’t there. They were a real pain in the ass at bedtime.
Another Gregor Samsa trampled across my head, then crawled into my ear. I thought of my family, of helping the boys with their homework. I wanted to tell my wife about my boring day, how ordinary it was, how slow it was, how weird death is. I yearned for one last embrace, one last fuck, one last spoon. I thought of eating Chinese take-out, of all the shows on Netflix I’d never get the chance to finish, of my car still parked on Melrose and Sierra Bonita. I wondered how many tickets they issue before they tow your car.