This week’s throwback story is from Heather Luby, who “What the Living Claim” appeared March 16, 2015 in jmww.
The boys came running with news of a dead body catching flies in the empty lot bordering our street. We dared each other, double dared, threw burlas, until, at last, we all went down together, not holding hands, but shoulders grazing in a line of would-be bravery.” Among the trash and rocky, tall grass was the man just like they said, but face down and picked by a crow. There were not so many flies as I expected. Later the boys told tales to bring the girls close. One boy claimed his father owned a shirt just like the one the dead man was wearing. Another boy boasted the dead man wore stolen shoes from his tío Sam’s closet. A third supposed the dead man could be the unknown father of his sister’s baby. I did not have anything to claim. I shared nothing with the dead man except my skin.
When the sun slumbered I ran home to find my overused father scrubbing his fingernails at the kitchen sink, my heavy hipped mother tracing the beads of her rosary while cooking. Older brother and sister counting dollars and time. I wondered if my cuates wanted the dead man to wait too. If they dreamed of pockets and stories yet unfolded. I swallowed my words. I knew how to keep my freedom.
At school the teacher ordered faces forward, nose prints on the window glass washed. She claimed there was nothing to see. At recess our eyes followed the points of fingers. The crows had grown fat in number, their bodies a breathing gravesite of black. One girl insisted a lover would claim the dead man’s body. Another that the dead man had it coming.
In the shadow making hours the children became centinelas for the dead man, guarded from bedroom windows and breezeless backyards. Early morning, men in jackets arrived quiet and zippered his body away. Chotas. There were no lights twirling red and blue. No sirens crying. No candles or altars to claim a quiet corner in his name. With no one to speak it, he had no name.
Heather Luby is really nothing more than a girl from the Ozark Mountains that grew up with dreams of writing stories. Her work has appeared in Word Riot, LITnIMAGE, Bartleby Snopes, and a few other places along the way. She has an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and is the Managing Editor of The Citron Review. Read more at http://heatherluby.com/.