A dead man lives here. He moved in not long ago, unconcerned with space or comfort. At first, I found it unnerving, especially because he would sometimes surprise me in those early days, his body springing out from beneath the sink, arms and torso smacking against the floor with a thick splat.
The dead man had a brown mustache, speckled with gray. He was alright to look at, even though his skin was waxy and purple. You could still see what he had been, how he looked before he wasn’t dead.
His name was Thomas, which I learned after examining his wallet. The way this unfolded was that I was in the kitchen washing dishes when I felt something brush against my foot. Peeking out from inside the cabinet was a hand, the fingers of which had brushed me.
I was too horrified to scream. Instead I covered my mouth and bit down on my fingers. After a while, I decided to look inside the cabinet. I pulled the door open and Thomas tumbled out. He reminded me of an octopus, the way he moved. His tongue lolled out, his eyes were open but milky.
I demanded answers from him. Why was he here, in my house? What did he want from me?
He said he wasn’t sure why he was in my house, but that there was nothing he could do about it. He then asked me how he looked. I was exasperated but had to admit to him that he didn’t look bad, all things considered.
He said, “I expect it will get worse.”
I said, “I expect it will.”
“Are you comfortable under there?” I asked.
“No matter,” he said. “Comfort isn’t the language of the dead.”
“Do you know your name?” I asked.
He seemed to puzzle over this question. He was very expressive for a dead man.
“You know, I don’t,” he said. “I honestly don’t. Isn’t that strange?”
I asked him if it was okay for me to rummage through his pockets. He agreed. That’s when I found his wallet.
“Your name is Thomas,” I told him. “Thomas Duvane.”
He didn’t respond right away. After a moment he said, “I think I’d like some peace and quiet now. This has been very draining for me.”
I shrugged. “Okay,” I said, bending so that I could push his limbs back into the cabinet, which was a very difficult task as Thomas was not able to offer any assistance.
After I had tucked him away, I went about my business, as absurd as that seems. A dead man under your sink is hard to understand, so your brain just kind of erases it. Yes, I knew he was there. But it was like buying clothing that doesn’t fit and stashing it for later: you don’t have to accept reality. But I had his wallet. That was real.
I threw the wallet into the junk drawer after removing the cash and examining it. He had $38, a driver’s license, a few credit cards, and a blood donor card. O positive was his blood type.
I fell asleep hard that night and slept for a very long time. When I woke the next morning, the first thing I did was check the cabinet under the sink. Thomas was still in there, slumped over just as I had left him. He didn’t say anything to me as I peered in so I let him be.
I made coffee and put on music. After a while Thomas said, “I recognize that smell. What are you making?”
“Coffee,” I responded.
“Coffee,” he said, his voice and pronunciation making it sound foreign. “Coffee,” he said again, in an almost whisper.
I wanted to offer him some but knew he had no need. After the coffee finished brewing, I stayed in the kitchen, sipping from my mug.
“You don’t have to keep me company,” he said.
“I’m not,” I said. “You’re in my kitchen. This is where I live.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “This is all a lot. I…I don’t really know what to do now.”
I felt sympathy for him. “Do you remember anything,” I asked, softening my tone.
“About who I was?” he asked. “No, I really don’t.”
I sipped my coffee.
“Hello?” he said.
“I’m still here,” I said.
“Is there someone I should call?” I asked.
“How long do you think I’ve been dead?” he asked, ignoring my question.
“Jeez,” I replied. “I don’t know. Maybe a couple of days?”
“A couple of days,” he said, somewhat quizzically. Then, “No, don’t call anyone. I don’t mind it here. It’s nice here.”
I wondered what should I say to him, this dead man under my sink with no one to call and no memory of his life.
“Get out!” my brain shouted. But should I tell him to get out? I couldn’t. I couldn’t tell a dead man with no one and nothing to get out.
Instead I said, “I have to go to work. I get home around 4.”
The dead man was silent and I left.
Days passed, and soon the dead man had been in my house – in his spot under the sink – for a little over a week. We got used to each other. He joked that my breathing bothered him.
The problem was that he was falling apart. And stinking. I said, “We have to figure something out.” He apologized. I asked again if maybe I shouldn’t call somebody.
“But who?” he said. “You will get in trouble now. I’ve been here for so long.”
He had a point. How would I explain a dead man decomposing under my sink?
“Well I can’t just leave you there,” I said. “You stink. And you’re probably leaking.”
“I am leaking,” he said. “I am sitting in a puddle of myself.”
I gagged. I’m going to have to figure something out,” I said.
“But where will I go?” he asked.
“The basement?” I offered. “Do you think I can get you down to the basement?”
“Oh I don’t know about that,” he said. “Even if you could, wouldn’t I just smell down there?”
“What about lye?” I asked. Isn’t that what they use in crime shows? “Could I put you in the tub and soak you in lye?”
“I suppose,” he said. “But won’t you need your tub?”
“We don’t have many options, Thomas,” I said, annoyed. “We need to get you out from under the sink.”
I reached in and grab him. The stench was unbearable.
“This won’t work,” I said.
“Nothing can prepare you for this, I guess,” he said, meekly.
“It’s okay,” I said, stopping to weigh my options. “We’ll figure it out. We will figure it out.”
I ran out to a hardware store, quickly buying what I thought I’d need and returned home to resume my attempt to dislodge him from beneath the sink. I was sweating and grunting, trying not to think about what I was doing and touching. Finally, I got him out. Thomas sprawled across the floor, face down.
“What now,” he asked.
“I’m going to drag you into the bathroom,” I said. “I’m going to load you into the tub. I bought lye.”
“I wonder if that will do the trick,” he said.
“Let’s hope so,” I said.
It took me two hours to move Thomas a total of 18 feet. Dead bodies are heavy. Especially when they’re bloated. Thankfully I’d had the foresight to buy a tarp, so dragging him across the floor wasn’t terrible. But getting him into the tub was. It took all my strength. I had to use my shoulders and my back to heft him.
Thomas finally flopped into the tub, his head smacking the porcelain.
“Ouch,” he said reflexively.
I let out a small laugh, then let myself catch my breath for a few minutes.
“Okay,” I finally said. “Time to pack you in lye.” I had already placed the bags in the bathroom. I turned Thomas face up and started pouring.
“Does it hurt,” I asked.
“Not at all,” he said.
I poured three bags into the tub with him. Only his head and neck weren’t covered.
“How long until I’m a skeleton,” he asked.
“Don’t know,” I said. “Guess we’ll find out.”
Once a week, I would fill the tub with water and replace the lye. Every time, little bits of flesh and muscle would fall off of Thomas’s rapidly decaying body. I had to scoop them into a bag and bury them. I had staked out four different burial sites around the city. All in wooded parks. Cities have a lot of underused parks, some of which I was developing a deep appreciation for.
Meanwhile, I was showering at my gym. Sometimes I went there just to shower. It was a big gym. No one seemed to notice.
One evening, Thomas asked me if I was ever nervous about my activities. I told him I wasn’t. I told him that very few things rattled me. “I moved a lot as a kid,” I said. “I just roll with things.”
By now, I had to also put Thomas’s head in the lye, but it didn’t diminish my ability to hear him, which is what we had both come to fear.
For the most part, it was all going very smoothly. I would periodically do a search for Thomas on my computer, to see if there were any news stories, or a search for him – something. Anything. But nothing much ever turned up. He had kept a pretty low profile.
But Thomas had been married at one point. It was brief and had ended 15 years ago.
“You had a wife once,” I said to him after I made the discovery. “Her name was Patricia. Do you remember her?”
Thomas seemed sad. I could read him now, I could read his pauses and his answers.
“I don’t,” he said. “You’re the only person I know and remember.”
“What about your parents,” I asked.
I shook my head. “Thomas, how has your death gone unnoticed?”
He was quiet. I stood up to go. “What would happen if you died,” he asked me. “Who do you think would know?”
I guessed that I had hurt his feelings and that’s why he said that.
“You would know,” I said, closing the door to the bathroom.
Three weeks passed and Thomas was almost a skeleton. Each time I drained the tub, there was less and less brown sludge, the sludge that had been Thomas. I knew I would soon need to decide what to do with his skeleton – and also scour the hell out of my tub.
We still chatted, though he seemed to be in a bit of a slump. While I was brushing my teeth one morning he said, “What’s going to happen to me? I can tell that my body is nearly gone.”
“You still have some hair,” I said, an attempt at a joke.
“You won’t want me here,” Thomas said. “No one wants old bones laying around.”
“You’re here, Thomas,” I said, “ and I don’t plan to take you anywhere else. I may have to move you to a closet, or find some way to disguise you, but you’re here.”
“Do you think anyone else can hear me,” he asked.
“I’ve never thought about that,” I said, glancing at Thomas in the mirror. “Are you lonely,” I asked. “Would you like to talk to other people?”
“I don’t want to go in the ground,” Thomas said. “But maybe a school. Maybe I could live at a school.”
“Maybe,” I said, “But you really couldn’t talk to anyone.”
Thomas sighed. “Death is lonely,” he said.
“Life is lonely,” I said.
Thomas moaned. I had never heard him do that before.
“Thomas,” I said softly.
He ignored me. “Thomas, I don’t know how to make this better. This is something that happened to us. The only thing we can do is try to figure it out.”
Thomas moaned again, then went silent.
“Thomas,” I said. “Thomas?” He didn’t answer so I continued.
“This is it,” I said. “This is all we’ve got now and you have to be okay with it.”
“Yes,” he finally said, and I was flooded with relief.
Cara Long Corra lives in Albany, NY, and works as a statewide affordable housing advocate. Her first (and so far only) collection of short stories, Partly Gone, was published by Unsolicited Press in 2014.