The Stiff

Best of the Boards
Kirk Becken

Sandra looked at the lifeless form in front of her. A few minutes ago, he had been alive. Very alive, in fact. But apparently she had misinterpreted his last few cries. Pleasure and pain could be quite close in Sandra’s experience, but never had that concept been quite this clear. She didn’t know how long it took a body to become stiff after death, but one particular part seemed intent on leading the way there. Amazing. Suddenly Sandra felt a wave of embarrassment and covered him with the sheet, then immediately felt foolish as she looked down at the little tent he made.

The ticking of the clock caught Sandra’s attention, and she felt a wave of panic. Three o’clock. Afternoon delight indeed. But his wife would be home by five. Two hours. Suddenly this simple affair seemed to be a little more complicated, and a very bad idea. Amazing how clear that suddenly became.

Leave him? No. Definitely not. Oblivious to his needs as she might be, there was no way his wife would think he had come home for a nap and died in his sleep, especially if one type of stiffness did not go away before the next type developed. And as soon as she pulled back the top sheet… well, it wouldn’t take the top crew from CSI to find DNA on that bed. Dress him. Take him somewhere. Take him away from here—to where was a question that could wait, but he couldn’t be here when his wife came home.

Change the bed sheets. Blow dry the top of the mattress too, Sandra thought with some embarrassment. He had really been very good—right up to the moment when he stopped moving. Actually for a few moments afterward, before Sandra had realized the significance of his stillness. More embarrassment. She had continued making love to a dead man! A brief wave of nausea followed, but she quelled that by convincing herself that Harold had died the way all men dream of dying. Yes. He would have wanted it that way. The expression on his face was preserved ecstasy, not a rictus of pain. It was. The two may look virtually the same, but his expression was pleasure, not pain. It was!

Time to act, and stop standing here like a… like an adulteress who had just killed her lover. Sandra dressed quickly, then rolled Harold into the top sheet, the most visible sign of his pleasure still protruding absurdly. She lowered him gently, then dropped him on the floor with a thump. She stripped the sheets from the bed, found Harold’s wife’s hair dryer in the ensuite, and dried the top of the mattress until the evidence of this afternoon’s tryst was less… evident. She found the linen closet and changed the sheets. Fortunately, they were all the same colour and texture—Harold’s wife really was a bore.

Next: dress Harold. She retrieved his clothes from where they lay scattered on the floor of this room and the next, and dressed him. The sheet made it easy to drag him to the door. Thankfully Harold’s house was only one storey, and had a door leading directly to the garage where she had discreetly parked her Camry. She dragged him into the back seat, and folded his legs so he would fit. Fortunately he wasn’t getting stiff yet—well, except for that one incredibly persistent part. How long did that take, anyway?

As Sandra looked at Harold lying in the back seat, wrapped in the sheet, she realized how ridiculous that plan was. Would anyone looking in at a red light think he had just crawled into the back seat to take a nap, having brought a convenient sheet along with him? She dragged him back out, apologizing to his lifeless form as she bumped his head on the doorsill, then maneuvered him into the front passenger’s seat. Now to put the sheet in the laundry basket… No! Stupid! She put the sheet in the trunk, then went back to the bedroom to retrieve the other sheet, put the hair dryer back in the bathroom, and pick up her purse, which was still sitting in the living room where she had left it. Okay. That’s everything. Cell phone. Keys. Shoes. Condom wrappers. Damn! Another trip to the bedroom, fish them out of the wastebasket, into the trunk with the sheets. That’s it. Nothing left behind.

Sandra got into the driver’s seat and looked at Harold, his head lolling to one side. Taking a nap. That’s believable. No. Damn. How long until he was stiff enough to hold his damned head up? Four o’clock. Obviously more than an hour, then. Harold’s garage contained a small workshop where he started (but usually didn’t finish) small woodworking projects. A small lath would do the trick, but what then? Attach it to his head with duct tape? Staple gun. Oh my god, I’m sorry, Harold. She leaned him forward against the dash and fired two staples through the lath into the back of his head. Oh no, would he bleed? His face was quite pale, so there probably wasn’t enough blood to— His face was pale. Too pale. Makeup!

She reached into her purse, pulled out her compact, and gave him an even foundation. Great. Now he looked pale and painted. But better—enough to fool other motorists. Probably. As long as they didn’t pay too much attention at a stop light. Oh please let the lights be green!

Sandra started the car, put the transmission in reverse, then back in park. Turn the car off. Get out. Look for the switch to open the garage door. There has to be a switch, right? Damn you, Harold, why isn’t the switch right beside the door? His car. The remote clipped to the visor. Damn, damn! Harold, this is your own garage! Why did you lock your car door? Keys—she had felt them jingle in his pocket when she dressed him. Back to her car. Reach in his pocket. Oh my god, he was still up. Yes! Car keys! Harold’s head still lay against the dashboard where she had leaned him over. She pushed him upright. Was he starting to get stiff? The lath stuffed down his collar held his head upright now, and wasn’t visible unless she looked directly at it.

Okay. Harold’s car. Damn! Harold’s car alarm! Which bloody button—? Okay. Quiet again. For the first time in her life, Sandra was ecstatic that car alarms went off so annoyingly often that no one paid attention to them anymore. The remote. Open the door. Clip it back on the visor. Back to her car— Fingerprints! Damn! Sandra let the garage door close as she used one of Harold’s work gloves to wipe her prints from Harold’s car door, from the garage door remote, from the staple gun… then realized how futile the exercise was considering how many prints she must have left inside the house. Had she ever been fingerprinted? No. Could she be connected to Harold in any other way? Probably not. Maybe. Worry about that later.

Finally, Sandra was on the road. Great. Where to go now? The river? The forest? A back alley? Homeless people died on the street… but they didn’t generally wear expensive clothes like Harold did. Or wear makeup. Under the floorboards like that dreadful story she read in school so she could be tortured by the throbbing of the hideous—no! Best not to think about that. Her eyes drifted to his lap. That could not be normal! Oh my god, I’m driving a stiff stiff. Her spontaneous chuckle nearly became a sob. What was she doing? She was covering up—it wasn’t a murder! It was just a very inconvenient accident! Drop him behind the police station with a note? I’m sorry, but Harold died while having sex. It was a terrible accident, but I didn’t want his wife to come home and find him. You can easily verify how he died because…

Red light! Pay attention! Sandra screeched to a stop. Her heart stopped, then thundered, when she noticed a police cruiser coming the other way. But the officer just grinned and shook his head at the silly woman who had too much on her mind and almost missed the light. Don’t look at Harold. Don’t look at Harold. Don’t look… The light turned green and she drove on. The policeman gave her a wave and a grin as she passed. She felt the sweat run down her neck as she started breathing again. Apparently Harold looked good enough to— Damn! Apparently he looked like he was leaning over at his silly wife who almost missed the red light. His head leaned comically toward her and she realized anyone on the other side of the car at the next light would see the thin stake stapled to the back of his head. She reached over and turned his head straight again. He was definitely getting stiff now— Stop looking there! Yes, there too. His head wouldn’t stay on straight. She couldn’t just hold it there, looking like she was giving him a neck massage while driving him… she had to get him out of here! She couldn’t do this! She had to give herself up!

What would happen? Would she go to jail? It wasn’t murder! Adultery wasn’t a crime, and a heart attack wasn’t her fault! Okay, maybe it was, but she didn’t want it to happen! All she wanted was to be with Harold, to give him the pleasure he needed!

And now she had to give him the peace he needed. After a few blocks, Sandra pulled into the parking lot of the local police station. She turned to Harold, looked into his glassy eyes, still crystal blue, surrounded by the unnatural-looking makeup. “I’m so sorry, Harold.”

She walked into the police station in tears. What could she say? The female officer at the front desk saw her distress and guided her to a chair. “What happened, dear?” she asked.

Sandra tried several times to say something, and finally came out with “He’s dead,” before breaking down completely. It was over. There would be consequences, but Harold could have peace. His wife would be devastated, but she would find peace. And Sandra, doing right by a very wrong situation, she too would find peace.

Kirk Becken is a professional Green Guy who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and occasionally finds something to write about. For Kirk, writing fiction is a therapeutic antidote to writing position papers, policy documents, and somewhat-safe work procedures—even if such documents occasionally require some degree of creative writing. Kirk’s greatest literary hope is that no one takes his writing too seriously—especially his girlfriend, Sandra.

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