The Dead Man by Bridget Duquette

        By the time Tom found him, the sun was already setting and the man had been dead for hours. There were ants hiking across the still mound of his shoulders and the blood in his hair had dried into a black crust. The body was so still, so undisturbed, that Tom did not at first feel alarmed. His wife, who he had left sitting in the car, called out to him. “What is it?”

        “Nothing! Stay there,” Tom yelled back.

        “What? Why?” “It’s…It’s a dead animal,” he lied. “It’s not pretty.”

        Marie rolled her eyes and hopped out of the Chevy.

        “I’m not afraid of roadkill,” she declared.

        Her accent was still thick, three years after leaving Quebec. When they first met, Tom had mistaken her for an authentic French woman, perhaps an exchange student from Paris. Her jet black hair had enhanced this illusion of exoticism, which was quickly shattered when he learned that she had come from Ste-Foy, and that her black hair had come from a box.

        Now Marie slid into the ditch on the seat of her jeans, ignoring her husband’s protests.

        “Let me see!”

        “Go back to the car,” he ordered, attempting to shield the stranger’s body with his own. Despite his efforts, Marie glimpsed the blood-stained dirt and the torn, muddied fabric of the man’s shirt.

        “Is that an animal?” She asked, knowing it wasn’t.

        “No, it’s a man. He’s dead,” Tom said simply. He slowly raised himself to his feet and turned back to the road.

        “Dead,” Marie repeated blankly, moving slowly towards the body. Tom found himself unable to look at her.

        “Where’s a gas station around here? We have to call someone.” His voice was steady and calm.

        “Why is he bleeding?” She leaned over the body, her expression alternating between disgust and distress. “Why is he here?”

        Tom chewed at his bottom lip as he scanned the horizon. “I think we passed a gas station five or six kilometers back. We can call from there.”

        “But why is he here? Do you think someone ran him over and just threw him in the ditch?” She peered at the body, as though searching for an explanation in its graying skin. Behind her, Tom heaved himself up onto the road.

        “Come on, let’s get going.” He extended his hands to Marie, but she did not turn to him.

        “No one even called for him. The man who hit André went to the police right away. He was still warm when we went for him.”

        Tom did not reply, not wanting to provoke her, not daring to dismiss her.

        “Don’t people call the police around here? Don’t they try to help?”

        Tom knew she had begun to cry by the way her voice grew deeper and her accent thickened. She kept her back to him, dark hair spilling over her denim jacket like ink. The night they first met, she had worn it that way, falling down her back in waves. That night she had noticed Tom, sturdy and handsome, from across the room and had waved him over between puffs on her cigarette. Smoke circled her head like a halo.

        “You know, you shouldn’t smoke,” he had said by way of introduction, unsure of how to be soft, warm with a woman.

        She looked up at him, eyebrows arched. “No? But I like to.”

        “It smells awful. And it’ll ruin your face.” She cocked her head to the side and peered at him, unsure of his intentions.

        “That’s okay, it’s not a good face,” she said finally. And it was not untrue – her chin was too large, her nose too flat, her cheeks covered in freckles. But her eyes were a warm brown and she had an athlete’s figure, toned and trim.

        “So you’re French?” He asked, and he could not tell why this mad her laugh.

        “Yes, I am. Do you speak any French?” Here he allowed himself a small laugh too, encouraged by her pleasingly lopsided smile.

        “No, not a word.” He was not a funny man, but she laughed again as she moved closer to him, a curtain of smoke drawing over them, enclosing them.

        And now he stood stoic and still, looking at his wife as she stood over the dead man, her shoulders shaking softly. He searched for something to say – something strong and good and adequate, but nothing came to him.

        “Marie, we’ve got to get moving. This guy is starting to stink.” He cringed slightly as he spoke, hating the bareness of his words.

        She made a strange snorting noise. “He does not stink. This is just how the body smells.” She rubbed at her eyes, concealing her tears before turning to him.

        “Tom, why don’t you go for help? I can stay here with him.” Her upturned face was open and hopeful.

        “No. I’m not leaving you alone with a corpse in the middle of nowhere.”

        “But what if we can’t find him when we come back? What if we lose him?”

        “We won’t. I found him the first time and I wasn’t even trying. Come on.” Again, he reached out his hand. Marie hesitated.

        “He shouldn’t be here alone. What if animals start to eat him?”

        Tom sighed. “I’ll tell you what – how about you drive down to the gas station and I’ll wait here with him.”

        She brightened slightly. “You will?”

        He nodded resignedly. Yes, he would stay here with the dead man, whose hair was soaked through with blood, whose limbs lay slack at his side, so eerily absurd. He would do it without complaint.

        Marie hoisted herself out of the ditch, ignoring Tom’s outstretched hand.

        “You’ll stay beside him until I get back?” She asked, giving him a severe look. “He can’t be left alone.”

        “I promise,” he said somberly. “I’m not going anywhere.”

        Tom stood at the side of the road, watching as his wife climbed into the truck and drove off, first in the wrong direction, then performing a jerky u-turn and speeding past him towards town. He waited until the car had faded in the distance before he sat, letting his legs dangle into the ditch.

        He found a packet of Marie’s DuMaurier Lights in his pocket, and he began to puff on them absentmindedly, one after another, not quite tasting them, not quite sure why he did it. Below him the dead man slept, waiting patiently for his wife’s return, not minding the cold or the silence of the coming night.

Bridget Duquette studied English Lit and Translation at the University of
Ottawa. She currently lives and writes in a very small apartment in Ottawa’s
Byward Market.