Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

CHAPTER ONE

All the Idealism in the World Couldn’t Shake This Feeling

I was seventeen years old when I saw my first dead body. It wasn’t my cousin Oslo’s. It was a woman who looked to have been around fifty or at least in her late forties. She didn’t have any visible bullet holes or scratches, cuts, or bruises, so I assumed that she had just died of some disease or something; her body barely hidden by the thin white sheet as it awaited its placement in the lockers. The second dead body I ever saw was my cousin Oslo’s. I recognized his dirty brown shoes immediately as the woman wearing the bright white coat grasped the metallic handle and yanked hard to slide the body out from the silvery wall.

“That’s him,” I said to her.

“You sure?”

“Positive.”

His eyes were closed. His lips purple. His arms had bruises and track marks. Nothing was hidden from view, as he had died in a sleeveless white T-shirt, one of the same he had worn nearly every day of his life. There was something white in the corners of his mouth, but I didn’t ask what it might be. I didn’t really say much after that. The woman waited there for me to cry or say “I’m done,” or something. But I didn’t do a thing. I just stared at him. And I’m not sure if I was thinking anything at that moment either. I wasn’t thinking about missing him or pitying him or even about how angry I was at him. I was just standing there like some ass-hat, mouth half-open and eyes glued to one spot. Eventually the white coat woman broke the silence.

“Do you need any more time?” she asked.

“No thanks. I’m good.”

My mother cried on the way home. My little brother, Gabriel, looked anxious, but he kept his headphones on and didn’t say much for the duration of our trip. I drove, but I didn’t want to because I thought it might rain. I hate driving in the rain. I’d wanted my dad to come along so I wouldn’t have to play man for the evening by driving the whole way and making sure everyone ate and all. I didn’t so much mind the body identifying. That part was bound to happen, one way or another. Oslo had been shooting shit into his arm since I could remember. He had also frequently been an inconvenience to me. Picking him up at truck stops or crack houses. Telling lies to his mom to cover up his dumb-ass behavior and save him an argument. Loaning him ten dollars here and there and hoping he would buy food with it, but knowing he probably wouldn’t. I did it all. We all did. Me. My dad. Even my aunt Julia gave him money so long as he showed up every other day or so, long enough to make her forget that she had failed to raise him right, long enough to make her love him again.

My dad couldn’t come because he got a call around five thirty that afternoon to haul some oil well equipment up to Harrison. That’s what he does. He hauls things that I don’t know anything about and never really care to. All I know is that somebody needs these large pieces of metal that have something to do with pumping oil as soon as possible when they call him. And so he goes at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes he sits at the house for days, reading the paper or novels about dead people (because, apparently, men in their forties are only interested in reading about the lives of presidents, explorers, or criminals). Sometimes we don’t see him for two weeks at a time, only hear the sound of him switching trailers in the backyard at three in the morning or leaving messages on the machine to remind Mom to fill a prescription or pay the mortgage.

When we got home from Little Rock, Dad was still gone and the kitchen light was the only thing we could see from the driveway. Gabriel had fallen asleep about twenty minutes before and Mom wasn’t far behind him. She leaned over and kissed the side of my head before she got out of the car and walked toward the house. Opening the back door, I kicked at the bottom of Gabriel’s shoe. He shot up quick and threw his arms up, as if someone were about to cut his throat. I looked at him the way you look at someone when you’re waiting for them to come to their senses—like you’re both frustrated with and feeling sorry for them—and then I helped him get his footing. I followed him into the house and Mom was already in his bedroom, already crying again as she talked to a half-asleep Aunt Julia. Soon there was one more crying voice, and Gabriel and I sat up on my bed and listened through the wall as Aunt Julia rambled on and on about wanting to die.

Gabriel was asleep within minutes and the voices in the room next door had nearly gone silent. If they were still talking, they had decided to whisper, perhaps taking into consideration the two teenagers in the next room who had to get up and go to school the next day. Before lying down, I grabbed my leather-bound journal off the nightstand and turned to the first blank page I could find. I jotted down Oslo After Death. This would be a great title for a book, I thought. That is what I do sometimes. I jot down titles for books that I one day intend to write. Oslo After Death was #71.