I never knew if I really saw it, or if I simply imagined it. A body, draped across the low tide of the Thames. Bloated skin shone white against the black mud. Or did it? The train left the scene behind before I could look twice. The newspapers, normally so exuberant about death and depravity, remained silent about any corpses washed up south of the Thames.
I confided in my best friend.
“You probably just imagined it,” said Claire. “You have been under a lot of stress at work.”
I nodded over tea and homemade muffins, though I disagreed. Plenty of people have stressful jobs, but they don’t imagine dead bodies.
My mother put it down to latent morbidity, reminding me of my teenage Goth phase and preference for crime novels. My boyfriend suggested that I mistook a pile of rubbish for a body. I hadn’t had time to look twice, so my brain made up the scene based on the serial killer book I was reading. I liked Patrick’s theory the best. Content that the corpse was just waterborne detritus, I resolved to think of it no more.
The resolution held firm for three days. On the fourth day, I saw another dead body. This one hung out of the open passenger door of a burned out car, abandoned on waste ground. I saw it from the window of the bus, catching my eye as we pulled up at the traffic lights. I asked the man beside me if he’d seen it too, but all I got was a blank look. The newspapers kept their own counsel about dead bodies found in cars. I couldn’t remember which patch of waste ground it had been; couldn’t go back to check.
Claire advised I book a quiet holiday somewhere warm. She recommended a little village near Malaga. She still thought stress overworked my imagination. Patrick thought logically. He asked if maybe I hadn’t seen a body hanging out of the car, but rather I’d seen a dog trying to climb in. My mother threw a fit of hysterics and told me to see a shrink.
Three days later, I saw my third dead body. The taxi took me home from a late night at the office, rolling down quiet residential streets as the red numbers flicked higher on the meter. I noticed a brightly lit upstairs window of a smart townhouse, and saw the silhouette of a hanging body. I should have phoned someone, maybe tried to fetch help. But I didn’t. I said nothing to the driver, knowing he would have seen nothing. I told no one. I didn’t pause to check the newspapers, and the obituaries went unread.
Two days later, I saw them all again, this time together. I crossed the road near my flat, and saw them stood in a row outside the betting shop. A woman; blue veins snaked across her wet and blotchy naked skin. A man; hideously burned, his teeth showing through gaping wounds in his cheek. Another woman; her face swollen and black, an electrical cord embracing her throat.
I didn’t hear the car horn, or the squeal of brakes. I didn’t feel the impact of two thousand two hundred eighty eight pounds of steel, or the sickening crunch when I hit the tarmac. I didn’t see the growing crowd of morbid onlookers, and I didn’t hear the wail of approaching sirens.
I did feel three pairs of hands help me to my feet. I thought perhaps I would go with them.
©2010 Icy Sedgwick