They ID her by her dental work: two partial fillings in the first and second molars, upper left quadrant; no wisdom teeth. A largely uneventful mouth.
They call her family from the landline, the beige one on the sheriff’s desk in the county station. The only member they can reach is an older half-sister—a fashion designer in the city—middle-aged, faintly remarkable. The sister is surprised to be the one to receive the news. They were a decade apart and never close, occupying the same space for a while as a marriage took root and shriveled. The only thing they really had in common was a father, now dead. Neither one of them went to his funeral. He was a gap they both had gotten used to ignoring.
The staff sergeant’s voice wavers on the phone, alternatingly apologetic and defensive, as if shoring itself up to receive a punch. The sister has the perverse urge to descend into a symphony of wailing, to see what would happen. But she resists and instead lets the silence of the after-telling hang there.
The sister is the only one who can arrange the funeral, the sergeant goes on to tell her, if she wants a funeral to happen, that is. She considers arguing, pretty sure there’s a motherish figure wandering around somewhere down south. But then she pictures the body being tossed into a medieval mass grave and sighs assent. Her Weimaraner nuzzles against her calf—she strokes him with the soft pads of her toes.
After hanging up, she sits in front of her gigantic Mac desktop and scrolls through pages of caskets. Experiments with different finishes, interiors. Takes breaks by looking at floral arrangements. Pale orchids and lilies. Death as a white thing with a stem.
The sister feels guilty for the ease with which she makes end of life arrangements into yet another aesthetic exercise. She walks to the corner store and buys a pack of cigarettes, forces herself to smoke two as she leans against painted brick. She wants her mouth to feel dirty, her throat singed. She doesn’t brush her teeth when she returns home.
In bed, she closes her eyes and, instead of becoming sightless, it’s as if she’s actively staring at the interior of her eyelids. They’re somehow darkly opalescent, like she’s inside of a tightly coiled shell.
What happened to you? she asks the dead one.
They’d found her in a field, the sergeant had explained. Wearing a sun dress. No signs of struggle. Her heart had just given out.
The live one doesn’t receive an answer. So she just lies there, cradling an image of long white limbs nestled in a bed of lilacs. Asking forgiveness for years of lukewarm inertia, folding into herself again and again.
Alice Maglio’s fiction has appeared in DIAGRAM, Cosmonauts Avenue, Black Warrior Review, Wigleaf, and others. Her work has also been included in Best Microfiction 2020. She is the book review editor of The Rupture, and she holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.