The body landed on her balcony with a wet thud. She saw it happen in her periphery while she was sitting on a cardboard box, flipping through channels, getting high. She had just taken a hit and it went down the wrong way and she had to cough it out.
On the TV a wobbling football sailed wide left of the uprights. The Crows keep shooting themselves in the foot, the commentators agreed.
The boxes made a maze of the new apartment, stacked to chest level, dropped by the movers in the worst places, blocking hallways and covering stovetops. She hadn’t unpacked them yet because there would be too much Karen in them. She stood up to get a better view of the balcony over all the cardboard.
The man’s blood made a butterfly print against the glass door to the balcony. She watched it start to flap its wings for a moment. Then she lay the marbled pipe on the carpet and worked her way toward the front door of the apartment.
She took the elevator four flights down to talk to the doorman. The doorman had a red blazer and the sort of beard that looked penciled on.
Someone just landed on my balcony, she said to the doorman.
What, the doorman said.
There’s a body on my balcony.
A dead one?
Back upstairs the doorman slid open the balcony door and led the way outside. He put his hand on his chin, observed the body as if it were a sculpture or a weird house plant. The man had been maybe thirty. The right leg was bent backwards and blood had squirted out of his mouth and ears, his abdomen, making the air metallic. He had hit the railing like a water balloon.
Shit, the doorman said.
Yeah, she said.
The doorman leaned over the balcony, turned around and scaled the Tower with his eyes. His black shoes slopped into a puddle of blood and some splashed up onto his khakis.
Must have dropped from at least ten floors up, the doorman said. The gusts up there must have blown him back in.
I guess I’ll call 911, she said.
She had to think about whether 911 was a different number now that she was in a new city. The same as she wondered if the things in the boxes might have changed on the trip east, or emptied entirely, gone Schrodinger on her like everything else back home. If she never opened them they could be the same and different all at once.
While they waited for the authorities they stood inside watching the game. The Roosters were blowing out the Crows in the second quarter, 28-3. The commentators just laughed into their mics for a few seconds after the last touchdown catch, and she started laughing with them. The doorman had tracked bloody footprints across the white carpet before leaning on a pile of taped-up boxes.
Do I smell pot? the doorman said.
No, she said.
Got any beer, then?
The paramedics and the coroner got there before the cops. They had to push some boxes out of the way to wheel in the gurney. They declared the man dead right there, but they had to wait for the police to arrive before taking him away, since it might be a crime scene. So the four of them each found a box to sit on or an empty wall to lean against and they all watched in silence as a Crow fumbled yet another one away inside the ten-yard line. The commentators started using war terms to describe the treatment the Roosters were handing down. A massacre, a slaughter, a bloodbath.
I blame the coaching staff, the doorman said, emptying his beer.
Can’t coach around dirty refs, a paramedic said.
No ref can run up the score this much, another paramedic said.
She tried to figure out what a Down was. First Down, Third and Fifteen, Fourth and Long, Second and Goal. She started laughing at the alphabet soup of numbers. It might have been the same paramedic who said both those things.
Ten minutes later a detective knocked on the door with two blues. The detective could have walked out of a TV show, long trenchcoat and black tie, but he was babyfaced, younger than she was. When she opened the door she forgot to say anything.
You the resident? he said to her.
You got a box fetish or something?
I just moved in.
No shit. The thing’s on the balcony?
The doorman opened the sliding door for the detective and they both walked out. The bloody tracks on the carpet now looked like the diagram of a honeybee mating dance.
My guess is he jumped from the thirteenth floor, the doorman said. Sir, he added.
The detective said nothing. He peeled a couple latex gloves from his pocket, tugged them onto his hands, and started examining the body around the neck and temples. The coroner waited inside with the gurney and a black body bag, watching one Crow accidentally tackle another one. After a moment the detective stepped in and conferred with him in whispers. Then he addressed her.
This guy’s not a jealous ex or something, is he?
I just moved here, she said.
Your husband home?
Strange how words could make the nerves on her ring finger pulse, take over for her heartbeat a while. The whole time she’d still been wearing the engagement ring Karen wouldn’t take back, yellow gold and a half-carat stud.
It’s just me, she said, making her right hand eat the left one.
The detective pulled off his bloody gloves and tossed them on top of a box marked “Spatulas and Pans.”
I’m going to go poke around upstairs, he said, and the coroner here will take this body off your hands. But I’m gonna ask that you not go anywhere until we leave, in case we have any questions. Got it?
The detective directed the doorman to follow him out, snapping and pointing his fingers like a dog trainer. The doorman helped himself to another beer and gulped it down on his way to the hall.
Nice to meet you, babe, he said, raising his empty bottle. Welcome to The Towers.
After the blues took a few photographs of the balcony, the body was zipped up and carted out. The bag wrapped him away from person-shaped toward something lumpy and small. The gurney wheels left a red track across the carpet from the balcony door to the hallway and she stepped over it like a crevasse that was expanding. Somehow the boxes had gotten taller and it made her lose her balance. She steadied herself against the kitchen island and poured a cloudy cup of water for herself. The minerals tasted different here.
Soon the detective came back, shaking his head to his own thoughts.
Gonna be a long night, he said. His wife is up there, hysterical. No offense.
Shit, she said.
We have to take her downtown to ask her some things. We’ll get out of your hair. For now.
Don’t be surprised if you hear from us tomorrow.
So who cleans this up? she said.
The detective scanned the floor, all the caked-in shoeprints and sneezes of splatter. Then he bent over and picked up her marbled pipe, which had rolled between two boxes. He peered into its bowl, sniffed the contents, and smacked the ashes down onto the carpet with his palm.
It’s your apartment, he said. Hire a maid.
With everyone gone the TV sounded louder than before. She tossed the used latex gloves into a loose trash bag in the kitchen. She went to take another hit, but the bowl was empty, grayed by a coat of ash. Then she slumped back onto her sitting box and tried to watch the rest of the game. A rout, a blowout, a snoozer. The stadium crowd had grown empty and she felt like the only person watching. But she could almost hear the buzz of honeybees just over there on the carpet.
She began unstacking the boxes looking for “Cleaning Supplies.” She pushed aside “Photos #2” and “DVDs,” which she still had even though she didn’t have a DVD player. There was “Karen’s Books,” full of things she would never read, and “Dry Goods,” full of food that wouldn’t go bad. She found the box she was looking for in the stack next to the kitchen, beneath the box labeled “Bathroom Shit.”
Out on the balcony she rolled her jeans up to her knees, pulled her hair back into a ponytail. Then she kneeled down and started sopping up the blood with a sponge, wringing it out in a bucket after every swish. Blood seeped through the slits of the railing and dripped down to the balcony below her as she scrubbed. She filled the bucket to the top with what she squeezed out. It was the same color as the sky, coppered by the streetlights.
She emptied the blood into the kitchen sink. Earlier tonight it had been swimming through someone, keeping him alive, and now it glugged down her new drain in a clockwise swirl. She felt her own pulse thumping through her arms while she poured, thick and real. She felt her eyes start to water. Once the bucket was empty she flicked the garbage disposal on for a few seconds to make sure it worked. It gurgled and then swallowed the basin dry.
Now the TV flashed through highlights of the game. The midnight crew of ex-players dissected the most important plays, discussed the game’s significance in the context of the season. The Roosters improved their odds for the playoffs. The balcony had a dark smear across it in the shape of a pyramid.
She turned off the TV and pulled a random box toward her. “Karen #1” it said. As she pierced her fingers through the top to tear off the packing tape, she noticed a bead of blood on her ring, turning diamond to ruby, some sort of backwards alchemy, quantum entanglement. Then she ripped the box open and looked inside.
Phil Hearn lives in Baltimore and earned his MA from Johns Hopkins University. His fiction has appeared in Barrelhouse, Grist, Potomac Review, and Post Road Magazine. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Find him on Twitter @hearncommaphil.