by Mary Franzen
For two days, two people laid dead underneath a crabapple tree in the Franklin township of New Jersey. A man and a woman lay in the sun on the ground with the fallen crabapples that became rotten and eaten by bees that were still crawling all over them. She hated bees but there was nothing she could do about it. They smelled bad, the both of them. She was waiting for someone to come and find them, someone to stumble upon the scene and hurt their lungs with screaming.
While her hand had been on his thigh for two nights and his arm stretched underneath her torn neck, she wondered if the Sunday paper would include a picture of them, or would they have to wait until Monday. She tried to imagine the date, but she wasn’t sure what day it was. May something 1922, that’s all she could think of. Her neck, once long and slender, had been truncated and her vocal cords were gone. There was no way she could sing on Sundays now.
E’s Panama hat was covering up his face, like he was sleeping and didn’t want the sun in his eyes. That hat, she had gotten that hat for E when she was down in Florida with her husband. Her husband had a reputation at being good at cleaning things up and nothing else. She told him she was out buying him a gift, he never remembered to ask when he’d get it, which was fine because he never did.
“They call it a panama hat because you can roll it up and stuff it in one of those cigar tubes.”
“That’s very kind, but you know I don’t smoke,” E said.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t put it on, you can roll it up and stick it in your pocket when you’re not wearing it. Look at that,” she pulled the hat down on his head rubbing it against his bald spots, making sure it was on tight. “It suits you.”
“Whatever you say, darling.”
There was a sound behind them, someone who was most certainly walking, had come to a stop.
“Hey, hold it,” A girl said. Just a teenager.
“What, baby? I see some bushes over there, we can sit behind those,” the man said. He was a bit older, just a little too much.
“Look over there, do you see those people lying down?”
“I don’t see no one, come on, you’re stalling.” The man bundled up the sides of her dress in his fists, pulling her closer to him while he stuck his nose in her hair.
“Quit. Look, by the tree. You see them? The black haired woman and the man in the white suit. Looks like they’re sleeping.”
We aren’t sleeping, please, look at us, we’re not breathing.
“Then let’s let them alone and go somewhere else.”
“Jimmy, they look strange.”
The two moved a little closer to the other two on the ground.
“Come on, Pearl, let’s get out of here, do you smell that?”
That’s us, you dumb fool.
They ran, like she thought they would. Jimmy was awkward about it, taking wide crab steps around the back of Pearl who wasn’t moving fast enough for him. He was straining himself not to be the first one out of there. Trying hard to balance being a gentleman and a coward.
She walked up the aisle and saw him at the podium, whispering to himself and making sweeping gestures with his hands. She could tell that Sunday would be a day where the sheep got scolded for their sins.
“E, take me to the basement, I have to get home soon and finish up a dress for Charlotte.”
“I’m almost finished writing.”
“But you’re not writing.”
E tapped the shiny top of his head with his finger. “Just a moment.”
She took a seat in the second row pew and put her hands between her thighs. No matter how warm it was, she felt cold in an empty church. The draft was always on the back of her neck. She watched more of his gestures and he looked out in her direction, but he wasn’t seeing her.
Officers Edward Ervin and John Todd walked onto the grass from the road like people who weren’t looking to help anyone.
“The girl said they were lying right underneath a crabapple tree, do you see one around?” Said Ervin.
“Is that one? Over there?” Todd asked. Todd had more enthusiasm, like he had two more cups of coffee than Ervin before they left the station.
“Let’s take a look.” Ervin said. Even his words were lazy.
They walked up to the pair on the ground and Ervin leaned in while Todd stayed away with his hand up to his mouth and his fingers pinching his nose. Ervin looked long and hard at her while Todd looked down at the crabapples.
“Does she look familiar to you?”
“No, sir, I haven’t seen her.”
“You’re still not seeing her, come over here, and lift the man’s hat, let’s take a look at his face.”
Officer Todd lifted E’s hat off his face and more flies flew away. His glasses weren’t broken, which was miraculous considering he had been shot in the head.
“Don’t know him either.”
“Check his wallet.”
Todd started opening up E’s pockets, pinching his suit coat and holding it out between his fingers like he was afraid he was going to catch his death. More flies came at him.
This isn’t right, this isn’t how this should be done. They’re doing it all wrong.
“Edward Wheeler Hall, says he’s from New Brunswick.”
“That means it’s ours.”
“I don’t know, we’ll have to call up Franklin and Middlesex, we’re standing on the borders.
“How are you feeling, song bird? Can you sing for us?”
“Edward, don’t even joke about that, she’s just out of surgery. She’ll do it just to make you happy and you know it.”
“I’m sorry dear, I’m sure she knows that I’m only teasing her, isn’t that right?”
“Just worry about getting your rest so you can get home as fast as you can to that husband and those darlings. I’m sure they miss you.” Mrs. Hall said while she leaned forward in her chair, showing her all of the teeth in her mouth.
She touched her throat a little, just enough to let Mrs. Hall know that she was thirsty or in pain, whatever made her go away.
“Do you want some water? I’ll run and grab the nurse.”
Mrs. Hall padded the bottom of her gray haired bun and straightened her skirt before walking out of the room. “Edward, you leave her alone.”
E kept looking at her while his wife left them. He snaked his hand underneath the blanket so just the tips of his fingers were touching her right knee. He looked at her and she closed her eyes and swallowed. He looked down at the lump in the blanket and brought the other hand out of his pocket. She moved her knee, just a little, she wasn’t even sure he knew that anything had happened until she looked at him and he was staring at her with his eyelids halfway down.
“I would.” The words scratched out of her throat.
“What did you say?” E leaned closer to her, putting his hand flush on her knee, grabbing it to brace himself.
With the Franklin and Middlesex police departments came a few neighbors who had seen the cars crowding De Russey’s lane. Half a dozen of them stood around the tree, hugging their arms to their chests and stretching their necks over each other. A low hum had started. Lots of “have you heard anything?” and “who are they?” A few people asked “how’d they die” “how’d they get it?” and a funny man with real sharp elbows said “what’s got them down?”
“I heard they found a bunch of love letters around the bodies, could be they were fooling around behind someone’s back,” said a man with his pant legs rolled up.
“I haven’t heard of many faithfully married people ending up in the dirt like this unless the preacher put them in it,” another man said.
“I was talking to a reporter from the Daily and he said it was Reverend Hall from St. John’s near the river in New Brunswick.”
“They arrested somebody already?”
“No, he said the dead man was the reverend, didn’t say anything about who did it. Said the reverend was lying there with a woman, her neck is all messed up.”
Please, please say it.
People kept rolling up in their cars, all shiny, like they had gotten them washed for the occasion. Children in church dresses and little suits spilled out of them, running towards the crowd. Most of them stayed within the circle of people, snaking around. Others stood just outside the group, kicking around rotted out crabapples and running from the bees that they made angry.
“Mama, can I eat this?”
“Stop picking things up off the ground, look at all this mud on your Sunday dress, drop that, right now.”
The little blonde girl dropped the spotted crabapple and watched it roll away from her, down the small hill towards the man with his camera as he flashed lights at the bodies on the ground. She put her hand in front of her face and stretched out her fingers while she licked her palm. Her mother batted her hand away “Mary, stop it, that’s disgusting.”
“It tastes sour, I like sour things.”
“I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap when we get home.”
The girl clapped both hands together over her mouth and furiously shook her whole body from side to side.
Slowly, some other things were getting picked up or scratched off and put in pockets. Porkpie men were taking out their little knives and sticking them into the tree, either taking off the bark or leaving a few letters.
“What do you think about the plan?” She said.
“What plan?”E said.
“God’s plan. Do you think he has one for us?”
“A preacher wouldn’t be worth his salt if he didn’t believe in a divine plan. All of God’s children have something in store for them, something that is going to touch the lives of all the rest. Like strand of a spider web. One strand has no idea about the other strand across the web, but they are both relying on each other for structure.”
“Structure, that’s the plan then?”
“Structure, order, everyone works together. Like a machine, like a car. You see, you can have a good engine, but a good engine without the body just sits in the dirt. You need all the parts. The engine doesn’t know its purpose until it’s done being made and they put it into the perfect shaped hole. Then the whole picture comes to life.”
“The engine never knows anything at all.”
“It’s just a metaphor.”
“It doesn’t work for me.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know, this seems out of line.”
He moved his hand from her breast and rolled her so she was facing him. He touched her neck and then pulled on her ear while he smiled at her.
“Do you feel like we’re sinning?”
“This is sinning.”
“Do you feel wrong inside?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“But it does, it matters the most. I’m a man of faith and I believe that this means more than the shame you’re bringing to it. It’s not necessary, we would be lying to God if we weren’t together. You don’t feel that?”
“I feel it.”
“What we do together, it’s like a prayer. Do you remember what Jesus said? I think about that verse all the time, when Jesus says ‘wherever two or more are gathered in my name, that’s where I am,’ I feel Jesus when we’re together. The Holy Light.”
As he said the last word, he put his hand in between her legs and hooked up into her while she exhaled out “Oh, Christ.”
“My sister-in-law goes to St. John’s, she said everyone knew he was messing around with a choir girl,” said a woman with her arms crossed over her breasts. She was clutching at them like she was cold.
“Has anyone told his wife? Has she been here today?”
“I don’t think so, I heard she’s a few years older than him, and there weren’t any kids.”
“Who’s the girl?”
What good are you? Spreading gossip that isn’t even yours, helping nobody in the process.
They propped her up on the rollaway stretcher, a rusty thing that seemed like it would break away with her small body on top of it. A small clearing was made around the tree. Her head rolled to the right and her eyes were open.
She saw the horrible thing that she didn’t want to know about. The people of the God-fearing, church-going town had come out for them. The crowd had grown to a size that looked like half of the world. They had swarmed them and spoke so fast, they sounded like mean bees. The crabapple tree, the temporary grave marker had been stripped of all its bark. It looked like an exposed muscle that people scratched their names into. The people had descended like hornets and stole its skin for a souvenir. She prayed someone would close her eyes.
Mary Franzen was born and grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for her undergrad in creative writing and is starting in their masters program for creative writing in the fall. She currently works as a journalist for a local Milwaukee news station. She wishes to continue to learn from the environment that surrounds her and let it influence how and what she writes.