TED'S DEAD a Short Story by Taylor Collier

Of all the things I worried about that day (making it to work, getting the kids to school, clocking in on time, clocking out early enough not to matter, and picking up the dry cleaning on the way home), the dead body in our living room became my main focus that evening when I got home from work. My wife, Maggie, stopped me in the hall.

“What’s that smell?” I asked.

“There’s something I have to tell you,” she said. She paused and looked back into the living room and then turned back around to face me. “There’s a dead body in the living room.” I looked behind her and saw the body plopped out on the floor. “Frank,” she said. “Don’t get upset, sweetie. Everything’s going to be fine.”

“What happened?” I asked, not quite frantic, but building up to it.

“You don’t have to worry, Frank,” she said. She lifted her hand to her mouth and bit her fingernails—uneasy. I could tell she was worried about how I was going to react. “I took the kids to my mom’s. They don’t know anything about this.”

“You’re leaving something out,” I said.

“Come into the kitchen and we’ll sit and talk about it,” she said. We sat at the table, littered with half-eaten Chinese takeout. She looked at me with a forced calm and, chewing the nail off her ring finger, she said, “I hit him with my car.” She paused, unsure. “I was backing out of the driveway, and this guy was behind me. I totally missed him in the rearview mirror.”

“Oh my God,” I said. “Why isn’t he at the hospital?”

“After I hit him,” she said. “He got up and acted like he was fine. He just had a few scrapes and bruises.”

“You should’ve taken him to the hospital.”

“He said he was fine.”

“But you should’ve known to take him. He must’ve had internal damage.”

“Look,” she said. “He got up, acted fine, and then I asked if there was anything I could do for him. He asked if he could come inside to use the bathroom.”

“You let a stranger into our house?”

“First you’re mad at me for not taking him to the hospital. Now you’re mad at me for offering our bathroom to the man I ran over with my car?”

“Tell me the rest,” I said. I got up from the kitchen table and walked to the living room. I saw the man’s bulging stomach above everything else. He looked to be in his mid-fifties, overweight with a heavy beard. His shoelaces were untied, and his belt was undone, pants unzipped.

“Why are his pants unzipped?” I asked. Maggie didn’t say anything.

She hesitated but then spilled out, “He was in the bathroom for a long time, and so I went to check on him.” She walked back into the kitchen. I followed her.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I’m so sorry, Frank. I never meant to hurt anyone.”

“What did you do?” She was trying to stall. I grabbed her shoulders and forced her to face me. She looked down, avoiding eye contact. “Spit it out, Maggie.”

“I lied before,” she said. “I never hit him with the car.” She looked towards our room and darted across the house. I followed.

“What’s going on?” I asked. I followed her into our bedroom. She slung clothes into a suitcase. “What’re you doing?”

“I can’t talk to you about this, Frank.” She opened her underwear drawer and dumped her socks, panties, and bras into the already overstuffed bag.

“You have to talk to me about this,” I said. “I’m your husband. I deserve to know what’s going on.”

“You never understood anything anyway.”

“Maggie, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Ted was the best lover I’ve ever had, and now he’s dead.” She stopped rummaging through her clothes.

“Ted’s the guy on the living room floor?”

“It’s amazing how you’re able to put things together,” she snapped.

“He looks like a homeless person,” I said. “Is that what you want?”

“Ted was full of life and experiences,” she defended. She went into the bathroom and shoved her shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste and anything else she could find into a duffle bag she’d pulled out of my closet.

“How long have you been seeing Ted?”

“It doesn’t matter. Ted’s dead. I’m not talking to you about it.”

“You never told me how he died.” I grabbed her wrist and jerked her around towards me. She slapped me across the face.

“I was fucking Ted in the living room,” she said. “He had a heart attack. What was I supposed to do, call nine-one-one? The man I’ve been cheating on my husband with is dead in the living room floor. I knew you were coming home soon. I couldn’t let you find out.”

“So now what are we supposed to do?”

“What are we supposed to do? I don’t know about you, but I’m doing something I should’ve done a long time ago, getting out of here.”

“Don’t do something you’re going to regret,” I pleaded, but my heart wasn’t in it.

“Give it up,” she said. She meant it.

“What about the kids?”

“I’ll pick them up on the way out of town.” She grabbed her suitcase and my duffel bag and headed towards the door. “You never were very good as a father anyway,” she said. “Always working. Can’t raise kids if you’re always working. And don’t even get me started on how terrible you were in the sack. If you hadn’t been so bad, Ted’d still be alive.” She slammed the front door behind her. I lifted the mini-blinds and watched her slide into the front seat of her car. She stewed for a few seconds before turning it on and driving off. I almost went out into the street after her but wound up just sitting there with Ted. We understood each other.

...Taylor Collier is a recent graduate of Texas Tech University. His poetry has appeared in The Oklahoma Review, Big Tex[t], The Circle Magazine, and Cherry Bleeds, while his fiction can be seen in Bewildering Stories, New College Review and Main Street Rag. Born in Lubbock, Taylor now lives in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex.