The first time I saw a dead body, it was just a head impaled on a telephone pole. There might have been a body hanging underneath. It was early spring, and the lake was just coming alive, smelling like supercharged ions and fish. We had almost come to the duck-crossing sign, just after the custard stand, when my dad put his hand in front of my eyes.
We had been on our way to the post office to drop off his sweepstakes entries. My father’s goal in life was to win a trip to Hawaii. I helped him fill out entries and highlight the edges of the envelopes, front and back. He entered all kinds of sweepstakes, and for trips to Hawaii he drew crossed palm trees with waves and a sunset. He used markers in a tropical palette. We passed turquoise, for the sea, and lime to highlight the palm fronds across the kitchen table in the evenings after dinner. Every Saturday we took the entries to the mailbox at the plaza. Each of us took half of the stack and checked every element: address, stamp, return address, before dumping them in, half a dozen or so at a time, leaving as little as possible to luck.
The Lakes made walking dangerous, the lanes skinny, pressed up against the lakes on one side, with barely room to walk on the dry side. In Portage Lakes, everything is so close, and at the same time, so far away. If you go down Portage Lakes Drive, a trip might take a minute, but if you have to go around, like the time they repaved the road, you have to go ten miles out of your way. You have to get on the expressway even, for one exit.
Dad dropped his hand from my eyes to navigate the bend between East and West Turkeyfoot Lakes, which had twenty feet between them, with a custard stand where East Turkeyfoot Road dead-ended, and a boat house on the edge of West Turkeyfoot across the street. The girl on the pole hung between the Turkeyfoots. I saw her: her hair short like mine, only red and mussed up, sweaty looking where it poked out from the helmet, but crooked, the chin strap dangling as if hadn’t been fastened. Two cops stood there, probably trying to decide how to get her down.
I didn’t want to see a dead head, or body. I was used to them on TV, bodies, anyway, but soldiers, covered by sheets on M*A*S*H, masks on their faces for anesthesia. I got a pretty good look. Or maybe I looked closer, hoping she wasn’t dead. Her blue eyes were wide open. Really big eyes, just a drop of blood on her lip.
I wondered how she got so high up the pole, above the top of the men’s uniform
hats. I thought she might have been doing a wheelie or something, but Dad said she most likely had to jam on her brakes.
“Motorcycles are hard to see,” he said. Across from the boat house a red Kawasaki was upside down, its wheels still spinning, trying to get away.
As we passed the bike, Dad did the unthinkable, and pushed the button on his armrest until his window was half-way down, even though it was less than seventy degrees out, which was his official cut-off for open windows.
“Do you know her?” he asked. An unlit cigarette seemed to have appeared from nowhere, bobbing on his lip bottom lip.
I had been so busy thinking about her being dead, that I hadn’t thought whether I knew her. Because of her helmet, because she was riding a motorcycle. I assumed she was older. The only redheads I knew were both twins with blond-headed brothers. Maybe a sister? My brain stuck on that for a minute. The lighter popped out and Dad touched the orange coil to his Pall Mall.
“I don’t think so. Maybe we should go back,” I said. It seemed important to know if I knew her, if she were the sister of someone I knew, or the daughter of one of my mom’s customers at the beauty shop. I looked over my left shoulder. Contest entries slid off my lap onto the floor. Dad put his hand on my shoulder. I turned around. He pushed another button, and my window went all the way down. Without thinking, I set my elbow on it.
When we got to the plaza, I stayed put while Dad went around, opened my door and gathered the envelopes. He chucked them in the box all at once, and didn’t open the lid back up to make sure they’d gone down. We didn’t go to the bank or look at the comics in the drug store.I think he was trying to beat what was coming, knowing any help that was coming would have to go around the traffic, take that short patch on the expressway to get to her, but we only got as far as the boat house when the sheriff stepped in front of us and put a hand up to stop the traffic. We watched an ambulance, perpendicular to the road, back up to the pole and stop. Its lights were off.
Tiff Holland’s poetry and prose appear regularly in journals and anthologies including: New World Writing, Elm Leaves Journal, New Flash Fiction and many others. Her chapbook “Bone in a Tin Funnel” is available from Pudding House Press. Tiff is the author of the award-winning flash fiction chapbook “Betty Superman” from Rose Metal Press which later adapted the collection as a novella-in-flash and featured it in the collection “My Very End of the Universe” which won an IPPY award.
Tiff’s first full-length collection of poetry “My Mother’s Transvestites” was published in 2020 by Finishing Line Press Born and raised in northeast Ohio, Tiff has lived, worked, and studied in Georgia, Mississippi, Hawaii, and Texas. She earned a BA in Philosophy from Kent State as well as an MA in Literature. She received her PhD in Creative Writing from The Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi.