The Numbers Game by Gaynor Jones

First, the bodies.

3 on the first day. When your head was still bleeding and the smoke was still curling black across the white. When you had checked all the pulses. When you didn’t know what to do and so you started doing what you thought you should and then you didn’t know if you should even be doing that.

9 on the second day when you were determined and something gave you strength, maybe it was your husband moaning or maybe it was your daughter crying or maybe it was the stranger praying to a god you’d never heard of.

16 on the third day when the efforts of the second day had carved a tunnel of ice into the snow and you could almost fling the bodies down the track you had made and award yourself three points or a gold medal or whatever they give Olympic-standard curlers.

4 on the fifth day because on the fourth day you couldn’t face it, on the fourth day you shut down and it was like giving birth, when they warned you that the high of the endorphins from labor would crash (not that word, not that word) drift away and leave you broken and sobbing and numb. There were four on the fifth day, but they came in many pieces.

2 Legs. Two legs that used to wrap around your waist – your neck even – in younger, more adventurous times. Two legs that walked out of the church by your side, that stood next to you in your eight-hour labor, that paced the hospital corridor for hours after while they fixed you up. Two legs. Crushed.

64 tray meals. It’s not enough, it’s not enough, it’s not enough.

2 movies you have seen about this very scenario. First the one with the terrible ending and the two Hollywood stars who inexplicably fucked their way out of trouble. They had a dog. Of course, they had a dog. If you found a dog now you would eat it. And you would hum The Littlest Hobo theme song while you did. Then the other movie. The one with the soccer team. The one with the thin goatee guy, who used to date Winona Ryder pre- Johnny Depp, pre-shoplifting. Wait. Is that right? Or did you just want them to be a couple because of the on-screen chemistry? Because, right now, figuring this out seems like the most important thing. Because you’re trying to fill your brain, to replace the memories of the book of the film because you’re remembering the detail about what they did, so much detail that you wished you’d never read it, details about how they cut the flesh and how they made bowls from skulls, and utensils from bones.

6 bodies mauled. They look like the exhibition you went to, the one everyone raved about because dead, peeled bodies were something that they were never going to see. You waited four months for the tickets and then you left within minutes. The bodies made you sick. You didn’t want to know what was inside of you.

6 bodies mauled = 1 moment of hope. That something else is alive out here.

822 pawprints you counted before you began to lose sight of the plane and turned back.

5 times you felt like something was watching you.

1 time you shouted, “Come at me, bitches!” then ran away from your own echo.

9 days.

10 days.

11 days.

1 decision to make.

26 months. Your mother nags you, says “she’s two,” but you count her in months because she is closer to a baby that way, closer to you.

1 vision. You wrap her up, as warm as you can, using everything you have found. You strap her to your back with torn seatbelts, singing songs the whole time. She whispers back, raw red cheeks trying to smile at Mummy’s voice. You kiss goodbye to her father, say a prayer with the stranger. You can see the headlines already. You can see the picture of your husband in his wheelchair, your baby with missing toes, you – gaunt, but glowing, your chest puffed out and your loose teeth smiling. The stranger won’t be there – he doesn’t fit the headline. You’ll probably get free trips to Disneyland and an appearance on Ellen. And all this will seem worth it. You fix the newspaper picture in your mind, project it out onto the blankness before you. Then you set off into the snow.

 

Gaynor Jones is an award-winning short fiction writer based in Manchester, U.K. Her website is http://www.jonzeywriter.com.

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