3 AM

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I was having very unliterary sex. I usually did, but this was stand-out in the total lack of cliché. I wasn’t already sure I was going to regret it. I wasn’t melancholy and disconnected through the act. I wasn’t thinking of my father or the horse I hadn’t had as a child. And I wasn’t learning a goddamned thing about myself, except how much I enjoyed a thumb of precisely that width applying exactly that much pressure to my clit.

I was sitting ass-deep in the Clark Fork River and Robbie was standing waist-deep in the drop-off and we were right downtown, but far too drunk to care. The police had more than enough else to worry about all through that August, there was a shrub between us and the footpath and another three between us and the bridge. Robbie’s beard was soft and warm as he kissed my neck, and the hand that wasn’t working on my clit was cupping my ass and pulling me into him in time with each thrust. All I really had to do was keep my feet on the smooth rocks so we didn’t slip any deeper down the slope where we’d perched, moan a steady stream of dirty talk into his ear, and enjoy myself.

If I’d just closed my eyes we probably would have stumbled back to my place with no underwear and sand between our toes and woken up with pounding headaches and sweet half-memories, maybe gotten coffee at the Catalyst, maybe hooked up a few more times before he got it together and went back to his ex-boyfriend (who was, awkwardly enough, my erstwhile best friend Jake). It would have been terrific. But I had my eyes open, and I wasn’t so drunk that I couldn’t recognize what floated by, white and brown in the reflections of the streetlights, as puffed and distorted as it was. Its eyes were open too.

“Fuck,” I said, digging my nails into Robbie’s back. My tone was different enough, serious enough, that he stopped in mid-stroke. Robbie was a decent guy.

“Did I hurt you?”

“No.” I should have said something reassuring but the corpse has caught itself on the footing of the bridge and that was all I could focus on. I pulled away from him, scooting up the bank, and turned him by the shoulder. “Look.”

“What?” His confusion was a little panicky now. He was a lot bigger than me but he’d also had a lot more to drink.

“In the water,” I said more calmly, and pointed. Freaking out wasn’t going to help. It already hadn’t helped. It took him a moment but he spotted it, I could tell by the way he pulled away and back up the bank, suddenly eager to get out of the water that connected us all.

The corpse, I swear, winked at me before it disappeared—not under, or downstream, or anywhere that I could see. Just disappeared. I was unhappily aware of the wind blowing across my tits for a moment and then I realized that the problem had solved itself.

And then I turned to face Robbie and realized it hadn’t, because he was getting dressed, his thick but now flaccid cock vanishing into his boxers in a manner more rational, but also much more distressing, than what I’d just seen. A moment later he was groping for his pants.

“No, it’s ok, it’s gone.” It only took one look at how pale Robbie had gone beneath his black beard to see that that wasn’t going to get his thumb back on me. He slapped his pocket and then gave the mournful look that was the international symbol for ‘shit, where’s my phone?’ Not wanting to be a complete bastard, I slipped my dress back on and helped him look.

The phone, as it turned out, was in a puddle where the waves from our motions had lapped a few rocks higher, and it refused to turn on.

“We can go back to my place,” I offered. “I have a bag of rice.”

“We could walk to the police station from here,” Robbie said, “They need to know. By morning it’ll be way downstream.” He clambered up the bank before I could get together my explanation about why walking drunk and wet into a police station an hour past bar time to report a disappearing dead man was the worst idea in the world.

By the time I was up on the grass Robbie was almost at the bridge, and I wasn’t going to ditch him while there were still a few hours of darkness left and I might still turn things around. Climbing the open metal-work steps wasn’t something I particularly liked in broad daylight—it made me dizzy—and now the wind was on me again, blowing up my skirt and alerting me that I’d left my panties somewhere along the way. Probably in the bushes by the river, but we’d been all over town. They were my favorites, the ones with the peacock-feather print, and I had a feeling that they’d have disappeared too by morning.

Robbie slowed, and I caught up to him. I looped my arm around his waist and pulled him in. “Look.” I pointed over the edge of the bridge. “It’s already gone. We might as well call in the morning.”

“They’ll want to know why we didn’t call right away.”

There was a logic in that I couldn’t argue with, and against my better judgment, we kept walking. I could have taken his hand and tried to calm him with more basic physical contact, but I was using one hand to keep my skirt down despite the errant updrafts and the other to squeeze my nails into my palm as each breeze—and for that matter each step—brushed my lips and reminded me of how many times we’d fucked that night and how many more times we could have.

“You know, maybe he shouldn’t even be found,” I said eventually, not really meaning to speak aloud. It seemed obvious that things that disappeared on purpose shouldn’t be found. “That’s pretty fucking hard on the crows, and the pike, and the crawfish. When do they ever get something good happening to them? Like, a treat?”

“Jesus Christ, Sandy. He’s a human being. He had a family.”

“It’s not like all families even like each other, though.” This, I thought, was why I shouldn’t sleep with decent guys. Not because they were bad lays, that’s obviously a myth, but because eventually I slipped up under pressure and they found out what I really was.

Robbie stopped, looking sad and confused. I decided to be nice.

“So you’ve never seen a dead body before?”

He shook his head, and his loose curls wriggled and I wanted to get my fingers back into them. “I mean, I have at funerals. Not like that.”

“They’re pretty weird I guess.” Honest enough, not too honest. Maybe a little too honest. “I haven’t seen a lot, or anything. More than enough, though.”

We were only two blocks from the cop shop now and Robbie was the one who reached out and squeezed my hand, the one I’d been clenching. “Jeeze, I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t realize you were so freaked out. You can tell me about it if you want.”

Part of me wanted to defend my non-freaked-out honor, but we were well past the point of honor anyway. “It’s fine. Maybe later. Let’s just get this done.”

The police were slammed, and seemed disinterested in Robbie’s insistence that it hadn’t just been a tree trunk, or a rotted deer; the guy they finally sent to check seemed sulky. That was probably because he was more preoccupied with the bunch of naked poets they’d fished out of the Doubletree’s hot tub half an hour before and booked for trespass and public intoxication, and why the hell hadn’t Robbie and I been invited to that, part of me wondered. So we were sitting on cheap industrial chairs and I had nothing to do but feel the press of the cold plastic against my pussy and rock gently into it from time to time if it seemed like no one was looking. I put Robbie’s hand on my thigh when the desk cop got deep into what was on her computer screen, and pushed it higher as she started staring and clicking more intensely. Maybe she was looking at porn on there, I thought, and we were all just secretly horny together. Too bad cops weren’t really my thing. Robbie’s hands were my thing, though, thick and finally a bit eager again as he brushed the little tuft of pubic hair I kept and realized that I’d come here commando.

Just as he was about to slide a finger inside of me the door opened and the desk cop looked up. It was the sulky cop, and the expression on his face hadn’t improved—his eyes were locked on Robbie from the minute he walked in and he definitely saw the hand retreat, which seemed to annoy him even more. “Nothing. Not even a dead fish down there.”

“But…” Robbie seemed to have some difficulty when he tried to stand up.

“Do you want to charge ‘em with filing a false report?” the desk cop asked, but she sounded bored.

“Nah, I just want ‘em out of here.”

“You heard him,” desk cop said. “Get a fuckin’ room, you two.”

That was the best idea I’d heard since I’d left the river. I peeled myself off the chair and turned towards the door just in time to see Jake walk in, all rolling stride and fireplug broadness.

Robbie tensed beside me, but I just waited. Sure enough, Jake smirked.

“Jesus, you guys were in the hot tub too? How big was that thing?”

“Nah,” I said, as casually as I could muster. It got easier by the breath. Jake wasn’t the kind of person to make this weird if I didn’t. “Unrelated public intoxication. Just leaving now.”

“We weren’t that drunk,” Robbie insisted. “Christ. I just want to go home and stick my phone in rice and forget this ever happened.”

“Let me post some bail for my dumb-ass classmates and then I’ll give you guys a ride.”

I breathed deeply, and decided that it didn’t matter if he did get mad at me for moving in on Robbie too fast, which he wouldn’t anyway, because this wasn’t fucking middle school. Jake was the friend I wanted around on a night like this.

All the same I wouldn’t have told him about the body, I don’t think, if Robbie hadn’t been so upset and needing to talk about it on the way home. When he said the word “body” Jake made eye contact with me in the rearview mirror and I gave a little nod. Then he just said out loud that what we all needed was to get really, really high, and we were going back to his place and we were going to do just that.

While Robbie was in the kitchen futzing with the rice, Jake fired up the volcano and insisted that I take the first hit. “Rotting corpses in the river, huh?”

“They won’t find it. It disappeared as soon as I looked twice at it.”

“But Robbie saw it too.”

“Yeah, it was real. Just a regular old dead body. But they won’t find it.”

Jake inhaled deeply enough to cough a little. “Well shit. I bet I know what would cheer you up, though.” He leaned in and nipped at my ear. Jake did know me very, very well.

Robbie didn’t take much persuading, but there was an awkward moment when I was already nude and spread on top of Jake’s old wool blanket, and Jake was busy undoing his belt with a wide leer on his face. Robbie, unoccupied for the moment, shuddered hard enough that I could feel it, as though his brain was resetting back to three am. “That poor guy in the river, though.”

“He’s not as worried about the situation as you are,” I said, and reached for Robbie’s cock, but Jake was there ahead of me, his fist engulfing nearly the whole of Robbie’s length. “You did all you could,” he said reassuringly. “It’s not your fault if the cops didn’t.” He tugged lightly until quite a bit more prick was showing. “Besides, who knows, maybe they were right, dead deer or something.”

“It wasn’t…”

“Shhh. No matter.” He kissed Robbie just briefly, and then let go and pushed him towards me and down so his face was in my cunt. It only took a few strokes to establish that his tongue fit against my clit just as nicely as his thumb.

Jake locked eyes with me, and if he thought about winking he had the sense for the moment not to. He had no more business getting involved with a decent guy than I did, and I had no business getting in the middle of this. But Robbie was licking harder now, so I shivered and tilted my hips up, angled my knees a bit wider. The wool was warm and rough against my back. I stared at Jake’s face for a moment, then leaned back and closed my eyes.

About the Author

Carrie Laben

Carrie Laben grew up in western New York and earned her MFA at the University of Montana. She now lives in Queens. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in such venues as Birding, The Dark, Indiana Review, Okey-Panky, and the anthology Mixed Up! edited by Molly Tanzer and Nick Mamatas. In 2015 she was selected for the Anne LaBastille Memorial Writer’s Residency.

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