The Melody of the Indian Grass
by Dexter Benjamin Gore
Barry, looking from his tree house, saw a body bent like a horseshoe, head down, ass up, in the water of the bog. A field of Indian grass, red as the sunset, encircled the small pool of water and swayed back and forth in the fall winds. To the north, beyond the trees of the marsh, was the inlet—a small street that ran down a peninsula lined with piers draped in silver fishing lines, nets, and barnacles, and mom and pop restaurants that made the air smell like fried cornbread and coffee grains.
Barry started climbing down the tree—he was headed to the inlet to notify the police—when he realized that if he said anything about the body, he’d also be turning himself in: he was a runaway. Barry scratched the back of his neck, then looked underneath his nails at the dried blood he had scraped. It was nearly black and in small grits like sand. A small cut the width of a penny was just below his hairline. It stung and Barry knew it would scar.
He thought of that boy—Richard—who was the reason for the small wound. It was three weeks ago, Barry had held Richard’s hand, snuck him through the front yard to the back porch and into the pantry. Richard was nice, had a dark complexion, and his touch was soft. He gripped Barry’s sides and forced him against the shelves of canned pears, smashed tomatoes, and bags of rice and black beans. They took off their shirts and horsed around in the small room that quickly filled with heat and moisture, until Barry had a heavy reluctance to get dressed. Richard looked at him with his mouth open and his light blue eyes very big and pulsing, as if he had just discovered that Barry had solved the extra credit pre-algebra question on their last math test. Barry grabbed his shirt from off the floor, but when he looked into Richard’s eyes, his breathing stopped for a second and he smiled and laughed, then placed his hand on Richard’s smooth, brown chest. Barry suddenly became aware of how Richard smelled: Axe body spray mixed with sage and strawberry jelly. Neither resisted the others’ hands as they slid underneath the layers of blue jean and boxer brief. But that moment was cut short when the front door opened and the sound of high heels against hardwood floor echoed from the kitchen into the pantry. Cans fell from various shelves as both boys fixed their pants and tried putting on their shirts. Barry was dressed first and he would have touched Richard one last time, but something stopped him. He was suddenly afraid. It dawned on him: Richard is a boy.
The sound of the heels against the floor grew louder. Richard asked for help, but the pantry door had been opened and the person on the other side was Barry’s mother. Her face turned red as blood, and she snatched both of them by the hairs on their heads and took them into the living room, where she cursed at Richard and damned him if he should ever step foot in her house again. The sweat on Barry’s back grew cold, and the thought of his father hearing about Richard and him made his head hurt. He shook as he sat on the couch and watched his mother continue to curse at Richard as he ran for the front door. When he was gone, his mother returned and slapped the side of his face.
“Why the hell would you bring that into our home?”
He had no answer. He cried in shame and terror and a cavity appeared in his mind, black, full of speculation, suggestion, and hateful words that would follow him for the rest of his days.
“Answer me goddamnit!” His mother pinched the back of his neck. The skin broke. Three cool drops of blood bubbled from the small dent and fell over his shoulders and bled through the yellow cotton of his shirt. He pushed her away and ran to his room. He locked the door. He took a shower, turned the knob so that the water was hot and steam radiated from his body. He cried more and made the decision to leave.
Barry walked to the body. He had been by the bog many times in recent days to get food, to visit the wood, and to rest, and not once had he seen the body. He searched the ground for tire tracks, but found none. All he found as he approached the shore of the bog were drag marks and, next to them, boot prints that led into and out of the water. The body had been dumped overnight while he slept.
Flies and mosquitoes hummed over the water and corpse, and overhead in the grey sky two buzzards flew. The dead person was a man. His black hair floated on top of the water and was tangled in swamp roses and cattails. A teal collared shirt covered the upper half of the man while brown slacks covered the lower part of his legs. The body was swollen and garishly discolored, and ants and small worms crawled in and around the hole in the back of the man’s head, big enough for a hummingbird to nest in. A black metal spike stuck out of the man’s ass and through his white underwear, which had turned khaki from a mix of blood, sand, and the algae floating on top of the water.
Barry knew the deceased, or at least he thought he did. Last week, while walking to his watering hole for spearing crabs and collecting sea slugs, Barry had found a busted garbage bag. He dug through the trash, kept a half-filled cigarette lighter, a charred washcloth with globs of black grease clinging to it, and a copy of the Sun News that read Missing Husband Still Not Found. Donald Grey, age thirty, height 5 feet 10, green eyes, black hair, was reported missing by his special friend, Joseph Richie, after Grey hadn’t come home from a visit to local bar and nightclub Pulse. Barry re-read the first line again—special friend—then took the lighter and made a small flame, placed it to the edge of the paper, and watched it twist and bend before dropping it on the ground.
Barry dug a hole behind the bog with his hands. Burying the man was the only way he knew to preserve the body till help arrived. When he finished, he went to the tree house and grabbed the charred washcloth. He placed it in his mouth and went down into the grey water of the bog, cloudy with disease and full plant life. Suction from the sand caused Barry to trip and fall next to the man. Grease, water, and a thick slime of bodily fluids and algae filled the washcloth and entered Barry’s mouth. Surfacing from the water, Barry pulled the rag away and vomited. He cleaned his face, squeezed out the rag, and placed it over his shoulder, and then gripped the spike and used it to pull the man to shore. There he pulled the spike out of the man’s ass. The brown sand turned dark from water and blood rolling off the sides of the corpse. Barry trembled as he pulled the algae from the man’s hair and yanked up the man’s pants so that his ass was no longer exposed.
Barry gathered his belongings from the tree house. He took the washcloth to the bog and soaked it with water to squeeze over the body and remove any blood and fingerprints—he didn’t want to be blamed for such a crime. When the body was clean, Barry dragged it into the hole he had dug and slid sand over the body. Then he walked over to the aspen wood where fallen limbs lay dead and gray and the leaves lay golden and ember on the worn trail. Barry tore bark from a tree and started a fire next to the grave site. The rag was tossed in with the wood. He hoped that a ranger would see the smoke.
Fields of Indian grass filled the horizon after his travel through the darkness of the pine, maple, and oak. The crescent moon replaced the sinking sun. Barry rubbed his arms. He missed the safety and shelter the tree house had provided. He hoped he’d find another, and thank God for the person that had abandoned it. Stopping to look up at the night sky filled with stars and distant clouds that resembled shredded balls of cotton, Barry listened to the wind as it strummed on the dry leaves of the grass. He took strawberry jelly out of his bag—Richard’s favorite—and opened and smelled the inside of the jar. The sweet aroma brought tears to his eyes and a smile to his face. Barry held the half empty jar of jelly with both hands and continued walking, listening to the melody of the Indian grass.
Dexter Benjamin Gore is a native of Aynor, South Carolina, but has spent the past year working on his MFA in Creative Writing at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. His work has appeared in Archarios, TEMPO, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Lavender Bluegrass: LGBT Writers on Kentucky and Inklette. He is currently working on his first novel and lives with his fiancé and pet cat in Virginia Beach.