3 Bodies, 1 Year: A Numbers Tale

by Brad Kerstetter

 

Body #1

The first thing you remember about the day when you found body #1 is the barometric pressure: 29.85 inches and falling. Blowing horizontal snow, and gray, again. You hate gray. You like blue because it’s like black. You like yellow because it’s like white. But you hate gray because gray is too nebulous, has no rules, and as a result you get lost when you are confronted with gray.

You were trying to negotiate this gray as you post-holed your way through the deep snow to the house next door where your dad lived. You counted every step, because your therapist told you that mindfulness could help. Your wife made you go (to the therapist) after she found you sitting outside in 20-degree weather, wearing only your underwear. You told her you were self-medicating. You told the therapist you were self-medicating because you felt you were that fish lashed down to the side of the boat in The Old Man and the Sea, and the sharks were coming, but that was okay because it offered more relief than swimming aimlessly in a vast ocean.

59 post-holes later you got to the main door of the garage and saw your father’s handwritten sign taped on it. “CAUTION. DO NOT ENTER,” it read. You entered.

 

Things you remember in sequential order when you found body #1:

1. Taste of the air. Like burnt parsley.

2. The molar mass of Carbon Monoxide: 28.0. Slightly lighter than air.

3. Saying, “Fuck!” 4 times fast.

4. Code to the garage door opener: 3785. The 2-car garage door taking 10 seconds to open.

5. Opening the passenger door to the 1988 Acura Legend. Slamming the passenger door. Opening the passenger door.

6. Pee pooled on blue leather passenger seat. You like blue and you like yellow, but not like that.

7. The time on your father’s Coleman watch. 7:35 am.

8. The odometer reading: 188094.

9. The date. 03/07/08. The Nones of March. 8 days before the Ides.

 

Other things you remember not necessarily in sequential order:

1. The little diamonds dancing in the periphery of your vision—6 on the left, 8 on the right—similar to when you wrote the check for $1439.00 to have your mother’s body cremated 2 years earlier. Except then it was 5 on the left and 9 on the right.

2. Wondering what expression your father had on his face when he died. Was it peaceful? Did he feel anything? If so, what was it on the pain assessment scale? A 2? 3? Maybe a 4?

3. That self-medicating seemed to be very effective and that your father was better at it than you, or maybe it was that the town you lived in with an elevation of 6217ft and a population of 1284, had exactly that 1 therapist who gave you 300mg of something (can’t remember the name) to be taken 1x daily that made you feel more like a 4 out of 10 than a 1 out of 10.

4. Feeling invigorated, like a car feels when using 92 octane gas instead of 87. So you imagine.

5. You remember forgetting your father’s face 15 minutes after the sheriff and the fire department arrived. It was like Mitch whatchamacallit’s face in college (you have a problem with names too), when after he didn’t want to talk to you anymore and you called 6x because you didn’t know why he didn’t want to talk to you anymore, you forgot his face too.

6. Also, you remember forgetting your father’s birthday later that year, which was strange given you’ve never forgotten a number and still remember his phone number (406-363-7486), his bank account number ending in 0739, along with your current library card number (21168034523671), and old library card number (333939429583), your high school locker combination (34 21 9), and your last two credit card numbers, both of which start with 4246.

 

Body #2

The first thing you remember about the day is 30.09 inches and falling. Gray. The gray fog and the sand a wet gray from the recent high tide. You hate gray. A low tide at 11:23 am.

You were jogging on the beach keeping track of your strides on one side of your brain and counting drift logs on the other. It’s another mindfulness trick that keeps you from thinking about things that don’t help you stay higher than a 4 out of 10. You jogged south of Cannon Beach, past the sea stack Jockey Cap, past and below the boulder field. The sand firm under your feet, the wind 5-10 knots out of the south. Out at sea the swells rose 8-10 feet at 11 seconds. The surf pounded the shore, like a dump truck spilling 10,000 rocks into your living room.

At drift log #38 you had jogged 457 strides. That’s an average of about 12 strides per log, which you recall was a low stride/log ratio. It must have been a stormy winter to deposit all those logs, you surmised. At log #78 you noticed a group of seagulls flocking around what would be log #83. At log #80, log #83 looked less like a log. At log #82, log #83 looked more like a body. At stride 975 you confirmed log #83 was a human corpse.

 

Things you remember in sequential order when you found body #2:

1. It was bloated like the number 0.

2. The time on the body’s analog watch had stopped at 2:34:29.

3. The eyes. You actually remember the 2 eyes because they were pecked clean by seagulls.

4. Black jeans, white shirt. You liked that, except you didn’t in that way.

6. 1 missing shoe or 1 shoe present, depending on how you see it.

7. When you poked him he was semi-hard like a trailer tire inflated to 15 lbs.

8. Wondering, for future reference, what he felt on the pain assessment scale. Was it a 4? 5?

9. The date: 6/30/08. Somebody’s birthday.

 

Other things you remember not necessarily in sequential order:

1. The body had, what was now becoming for you, a familiar gray, rubbery look, and seemed lonely like the number 1.

2. You wondered if your body would someday look like the number 0 as well, especially since you stopped taking 300mg 1x daily, because it made you feel like the number 5 (not 5 out of ten, just the number 5), which is a prime number and can only be divided by itself (which is very dull), or the number 1 (which, of course, is lonely).

3. N of 2 is not a significant sample size, but you have noticed feeling 3x more alive when you find a dead body, which is why you felt like you found a treasure worth $15,093. This very temporarily popped you up to a 6 out of 10.

4. Flushing red when the female deputy on the phone said she would, “come right away.” This reminded you of sitting next to that girl in high school math class that was a definite 9 out of 10, and the way you flushed when she said the number 69.

5. Dropping back down to a 2 out of 10. Drinking 1,2,3,4,5,6 beers then wanting to take your kayak out, but your wife said you weren’t allowed to in anything bigger than 5-6ft at 12 seconds.

 

Body #3

The first thing you remembered about the day was lots of blue and yellow, but gray coming in, and your altimeter read 7218ft instead of the 6950ft that your map noted, for a difference of 268ft, which (for reasons you’d rather not get into) meant the barometric pressure was falling.

You were backcountry skiing in the Wallowa mountains, climbing a snowy ridgeline, and at step number 4239 you and your companions did a Rutschblock test to ascertain the slope stability. The score was 5-6. Inconclusive. Later you learned about group think when assessing avalanche conditions, which is kind of like when a bunch of bankers regulate themselves and determine that collateralized debt obligations are a good idea. It’s why a 1550 foot, 30-35-degree funnel-shaped slope with a deposition zone like a baseball mitt seemed like a good idea to ski.

At an elevation of 8500ft (8776ft on your altimeter) someone (you can’t remember his name, only that you called him skier #2) said, “Why don’t you go 1st?” And you said, “Sure I will do the number II.” He didn’t know exactly what you meant.

You made 103 parallel turns in 2-foot-deep powder that you surmised had a water density of less than 10%. Cold smoke, someone called it. You were starting your climb back up the ridge when you heard a sound 2x louder than a freight train, and saw “cold smoke” rise to the sky.

 

Things you remember in sequential order when you found body #3:

1. It had been 20 minutes and 95% of people die within 10 minutes from lack of oxygen.

2. He was buried under 6 feet of snow and ice.

3. He was mangled like the number 2.

4. A red blotch in the white snow next to his gray cheek. Now you do not like red or gray. You still like white.

5. 0 pulse.

6. You said, “Fuck,” four times fast to yourself.

7. You did CPR for 3 minutes.

8. His 15-year-old son said, “C’mon Dad, you can do it,” 5 times in a row.

9. Wondering what the pain scale is of being crushed by hundreds of tons of snow and ice? An 8? 9? Not the way you’d want to go.

10. The time: 1:37pm.

11. The date. 3/7/09. The 1-year, 6-hour, and 2-minute anniversary of finding body #1. Not even you can do the math on that one.

 

Other things you remember not necessarily in sequential order:

1. There was a 1 in 5 (20%) chance that this body could have been yours, except that you were skier #1 and he was skier #5.

2. This was a category 3 avalanche, which according to the destructive-size scale (D-scale) can take out small buildings.

3. Black seemed blacker and white seemed whiter. It’s why the red in the snow looked 9x more red than any red you have ever seen.

4. Dead body #3’s 15-year-old-son, who said 0 things for the next 2 days, must have been feeling like a .93 out of 10.

5. Thinking about your 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son as you hauled the 15-year-old boy’s father 7 miles out of the mountains.

6. Not feeling 3x more invigorated, instead feeling that if you are the number 7, and 9 is a pile of shit, then you feel like 7 8 9.

7. Counting the stars to fall asleep that night. When you got to 3,827 you realized you were still feeling like a 1 out of 10 and that you should resume taking 300mg 1x daily of that stuff that makes you feel like the number 5, because even if it is a prime number you have 2 children who are a division of you, and you don’t want them to see you like the number 0, because really, contrary to popular thinking, 0, not 1, is the loneliest number.


BRAD KERSTETTER is a stay-at-home father/builder/writer. When he is not tearing apart walls, rewiring, and rebuilding his fixer-upper, then he is tearing apart sentences and rebuilding paragraphs. His short stories have appeared in Prick of the Spindle, The Oddville Press, and Abstract Jam.

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