For three weeks last summer we picked up dead people. Bodies, my sister said, rummaging for masks in the glove compartment, dead bodies: their people are gone.
She skipped out of the jeep and leaned her notebook on the remaining wall of the bakery. I climbed down behind her. She drew a square for the car, a line for each of the roads and tiny crosses for our landmarks: school, bus stop, yellow house, big oak with a hole in the trunk. To the north, a squiggly line marked the edge of the Chinese factory.
Mom’s taking this side, she said, coloring half the map in careful green marker. She’d left at dawn and cleared three sectors while Nish and I did the evening’s dishes and argued over whose turn it was to wear the boots that didn’t lace up properly. There was no point. Mom had them on. Soon she’d be back for her peanut butter sandwich.
My first John Doe had been gone for three days and was missing a sandal. He was face down on a bed of sweet-grass that had yellowed in his shade. I pulled my mask tighter. He had one knee bent as if he’d been caught in mid-jump and his right arm was stretched out far, almost pointing. I followed his finger to the thick walls of the factory. You almost made it, buddy, I said. You almost made it. I blew my whistle for mom and Nish. They ran over. I took a few steps back for momentum and leaped like my John Doe had tried, to get to safety. Do you see? I yelled from behind the wall. He almost made it.
We lined up at his head, hips and heels, and on the count of three we lifted with our knees like a hazmat suit ballet. My gloves snapped off with a pop of wet latex. I put them back on with the outside in.
Mom labeled the bag in her French schoolgirl handwriting.