The Worst Part of Getting to Know Someone is Digging Up All the Dead Bodies of the PastThe Worst Part of Getting to Know Someone is Digging Up All the Dead Bodies of the Past

by | Sarah Day 2 - Group B

NB- Apologies for such a rough story. I decided to go back to a prompt from day 1 and take a run at a story of mine that wasn’t working. I actually cut out the hermit crab scaffolding, which brought it to life. It’s especially rough because I didn’t have time to do research on corpses. I’ve read a couple books by Caitlin Doughty but that was ages ago. I think that information will really flesh it out. (Sorry not sorry.)

The Worst Part of Getting to Know Someone is Digging Up All the Dead Bodies of the Past

Not all dead bodies are buried six feet deep. Some are skimming below the surface ready for the moment they’ll be called upon as evidence. The best defense is a corpse whose wounds reflect your story. Show them the bruises on the neck where he choked you, the deep scratches on the forearms where you fought back.
When your grandma asks why you didn’t marry that nice boy, you’ll need a body to prove you made the right choice. She’ll tsk and say in her day a woman didn’t ask for it. Springer corpses pop up after deranged comments like this. And when the right song comes on in your local Safeway. They can only slip deeper into the earth due to erosion. No amount of harried digging under the body will get it further away from you. Deep down, you may not feel better until you’re halfway to China, smoldering in the earth’s molten core. Like I said, every corpse is different.
Not all bodies should be dug up. Maybe leave the embalmed and mummified first love deep down where it belongs. Digging it up may result in forgetting how unsure he made you feel while he gorged on your insecurities like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
A clean conscience is your best tool–after a shovel–in the process. If you’re a woman you know that even a spot of cemetery dirt on you can ruin your reputation while a man can walk around reeking of corpses and everyone pretends to smell roses. You hope when he digs up his version of it that the women listening hear the red flags. See them in the whites of his eyes, the red of his hair, the pink of his skin like it’s been in the sun too long, connected to your bloated corpse even after all these years.
When your spade strikes the body, take an honest look. Time underground changes everything. The bodies you buried will be in various states of decay, depending on whether they were embalmed or not. The abusive boyfriend corpse is rotting bloated with maggots. Smell it. Craving hamburgers is normal for an embalmed body. Corpses of processed trauma may present as bones or, even better, dust.
You’ve done the showing, now the telling. Try to remember how you got to this point. Decide what you can live with. There is no one correct response. Your relationship to a grave can change. You are not the same person who buried the body.
In the days after the show and tell, you may feel haunted by the specter of the past or smell the cemetery dirt as you walk your Scottish terrier down the lane. Most grave digging is done solo in the moments when you drift away from the present, lingering in an unpleasant past. This is natural. The past has more traction. If the world were perfect, we wouldn’t have dead bodies to bury. But if you find yourself spending most of your time with your hands covered in cemetery dirt, if you can’t go to work or spend time with the people you care about without picturing the bodies you buried, then it’s time to stop. Let the bodies rot. They don’t need a curator.

12 Comments

  1. Sarah Freligh

    HA, I looked at that title and I thought, wow, that’s really inventive! So I don’t know — maybe it’s one of those happy accidents that needs to be!

    I don’t think you NEED any research on corpses, at least not much to fill in what you already have. And what you have that’s really clicking on all cylinders is the “instructional voice” — you do this and this and this way — that’s ultimately spins on the metaphor of corpse as old love and how to “bury” those memories, or can we. I think the key to this will be balancing the “instructions” with life stuff that runs on a different kind of second person perspective, that of the you/narrator. This really came alive for me (sorry, sorry) in the second graf with “When your grandmother asks you why you didn’t marry that nice boy” and BINGO, we have specificity and maybe more importantly, a motive for why these instructions should be followed, so we (you can) forget once and for all. So maybe try for a balance of the two second-person perspectives — the you as the voice of instruction and the “you” narrator, who’s got the griefs and needs a shovel.

    This is going to be so damn good. PLEASE let me know where you send it when it’s published because it will be.

  2. Nancy Stohlman

    Loved this line: If you’re a woman you know that even a spot of cemetery dirt on you can ruin your reputation while a man can walk around reeking of corpses and everyone pretends to smell roses.
    I think the corpse research will be super informative! I was caught by the “grave digging” as well–that could be a completely different rabbit hole that may or may not hook up. Like what sorts of people get off on that sort of thing. Who is out at midnight when they think no one is watching. The extended metaphor has so many wonderful possibilities!
    I love that this was a hermit crab and you took it out of the scaffolding. Sometimes the scaffolding can be TOO clever for a story that might need more mess. I love the potential of this as a un-hermited crab. A body freed from the coffin.
    Thanks for sharing! Always love the wild imaginings of your brain! xo

  3. MaxieJane Frazier

    Beyond Sarah’s and Nancy’s great comments and observations, I loved the way this line “Not all bodies should be dug up” made us think about the assumption it makes that someone is saying that all bodies “should” be dug up! That there is a reason to bring up the past. I agree with Nancy–my favorite line is “If you’re a woman you know that even a spot of cemetery dirt on you can ruin your reputation while a man can walk around reeking of corpses and everyone pretends to smell roses” and I agree with Sarah that maybe your beginning is elsewhere. It feels so ready to be polished up and complete though–you’re so close!

  4. Catherine Parnell

    Chelsea, With zingers like this you can’t lose: “Your relationship to a grave can change. You are not the same person who buried the body.” There’s a bold truth in this flash and I love it.

  5. Mikki Aronoff

    So inventive! How do you think of things like “The best defense is a corpse whose wounds reflect your story” and put that in the same (more or less) place as grandma asking why you didn’t marry that nice boy?!?!? And that spot of cemetery dirt marking girls forever, but not boys. The voice seems to change in the end and takes me away a little bit from the drama. I wonder what it would be like to end it with “When your spade strikes the body, take an honest look,” although not needing a curator is interesting. Did you have this as an instructional manual?

    • Chelsea Stickle

      Yeah it was originally called “How to Dig Up a Dead Body” and was 100% instructional, but I felt very hemmed in by it. This is definitely the better version.

  6. Kathryn Kulpa

    Chelsea, if you haven’t read Stiff by Mary Roach, that’s a good place to start. I read it when I was doing research for a story about talking corpses on a body farm. (And I’m sure anyone spying on my Google history from that time would be very alarmed.)

    There are so many memorable lines and images here. I love the ones that are specific, like walking the Scottish terrier (instead of just the dog), the comment about embalmed bodies craving hamburgers, and “he gorged on your insecurities like an all-you-can-eat buffet.” The beginning felt a little rougher to me, because at times I wasn’t sure if the POV character was the grave digger or the buried body. “Show them the bruises on the neck where he choked you, the deep scratches on the forearms where you fought back” sounds like the voice of a murder victim, but I feel like this is still evolving and could go in different directions. It’s definitely a keeper!

  7. Kathryn Silver-Hajo

    Hey, Chelsea, this is going to be such a fun story! I was drawn in immediately by the way you start with the zoomed out omniscient observation “Not all dead bodies are buried six feet deep. Some are skimming below the surface ready for the moment they’ll be called upon as evidence. The best defense is a corpse whose wounds reflect your story.” But then quickly get right into the *meat* of the matter with the ‘you’ narrator telling their very individual story. Like some others, I got a little confused with whose story it is in parts and would love to stick with the ‘you’ who died at the hands of an abusive boyfriend. I love all the very-Chelsea humor throughout this piece: “Craving hamburgers is normal for an embalmed body.”

    I can’t wait to see this in its final form! It’s been great being in workshop with you again, Chelsea. Sorry my comments came so late in the game! 🙂 

  8. Suzanne van de Velde

    Chelsea — Apologies first for these very late comments. It’s been fun to hang out with you again in a workshop and see your nascent stories.

    First off: “I didn’t have time to do research on corpses.” How great is it to be a writer, when with this line makes perfect sense and we can all relate?

    Now to your story….Springer corpses? more please!
    “Time underground changes everything.” Also made me think of how we bury our men’s wrongness, while we’re still with them, in the first place from ourselves, because we’re not worth better anyway, we must have asked for it, and what did we think was going to happen if we spoke up?

    “The abusive boyfriend’s corpse is rotting bloated with maggots. Smell it. Craving hamburgers is normal for an embalmed body.”
    What interesting pivot, to move from the smell of the abusive boyfriend’s corpse and then its [the embalmed body, right?] craving for burgers. Or does the wronged woman want red meat in revenge?

    Can’t wait to see this out in the world!

  9. Suzanne van de Velde

    Chelsea — Apologies first for these very late comments. It’s been fun to hang out with you again in a workshop and see your nascent stories.

    First off: “I didn’t have time to do research on corpses.” How great is it to be a writer, when with this line makes perfect sense and we can all relate?

    Now to your story….Springer corpses? more please!
    “Time underground changes everything.” Also made me think of how we bury our men’s wrongness, while we’re still with them, in the first place from ourselves, because we’re not worth better anyway, we must have asked for it, and what did we think was going to happen if we spoke up?

    “The abusive boyfriend’s corpse is rotting bloated with maggots. Smell it. Craving hamburgers is normal for an embalmed body.”
    What interesting pivot, to move from the smell of the abusive boyfriend’s corpse and then its [the embalmed body, right?] craving for burgers. Or does the wronged woman want red meat in revenge?

    Can’t wait to see this out in the world!

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