Biographical Non-Fiction posted February 13, 2021

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A life extinguished

The Dead Body

by jaydub99

It was a warm day in May with temperatures hovering around eighty degrees. It was a Saturday and the promise of a weekend of freedom clung to my mind like a piece of Saran Wrap. Saran Wrap that had recently covered a piece of barbecued chicken. Nothing in my mind is ever clean or easy when you are constantly in danger of your vocation making a cameo appearance. It just comes with the territory of being in the field of probation. In a small town people know you and they know what you do for a living. Even buying groceries I see people whose lives I had to interrupt while they simultaneously interrupted mine. You get used to it.

I was driving into the parking lot of my office when I saw him lying behind the small stone bench that had been erected many years ago by a local charity. It was a nice bench that had often been used to eat lunch on or prop up an untied shoe. On top of the stone was a can of St. Ides malt liquor and a pack of generic cigarettes. I assumed he was a homeless person who had decided his blood alcohol level had reached maximum capacity. For some reason I decided I needed to intervene and remove this eyesore, this squatter. It was my duty, my obligation. I whipped around the corner, parked my car and walked over to him.

As I approached, I said in a firm voice, "Hey! Buddy! You can't sleep here." He didn't move. "Come on now, let's go down to the shelter." No movement. Nothing. I walked up to him and bent over to see him. He was lying on his back and when I saw his face, I knew he was not going to answer me. His eyes were locked in a perpetual stare, pupils fixed and dilated. I noticed the lenses of his eyes had a distinct, milky appearance. I knew immediately he was dead. Just to be sure I touched my two longest fingers to his cold, waxy neck. No pulse, no warmth. He was definitely no longer living.

I ran into my office and squirted two knobs of hand sanitizer into my palms. Rubbing fiercely, I dialed 911. It didn't even cross my mind that this could be a crime scene or that I should do anything. The way he was positioned, the beer, I just assumed his time on earth was over. I went outside to wait for the authorities. I kept thinking of that scene from Stand By Me where the four kids find the dead body. It seemed surreal to me. There were kids playing across the street, birds were chirping, and it was summer. Also, he was lying there dead.

Local police, along with the county coroner, came and assessed the situation. The police were bored and seemed unsettled. A homeless dude had died. In their big picture it was no big deal. The coroner, who was nicknamed Smithers, sensed their aloofness and messed with them a little. He was known for his dark sense of humor which was cultivated from a job that I assume is rarely uplifting. He made them pick up the legs to check for rigor mortis and kept telling them they could go as soon as he figured out the cause of death. One time he even joked about the possibility of a bullet hole just to see the exasperated look on the officer's faces. It was routine to all of them, all in a day's work.

All this time I just stood and watched. It began to dawn on me that this man was really dead and it made me wonder about him as a person. I wondered who he was and what events had led to his life being extinguished in a pile of weeds and cigarette butts. Where did he grow up and what did he want to do with his life when he was a small child? Had he ever felt love and acceptance? At what point did his addiction overtake him and what horrors did he need to escape from? I watched as the coroner pulled out his wallet and in addition to a name, Anthony, they also found seven one-hundred-dollar bills. It was wadded up in a receipt from Social Security. Tony lived paycheck to paycheck and probably didn't have a bank account.

They eventually decided that Tony had died of natural causes and rolled him onto a stretcher. He was released to a local funeral home and the officers all said goodbye. They loaded into their squad car to go and deal with a noise complaint or a shoplifting call at the mall. I stood there for a long minute and watched them leave. I was overcome with a cloak of sadness at the demise of Tony. He had money and could have rented a low-end motel room for the night. He probably could have bought some companionship at a local bar by offering to buy a round of drinks. Instead, he died alone. I chalked it up to a clinic on the nature of addiction and closed the book. I really wanted to go home and see my family.

Two days later his obituary appeared in our local birdcage liner. Evidently Tony had been in the military and had served our country in Vietnam. He had no family and was in his late sixties. There was no service mentioned and no memorial. He would be given a plain wooden box and buried with no fanfare or recognition. Somehow, it all seemed extremely unfair to me. They said he died in his home.

I wondered what Tony had done for work and what he had experienced in the sixty plus years on this planet. I am sure he had some joy and sorrow, some warmth and probably a lot of pain. It was sad to me that his last meal on this planet was a can of warm beer and pack of cheap cigarettes. Who was he? What talents did he possess? What were his core beliefs and who still thinks about Tony? At some point he mattered. Other than the few people who had read the small obituary, I am sure there were many who wondered what had ever happened to him. His army buddies, siblings or other people he met along the way. I hope his name is still tossed around a few dinner tables or neighborhood bars.

About a week later, Smithers called me at my office, his voice was crackling with nervous excitement. He asked me if I had touched the body. Not really as I explained the two-finger pulse check immediately followed by the sanitizing gel. He sounded relieved as he proceeded to tell me Tony had been infected by a variety of contagious diseases and afflictions. No Smithers, I hadn't touched him. He had touched me.

True Story Contest contest entry

One of many true life events of my work in law enforcement. Relationships and people always matter.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by avmurray at

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