By Megan Casem

“…A chance meeting fulfills a mutual need…”

Tap, tap, tap. Robert Mulligan mindlessly drums the window pane. The vibration tingles his fingers as he grins from ear to ear. A thought separates his lips like a string being pulled on a marionette. This day has been planned for months; the details mapped out in a faded green notebook. Pages filled with words scattered among pencil sketches, words written in perfect Catholic-school cursive. Sister Patrice would have been proud of it if not for the words. Storm clouds roll over the setting sun. Colors of emotions yellow, orange and blue. “I am me and she is she,” he whispers out loud. A dog barks in the distance, pulling him away from his sinister thoughts. He grabs his notebook and closes the door behind him. He gets in his light-blue Buick LeSabre and drives off as it begins to rain.

As he is driving and watching raindrops stream down his windshield, he flashes back to growing up in the quiet West Virginia town of Elkins. How circumstances of living with 4 sisters, an alcoholic mother and a deadbeat Dad led him to the events of today. He remembers the Catholic Charities organization rescuing him from his impoverished life when he was just 7 years old. They said they were saving him from his circumstances. Events unfolded he has yet to speak of as he spent years living with the Christian Brothers and going to school with the Sisters of St. Brendan. They expected him to keep it all within and be perfect. A model student and a rescued child from the mountains where outward appearances hid all within the soul. As a child, he was taught to never reveal who lives deep within your thoughts. Experiences were sacred and never to be spoken.
Meanwhile across town, a statuesque female figure named Veda Lopez removes a black stiletto from the back of a head. A lifeless body lies nearby. She walks across her client’s neck, and the shoe gets stuck. Licking the blood off the shoe, she balances on her other foot and slides her shoe back on. She smooths out her heavy black apron and licks the remaining blood from her lips.
When she was a child, she hated being the tallest in her class. It shut her down. She learned to withdraw from life, and her only interaction now with society exists when she cuts hair. As she drags a headless body across the floor, she is thankful for her height and strength. A closet door screeches open, and chemical smells mixed with an earthy sulfur waft through the air. She inhales it deeply into her lungs, and her body tingles with delight. “Namaste,” she breathlessly whispers into the empty room and then locks the door. Prior to burial, she has thanked every client she has killed for their divinity and life. She picks up the head and licks the trickling blood off the face. A tantalizing shiver radiates through her body. She impales the head on a tripod set up for headshots. Picking up her shears, she begins to cut at the head’s cortex. Wisps of black hair fall to the ground.
The Buick rolls down the highway playing CCR’s “Proud Mary.” Robert had gotten the call from Veda in the early afternoon, and she’d told him she would be ready for him at dusk. He had already lined the back seat of his car with tarps. Now, it shone like a glistening ocean of blue. He fantasizes about the body. Finally, a specimen for him to Draw, Dissect, and Divide, fulfilling his ever-brewing fantasy to see inside.
They had first met in the back of a Sally’s Beauty Supply. She was restocking her hair-extension adhesive. He was looking for men’s hair color. Their eyes met, and he felt an instant connection and interdependence. Her hollow black eyes resurrected a forbidden desire in him. He felt it rise out of him, unlocking a secret chest. They met for coffee three days later, and she told him her deepest secrets and about her clientele. She’d recognized that he was one who could be trusted—he had seen her in her raw state without her wig. He brought her to his bungalow outside of town, where they drank Shiraz and ate prosciutto. He showed her his green notebook, and she told him she normally buries the bodies in the woods behind her trailer. He had told her he wanted her next client. She saw it as a mutual need destined to be fulfilled. She set up a rental agreement for him to borrow her client for the evening, and they outlined it in his green notebook. Then they shook hands sealing the deal.
Now, as the rain pours down on the Buick, beads of sweat roll down Richard’s face. The sketches of detached limbs severed in half, exposing muscles and veins, are dancing in his mind. Bumpy tissue pulled apart, stretching across the page. His hands grasp the steering wheel harder, and his teeth clench. “Get there faster, you bastard!” while “Bad Moon Rising” plays.
Veda gathers up the long wisps of black hair and gently places them in a Ziplock bag. The head of her latest client is shaved bald. Tiny trickles of blood from careless cuts ooze from the scalp, and she licks the surface, sucking the metallic taste into her mouth. Tasting their blood always made her feel like she was paying homage. She had always longed for people to see beyond her alopecia. For moments following her hair removals, she could experience someone else’s life. She dismounts the head from the tripod and places it into the closet with the rest of the body. She unzips her bag of hair and aligns the pieces one by one on the counter. She affixes the dark locks to her scalp using the hair-extension glue. Her makeup needs to be flawless, metamorphic, unlike any time before. This time is special. This time she is sharing her moment of someone else’s self. She finishes gluing her eyelashes and darkening her tattooed eyebrows to match her client’s. She looks in the mirror one last time. She looks exactly like her deceased—unrecognizable to even herself.
While Veda waits for Richard to arrive, she turns off the lights, lays a blanket on the floor and sits in the middle drinking green tea from a mug decorated with barber shears. The bitter taste lingers with the honey, and she closes her eyes. Her mind relaxes and the anxiety of the day withers away. It feels right to do this. A warm feeling overcomes her, and she realizes she has released the contents of her bladder. The warmth surrounds her in a cocoon and she wraps herself up in the blanket.
Richard finally arrives at the salon. Shakily, his hand turns off the car, and he breathes in and out slowly. He’d been told where the body could be found. He remembers the specific instructions Veda made him write in his green notebook and he grabs the book and reviews them. Lights must remain off. The body must be transported in a blanket out of the salon. The salon must look untouched, clean and locked upon his departure for the Tuesday-morning clients. The whole exchange must occur within twenty minutes, from the time he exits the car to the body being placed in the car. He must work outside her trailer in the designated empty hole. And last, he must delicately Draw, Dissect, and Divide with utmost respect, taking his time to sacredly honor the client.
He walks in the unlocked front door and pauses. Richard is a strict rule follower from his days spent with the clergy, so he sets his watch to twenty minutes. It is dark now, and with the lights out in the salon, he is thankful she reminded him to bring a flashlight. A searching yellow disk beams out onto the floor. Unfamiliar with his surroundings, he looks for the landmarks she told him to find. Beyond the shadows, he counts out seven chairs to the left of the sinks. He finds the body, wrapped in a gray blanket, just where she told him to retrieve it. Carefully, he lifts the figure up into his arms. Fluids seep from the blanket, and he feels a jolt of anticipation. “A body already breaking down from death,” he says out loud. He backs out of the door and lays the body on the tarp in the back seat, then goes back in and uses a towel to wipe up the fluids on the floor. As he exits the salon, he stands in the doorway and savors the moment.
Richard drives back onto the highway in search of Veda’s trailer. “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” blares through the speaker. She had told him she would be back at the trailer later that night, but he had just two hours left with the client per their rental agreement. Her road is lined with thick trees and consists of miles of potholes. Mud washes over the car, and for a moment he is worried about knocking it out of alignment. Suddenly, he spots the trailer and remembers his task. Wind chimes ring out, beckoning him, the souls of her buried clients making their presence known. Veda had left her porch light on as promised.
A light drizzle mists the cold night. Richard sets the scene for his Draw, Dissect, and Divide experience. He gets the lawn chair on the porch, setting it up out behind the trailer near an opening in the ground. From the trunk he removes an easel, a large canvas, watercolor paints, scalpel, tweezers, torn white rags, chain saw, and a bottle of Johnnie Walker.
He places the gray blanket next to the hole and sets up his Drawing space. He first sketches the outline of the blanket. It takes on the shape of a crescent moon. He takes a swig of whiskey and carefully unwraps the body. Taking note of her warnings about its condition, he finds it overwhelmingly beautiful. The smells of sweet honey and ammonia linger in the air. He sketches the client’s feet, delighted to find them exposed and barefoot. Removing the client’s pants, exposing the bare flesh of legs, he finds himself giddy. He draws her legs with elongated calves and knees up to her navel. Every crevice is captured, and half the bottle of Johnnie Walker is gone. He unbuttons the shirt and exposes bare breasts. Running his hands over them, he nearly forgets to draw. “Stay on task. Time is of the essence,” he yells to no one. The client’s arms are drawn from fingertip to shoulder. He is alarmed at the face, which looks almost melted. She had warned him about the condition of the body. He captures the smears and smudges in his drawing and feverishly rushes the ending to get to the Dissection.
He finds himself wanting to know more about the client. To see the inside of someone. His entire life he has yearned for a closeness that goes beyond surface appearances. “Where to start?” he whispers aloud. He runs back to his car, realizing he forgot his green notebook. Opening to page eighteen, he sees the details he had laid out. First incision up the left leg with the scalpel. Bright-red blood bursts out of the leg. Yellow spongey tissue oozes from the site above red muscle and a glistening white bone. He uses the tweezers to pull purple tubes from the leg. He is overcome, and tears stream down his face. The moment is more beautiful than he had imagined.
Veda feels the tugging and pulling up her leg but no pain. It’s an odd sensation but gratifying. She can feel her blood leaving her body. She had made the right choice in choosing him to fulfill her need to be seen. The delight her appearance has given him sends her soul to rest; her body was documented in reverence. He dissects her fingers, removing the syringe and bottle of propofol still in her hand and throwing them down in haste. She can hear him throw the barber-shear mug to the ground like an article of clothing in a honeymoon suite. She can feel the warmth of his breath as he makes his way up with the scalpel to her neck. A dizzy and breathless sensation overcomes her as he runs the scalpel down her carotid artery. The last thing she hears is the hum of a chainsaw. Richard will soon cut through her chest and find her heart. It is full of gratitude. Veda is thankful for this day of revelation and peace.

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