Short Stories

January 15, 2011      

The Convincing Corpse by Faith Gardner

Listen to a podcast of Faith Gardner’s “The Convincing Corpse.”

My boyfriend Jack likes to pretend I’m dead. At first the ice baths before sex and the blowjobs in the graveyard seemed weird, but now I like pretending I’m dead too. Jack’s ten years older than me and works as a medical assistant. He’s visited palaces in Nepal, seen the Northern lights over Moskosel, and rode elephants through muddy rivers near Chiang Mai. He’s so dreamy.

When Jack gets home from the hospital, I immediately start running the bath on cold and fill the buckets with ice from the icemaker. I get in the bath and shiver for him and try to really get into the part, really pretend I’m dead, and then towel off and lay on the bed waiting for him. When he enters me, my eyes are closed, my muscles stiff, and I don’t speak a word. I even try not to breathe.

It works out well because I’m a theater major at the state university. My past roles have included dead people. Juliet’s final scene in Shakespeare’s classic, The Ghost of Christmas Past. I won my high school’s best actress award for my portrayal of Emily in Our Town, my long deadpan monologue about the beauty of coffee and new ironed dresses and hot baths and how much I missed those things, being dead and all. But let me tell you, it’s much harder to play a dead person in real life. With Jack, I use my method acting and try to really be dead. Let my mind empty and my body float away, close my eyes and think the words I’m a corpse I’m a corpse I’m a corpse as Jack grunts and pushes and says oh baby oh my darling how beautiful you are. When he’s done he tells me how convincing I am. As an actress, “convincing” is my favorite compliment.

I go out on auditions sometimes. Jack drives me to the City on his days off, Mondays and Tuesdays, and sits in the car reading travel books. Once I got a part as CAREFREE WOMAN #4 in a tampon commercial, riding a bike around in circles in a grassy park, open-mouthed laughing. I also played TIRED TEEN MOM in a local PSA. My baby was actually a stuffed monkey wrapped in a baby blanket. This week I have an audition for a bit part on a crime show. The ad said nonspeaking, but any face time is worth it. I practice in the mirror, make villain-criminal faces, tough, chin up. I want my lawyer. Or plead with the mirror like a victim. No, please, I promise, I’ll do anything. Even a professional, unreadable detective. You have the right to remain silent. Jack watches from the doorway, smiling. He comes behind me and puts his arms around my waist and watches us in the mirror. I didn’t realize he was home so I giggle. You want me to draw a bath? I ask him. He shakes his head. Want to go to the graveyard? He kisses my hair and says he has a date planned for us. It’s our three-month anniversary. We’re going out for sushi and then renting a Hitchcock flick.

That night in bed, as I thaw myself beneath the electric blanket, we exchange gifts. He bought me a leather jacket that must have cost him hundreds. I bought him a book about the Black Dahlia murder with lots of pictures. He flips the pages and licks his lips. Then he puts it down and hugs me. He says he wants me to move in with him. I’m not that surprised, since I haven’t been to my dorm in weeks, but I fake it and flap my hands up and down and squeal.

On Tuesday, he takes me to the audition for that bit part on the crime show. After we park he opens his Italy book to the chapter on Pompeii and he says he hopes we can go there in the spring. I kiss his cheek and leave him in the car. The audition building looks industrial, square and gray and windowless. I go inside and sit down with the others, girls roughly my age, weight and height and haircolor. We smile fake smiles and make small talk about the crappy magazines in the waiting room. I ask the blond girl next to me who introduces herself as Asia if she knows anything about the part. I heard it’s just playing a dead girl, she tells me. The dead girl that starts the episode. I say yay and tell her how I’ve played a dead girl before: as Emily, goodbying Grover’s Corners. Juliet and The Ghost of Christmas Past, if that counts. And with my boyfriend all the time, you know, kinky stuff. Asia’s mouth drops and she says that’s fucking disgusting. I’m glad when my name gets called and I can leave the silence of the waiting room. I smooth my hair and skirt and go into a blank room with four bespectacled writers with coffee cups sitting behind a card table. I lay on the floor and pretend I’m dead. They call my performance convincing and shake my hand because I got the part.

I’m so excited. Jack’s waiting in the car. He’s moved onto the chapter on Palermo now. How’d it go? he asks. I tell him about how I got the part of VICTIM and we hug. You’ll be perfect, he says. I say filming starts in two days and he says he’ll get someone to cover for him at the hospital so he can come support me. You’re the sweetest, I tell him. We go get hamburgers to celebrate. The words “fucking disgusting” keep ringing in my head, but I don’t tell him. When we’re full of burgers, he drives to the graveyard.

A month later, when the episode airs, I feel like a celebrity. Even my professors saw my performance on TV and called it my big break. I lay in a sea of blood and spattered glass as the detectives walked around my body and collected evidence. Cause of death was strangulation, and at the end of the episode it ended up being my father’s new jealous pregnant wife. Jack recorded the episode and watches my performance again and again, squeezing my hand and breathing deep as the camera zooms in on my pale face, my long listless legs and blood-streaked hair, my naked sheet-covered body. I ask him if he thinks pretending I’m dead could be considered fucking disgusting. He shakes his head and says, never, with such verve I believe him. He runs a hand along my face and says, you’re so beautiful. You make such a convincing corpse. I’m so flattered that I can’t speak for a minute. I say thank you, and kiss the side of his mouth, and get up to start the bath.

Faith Gardner

About the author:

Faith lives in Oakland and has stories in or forthcoming in Defenestration, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and PANK. She can be found at faithgardner.com.

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