There was a body on the table.
They stared at it—at the heavy hair-sprayed pink curls and the smudged mascara and the tiny crop top that showed off a belly button piercing (did people still get belly button piercings? Never mind the piercing, she was dead) . Sixteen, maybe. Or younger. Anyway she was too young to be here. That’s what they were all thinking. Someone’s niece who’d hidden in the back of the car. Someone’s little sister who’d sneaked in the bathroom window.
But no one claimed her. Not even when they turned down the volume and Jason felt her pulse and shook his head like he’d seen doctors do, and summoned them around her, like a class in session. They stood white faced and limp-limbed but none of them stepped forward or raised their hand. Not one. They stole sideways looks at each other, some of them were gripping their drinks in statuesque fashion, wondering if they were just too shocked to admit that they knew her.
Who is this? Jason demanded, Tell me someone knows who she is? But no one answered.
David knocked back both his shots, one after the other, and raised it in a solemn salute,
To the girl on the table. And then his brother caught his arm just before he fell face first on the parquet.
Jennifer volunteered to call the police. They shut her down. The police would search the premises and question everyone and that couldn’t be good. One girl—one stranger—would take them all down with her.
Jason fell into a chair and lamented, Of course we can’t just leave her here. But he hated the police more than anyone and didn’t want them near his house.
Some of them wandered into the kitchen, there was still too much alcohol in their system to think straight. David was passed out on the couch and inexplicably missing a shoe and a sock.
Alanis was hiccupping by the television. It’s not fair, she said, I just got out. I don’t want any trouble.
The rest of them began to clean because they had to do something with their hands and clearly the party was over and no one wanted to stand around staring at the girl. They shoveled beer bottles into garbage bags. They swept away streamers and cigarette butts and confetti.
The girl was still dead and her hand with the black nail polish still hung over the table.
When they were finished Alanis was gone. So was Jennifer. They’d cut and run and everyone was angry but then they started thinking the same thing and why hadn’t they left, too?
But then Jason locked the door and stood in front of it like a guard dog and announced that no one was leaving, Not until we solve the girl on the table situation. And Peter got in his face and started swinging but Jason ducked and Peter was too slow and made a hole in the drywall instead. He wailed about his fist and it was bleeding and Katrina went to get him a bag of ice.
You can’t hold us hostage, said a girl no one could remember the name of, Peter’s new girlfriend who’d been mute until now, and they all stared at her and Jason said it was his house and he could do whatever the hell he wanted.
Katrina suggested they all sit down and think about this, really think about it, and she sounded like the kindergarten teacher she was. Kris calmly asked if anyone had checked the dead girl’s phone or her wallet and no one had and he told them they were all idiots. But there was no wallet and no phone and what sixteen-year-old doesn’t carry her phone on her these days?
Jason sat by David’s feet and put his head in his hands and moaned why did this have to happen at his house, at his party, as if people dying at parties was a regular occurrence like a Sunday Supper and they were all supposed to take turns.
Kris asked if anyone had seen or talked to the girl before she was dead and everyone told him to fuck off because did he think he was a detective? And he defended himself by saying he was just trying to figure this out and Peter’s girlfriend rolled up a joint and put her muddy boots on the coffee table and didn’t even open the window to let the smoke out.
Lisa came out of the bathroom and her eyes were red and when she saw the girl on the table she made a crying scene and told them they were all sick in the head, Why haven’t you done anything about it and just left her there? Benji came out of the bathroom, too, puffy-eyed from his new stash but still had the presence to tell everyone off and that Lisa was totally right, dude. Like it was all everyone else’s fault and Jason went into his bedroom and came back with a sheet and threw it over the girl on the table and snapped at them, Are you happy now?
Kris excused himself and slipped into the bathroom and they heard him dialing on his phone. Jason pounded on the door and told him he better not be calling the cops and he better hang up before he broke the door down and Peter with the bag of ice on his hand snickered from his corner.
David shot up in the sofa and promptly puked in Jason’s cactus plant and then went down again. Katrina said she definitely wasn’t cleaning any more throw up, that she got enough of that in her job with kids all day, thank you, and Lisa tearfully sputtered, How can you talk about this stuff when there is a dead girl in our living room, hello? Benji put his arm around her and Peter asked, Since when are you guys a thing?
Benji tensed up and said, Longer than you and whatever her name is. And Peter’s girlfriend cackled and Peter snorted, At least I don’t have a problem getting girlfriends and I don’t have to pick up my friend’s leftovers, and Benji got up fast and hot and Peter said, what are you gonna do about it?
Lisa said, Guys someone is dead, okay? Please. And Benji settled back down but he was still glaring at Peter like this wasn’t over.
Kris came out of the bathroom with his hands up and Jason said, Are they coming? He sounded defeated like this was it, it was all over and there was nothing left to do. But Kris shook his head and said he couldn’t get signal and Lisa confirmed yeah, there was no signal in the bathroom, plus they were out in the middle of the freaking woods so go figure.
Jason started to say how there was nothing wrong with living in the middle of nowhere and it suited him just fine but then Lisa pointed out that a random girl had sneaked into his house and gotten herself dead somehow and that didn’t happen in high rise apartments because you have doormen.
Jason stormed out of the room to get a drink, muttering about city snobs and who the hell invited them anyway.
Peter’s girlfriend wanted to know why Jason was out here and what was he hiding from? But Peter warned her off and whispered something in her ear and Jason came back with a bottle of whiskey that was a quarter full and drank the rest of it in one go and threw it against the wall and everyone jumped as it smashed.
We should take a vote, Kris said after some stiff silence, Who’s in favor of me driving out to the police station?
Peter laughed and said, Police station my ass, you’re going to high-tail it to Denver, nice try, dude.
Then we bury her, Kris said, but he looked a little sick as he said it, and no one seemed to like that idea either but he said, Well, what else? We can’t just leave her here.
People die in the forest all the time, Benji pointed out. My uncle got drunk and wandered off in the middle of the night and there was this polar vortex and he froze.
Katrina reminded him that it was the middle of July , and what is wrong with you people?
Kris is right, Peter’s girlfriend chimed in. We have to do something, I used to work at a morgue and she’s not going to get any prettier the longer we leave her there, trust me.
Jason huffed, I knew there was something weird about you.
You have a problem with my girlfriend? Peter said, and everyone groaned but he put up his good hand and said No, I want to hear it.
Your girlfriend? Jason laughed, You’ve been dating what, five minutes?
And then they both got in each other’s personal space again, faces inches apart, and Katrina started yelling and Peter’s girlfriend just kept smoking watching with a bemused expression and maybe she liked this, and Kris went to break them up but Jason shoved him away and he toppled and fell on top of David and David woke up with a cry of pain and now Lisa was sobbing again and Benji was trying to hug her but she said, Don’t touch me—
It was getting hot and a little itchy under the sheet and I was getting tired of all the drama. Now was as good a time as any.
I ripped off the sheet and sat up. You should have seen their faces.
Best party prank ever.