Fiction by David C. Porter

The Depth of the Abrasion

Soft clunk of the emergency brake engaged and the car jerks to a halt, it’s on the damp grass by the edge of the lake, deep green and not recently tended, sprouting wild dandelions and the tan, grainy saucers of mercenary anthills. Lights of just past dawn up above. In a small grove of trees crowded up against the far side of the lake birds chirp morning testaments and the sounds drift over across the water like distant clouds. The fiery man behind the wheel makes a gesture with his hand and the two stony men in the back get out and pop the trunk. Inside, there’s a body wrapped in burlap and rope like cargo on an old merchant ship, a body with a dark crimson stain on its chest that’s still slowly oozing dark, seeping through its mock dressing. It wasn’t moving, and it didn’t make a sound when the men dragged it out, when they grunted with the effort, almost slipped on the morning dew. They carry it down to the lake slung between them, and out to the end of the small ash-gray fishing dock. The man behind the wheel stays there, doesn’t get out, doesn’t watch what the men are doing. He lights a cigarette, smokes it, makes sure to tap his ashes into the car’s ashtray and not out the window, makes sure he does not leave anything of himself here, anything that could someday become evidence that he knew this place. There’s a splash. The body, still oozing, makes a small cloud of red on the surface, sinks down into the depths. The lake is much deeper than one would guess. The morning light pushes downwards only so easily. The murk crowds in quickly, like the lid of a closing eye. The body hits bottom with almost no sound and minimal disturbance to the silt. down there, it is as dark as night, almost. A flurry of gases, shaken loose by the gentle impact, race to the surface as bubbles and meekly erupt. It will be the last that will be seen of the body for many hundreds of years. Dip your hands in the water,” the man behind the wheel shouts to his two associates. Clean them off. I don’t want any more death in my car.” They do. It is so cold it feels like ice in their bones. They get back in the car and drive away. Meanwhile, on the lakebed, swaying vines wrap almost casually around the body, unknot the ropes and pull away the burlap, find the body nude beneath and work their way into every orifice.

Several years later, three people, two men and a woman, all different from before, come into view walking past the grove of trees. The woman carries a picnic basket, and one of the men has a blanket slung over his shoulder. The other man carries nothing. It’s early afternoon, under a determined sun. The group walks halfway around the lake and spreads the blanket out on a small patch of mown grass near the fishing dock. The patch is a perfect square and everywhere around it has remained untended, only become more overgrown. The group sits in a cluster none quite facing another and with the basket sitting in the middle of the blanket between them, a curving shell of deep reddish wicker with a tall arcing handle and a white cloth draped over the contents. They make small talk. An hour passes, and another. The woman looks at her watch and says, Well, let’s get to it.” She pulls back the cover of the basket. Inside are five smooth stones inside, each about the size to fit in a man’s hand, and three ceramic plates, pale and white, with no pattern in the glazing. She takes the stones out, sets them in a row on the blanket, takes out the three plates, leaves them in a stack. She looks at the man who had carried the blanket. He unstacks the plates, sets them in a row, places three stones on the center plate, one on each of the side plates. He does not do this quickly; he looks at the stones, turns them over in his hands, deliberates with a look of concentration on his face. The whole process takes several minutes. The woman watches patiently. The other man looks away, towards the lake. He considers only its surface. The first man finishes what he’s doing. He takes his hands away. The woman, without comment, replaces the stones and the plates as they were, and looks at the man who had carried nothing. He unstacks the plates again, sets them in a row again. He deliberates even longer, closes his eyes and tries to concentrate on the texture of each stone. He tries to focus on the way his blood flows inside him as he handles each one. The woman watches patiently. Finally, he chooses two stones, places them on the middle plate, another two on the plate to his left, one on the plate to his right. He looks up at the woman. The woman shakes her head. You both missed what was most important,” she says. She takes the two stones off the plate on the left, points at a chip missing from the enamel, a gouge in the rim hidden by the bright flatness of its white. The two men, in turn, run their fingers over it, feel the depth of the abrasion, begin to cry.

David C. Porter

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