So rigor mortis is a gigantic pain in the bum, which is a sentence I never thought I’d write. I suppose I knew vaguely what it was until that night, I’d just never really seen it in terms of a practical problem. Remember that game light as a feather, stiff as a board? If I remember correctly from sleepovers, somebody would lie down on the floor – normally giggling her head off – and we’d all crowd round chanting light as a feather, stiff as a board. The idea was that we’d be able to kind of levitate her through the power of whispering.
It never worked.
And I can now inform you all that stiff as a board in fact weighs a bloody ton.
And is slippy as fuck when it’s wrapped in fifty Morrison’s bags.
All in all, if I had to pick my top 100 things to carry down three flights of stairs, a dead body wrapped in supermarket bags and industrial amounts of sellotape wouldn’t get a look in. Not even in the top thousand. Not even with a viking taking most of the weight.
Because despite Åke’s undisputed strength, the sheer unyeildyness of the body made it a two person job and Nate was busy pulling the car around. On the plus side, between the stiffness and the plastic, it didn’t feel particularly human any more, so that took care of some of the squeamishness.
Until we couldn’t fit him in the wee car so Åke snapped him in half and I nearly fainted. I realise that I don’t have any right to heebie-jeebies at this point, it was just the… the crack. I suspect that’s a noise I’ll be hearing in my nightmares for a long time to come.
I sat with my head between my legs on the front step taking deep yoga breaths as Åke and Nate wrestled the supermarket mummy into the wee car and Granny kept Mrs Kerr chatting at her front door so she wouldn’t get any ideas about nosing at what we were doing.
‘Okay?’ asked Åke. He placed his hand on my head, and I felt oddly comforted. His enormous hand, so rough and calloused and scarred, yet still capable of a gentle touch provided a reminder I really needed in that moment that good and bad isn’t binary or permanent. People do bad things for good reasons and good things for bad reasons and any given life is made up of a bit of both.
Åke hadn’t even asked how Rab came to be wrapped in plastic bags on Granny’s living room floor. He just accepted it happened and was willing to help because I asked. If that isn’t a good pal I don’t know what is.
I had to shake off all my deep ponderings about the nature of life and death and morality then, because they’d managed to get the body in the boot.
The drive was relatively uneventful, if peppered by Nate’s questions from the back seat about satnav and heated bums (the Kerrs have quite pushed the boat out with their motor, it seems).
Åke was quiet the whole way, and it occurred to me later that he was scared. He’d got into the car without a murmur, his seatbelt seemed to disconcert him. I suppose ‘safety’ wasn’t really the first word that sprang to mind for him upon being strapped down.
For some reason though, it didn’t cross my mind until later that the speed of the car must have been mind blowing to him. It wasn’t as though I was speeding or anything, but if you’ve only ever ridden longships or horses, 60 miles per hour must feel like lightening. I caught him clutching at the door handle once or twice as I accelerated out of corners on the narrow, winding road, but he didn’t say anything.
I suppose when you’ve been raised from birth to be a fearless warrior you don’t tend to tell a woman driving a Fiat Uno that she’s giving you the heebie jeebies.
I’d love this to be one of those kick-ass stories in which the woman proves to be tougher than the men put together but I’d be lying. I hope you’ll forgive me if I tell you that when Åke took the body out the boot and strode off into the woods I hid in the car with my fingers in my ears. In my defence, Nate was a bit on the green side too.
‘I didn’t get to see any of the war, did you know that?’ he said suddenly. His voice always makes me think of those black and white movies I used to watch with Granny on Sunday afternoons. Humphrey Bogart and Gregory Peck. He sounds American, certainly, but a bit posher than most Americans sound today, and he actually says things like ‘now see here’ and ‘jeepers.’
‘My eighteenth birthday was in February 1945, and by the time I trained up and shipped over to Scotland it was May and the damned thing was all over. Nearly four years I’d been scared out my wits that I’d be called up and have to go face up to Hitler, and then I never did. My oldest brother Harry came home with one leg after he stepped on a mine in a village in France in 1942, and my Pop still had nightmares from the trenches more’n twenty years later. I guess they all thought I got blown up or something too.’
Even in the darkness I could hear his rueful smile. ‘Betcha Tommy went around telling everybody I was a war hero. Betcha they held a ticker tape parade in my memory.’
‘You didn’t go home to see them first?’ I asked in surprise.
‘It woulda taken another four, five weeks maybe to get to Ohio and back to New York where the ship was. There were ships could cross the Atlantic in four or five days already, but there weren’t so many civilian tickets available. I was scared I’d have to wait weeks for a crossing and I didn’t want Elsie to have the baby without me being back. Guess that didn’t work out so well’
I was about to offer to try to contact his sister – or at least her kids or grandkids – when we heard an almighty crash from the woods. I cringed, thinking that it was Rab’s fateful end, but seconds later a monster emerged from the trees and ran straight at us.