A strange absence filled her. Somehow, she had outlived all of her family. Their mother had died first. An accident no one ever discussed. Deanna was six. For her dad, death had been liver disease with a dash of alcoholic hepatitis. Travis had taken after him with his love of baseball and stiff drinks. In his death, her older sibling may have been more like their mother than she knew.
Travis faced up on the metal slab. Deanna studied her brother’s corpse. She earned this task as his next of kin and closest relative. She would have anyway. She wanted to see for herself the unusual marks Jerry had described.
Deanna sheathed herself in a sheer disposable surgical gown, papery to touch. She snapped latex gloves over her hands. Her fingers grazed the toe tag. Sharp and acrid, the odors stung. The smell summed up the moment. No one rushed her. Deanna took her time reconciling the person she knew with the body before her.
She aimed her line of sight at the tiled floor. Tears would not come. Her nose pulled in the running snot that threatened her lip. A tiny full body shake dispelled her grief. She settled on anger. Her gaze narrowed, all business. A puzzle laid before her.
Scribbles on Travis’s body showed in marker. Deanna considered every instance. Hours, days or weeks before, no one knew when Travis managed this feat, writing over himself. His body had decayed too much. The colors and his handwriting varied with the sentiments conveyed. Words strung together, far from coherent or linear. Jumbled instructions scattered about like homemade tattoos, his last will and testament.
“Take care of Hubert” appeared most. An arrow pointed to “car wash,” with “his favorite” scrawled nearby. Numbers written like a standing bet, racetrack, last race and horse number stenciled both of his hands. As if a ritual of sorts, ten on three in the final race. Two activities in which Travis had heavily invested his time, drinking and wagers. Her brother wanted one more chance to go out on a win.
“Shit the hill,” marred every limb, his forearms, legs, around his torso. Some of these phrases also bore the words, “I’m serious Dee,” with the name of a baseball field inked beside it. He meant the pitcher’s mound. Leave it to Travis to demand an indecent act as a final tribute. Her eyes traveled to each spot where the entreaty popped up. Deanna’s expression softened as she considered the vulnerable truth Travis had exposed. Her arms folded across her chest. She squeezed her shoulders and leaned in contemplation.