I pulled two gloves from the cardboard box in Ian's medical bag and put them on.
"Crap," he said, again.
"Just tell me what to do. What do I do?"
Ian took a deep breath. "Alright. Crap. You take the ankles. It's not far. Let's just hurry and get this over with. Damn it, Ash. I owe you."
I tried not to think about what I was doing. I tried to tell myself that this was no different than a dead animal, or a dummy.
But as I clutched the body's ankles, the tendons and bones beneath the skin felt so human and lifelike that I started to feel dizzy. I tried to breathe, but I hadn't expected the smell to be so strong. It was definitely the smell of rotten flesh. I wondered if maybe the rancid smell was coming from the wound; it did look like it was maybe turning gangrenous.
I had to do something to distract myself so I wouldn't throw up. I was desperate not to let Ian down. I knew that my sister wouldn't be able to do this, and somewhere deep inside I'd always understood that Danielle couldn't ever really let herself imagine what Ian must have gone through in the war. I wondered if by helping him now, in this unlikely way, maybe I could somehow acknowledge what my sister couldn't.
"What do you think happened to him?" I asked Ian.
I didn't actually care what had happened, not at that moment. But I couldn't think of any other way to get my mind off the smell and the body's sagging, loose weight in my hands as we shuffled through the locker room.
"I have no idea," Ian whispered. "He must have been trying to peep through the window. And then I guess he fell through the glass."
"But what about his...?" I started, but I couldn't finish. "Why is it missing?"
Ian gave me a look of total perplexity and shook his head. "I have no idea."
"It's one of those carnies!" Mrs. Whipple was still crying, but she was in control enough to make this last proclamation as she held the locker room door open for us, shuddering. "They're all on drugs!"
The hardest part was lifting the body into the back of Ian's SUV.
Ian laid the shoulders on the tailgate while I kept ahold of the ankles. I'd managed to control my nausea, but now my arms were burning. I didn't even want to think about letting the body drop, or the sound of it hitting the pavement. Ian climbed into the back and pulled the shoulders from the inside, and finally I could let go. I looked around the dark lot outside the gym. I didn't think anyone saw us, but I could hear the crowd from the game moving in our direction.
"You okay?" Ian asked.
"I'm real sorry, Ash," he whispered. "Really."
"It's okay." I tried to smile. "I need a drink," I laughed, "but I'm okay."
Now Ian laughed too, obviously relieved that I'd been able to handle it. Maybe he was even a little impressed.
After laughing, though, he added earnestly, "Technically you weren't supposed to see any of this. Right?"
"Right," I nodded. "Of course. Okay."
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