They're dead, Mom and Pop, but you're not supposed to talk about it. Ask where they'd been. How they'd come back.
The name "BOSKO" is back on the mailbox, spelled right this time. The old way used to make you laugh, imagining chocolate syrup sweetening near-sour milk. When you peer inside the mailbox, you swear you see something. In a gold envelope. From the government, probably.
Walking down the old hallway, you feel weird. It got longer, somehow. Even wearing sneakers, your footsteps echo. As you pass, none of the neighbors' doors creak open. Nobody's nosy anymore.
The bent key is back on your key ring, along with that gag-plate reading, "Keys to the Rolls Royce." In those days you couldn't drive. Or light a match. Hey, there was a time you couldn't even wipe your own ass.
They said you never would. They said you couldn't do anything.
The lock seems to suck in the key. Before you can change your mind, the heavy door swings open. And you're there.
You expect the smell to be worse. Thinking of that day you found him in there, three days dead. Purple, and swollen more than twice his size. Dead from grief, as she'd gone first, only months before. Right in the casino, down in Atlantic City. A moment after she'd pulled the lever...
The smell's not so bad, really. Almost "normal." As normal as the stench of old people's flesh and swirling dust can be. There's an under-smell, though. You wish you were better at holding your breath. You wish they'd taught you to swim.
In the kitchen they're in their old spots, he in that sticky chair by the window, reading his newspapers. Being dead twelve years, he's got a lot to read. The yellowed Star Ledgers are piled all over the flat. Spilling off the table onto the floor. It hasn't been mopped since they died, and it looks it. It looked that way then, you think.
His face is still purple, but has lost some of its bloat. "You look good, Pop," you lie, but he doesn't answer. Just like the old days, he hates to be interrupted while he's reading.
She is walking back and forth, trying to rush, but she can't. It's been so long since she used her legs. The greasy stove is covered with pots and pans you remember throwing out. You guess she's cooking, but you're not sure what. It's confusing...like a little dead girl playing house.
Like him, she doesn't look at you. "Hi, Mom," you say.
She's so busy doing what she's doing, she nearly bumps into you. That other smell hits you. She wears embalming fluid the way she used to wear Avon. She looks the way she did at the wake, not like herself at all. Fancy green dress, hair fixed just so. You know now why she's not looking at you, not saying a word: both her eyelids and lips are sewn shut.
"What's for supper?" you ask anyway.
You realize it's on the table, between two piles of unread Star Ledgers. Whatever it is, it's on an old chipped plate with tea roses on the border. It's underneath a paper towel. It smells bad. So bad, you feel dizzy. It stinks. It's...rotten.
And it's moving.
Paper still in his swollen hand, he starts to get up.
She's seated across from that rancid meal, feeling around for her True cigarettes. The "old heart-stoppers," you used to call them. And how "True" that was.
Frustrated, she starts pulling the threads out of her eyes. You scream.
And keep screaming. It's the one sound you hear, as you run out of the flat. Through the deserted hallway. Out the boarded front door.
Not till you're in your car, the red Jag you'd worked half your life for, taking bets and turning tricks, tearing up streets, smoking your own True Blues, do you calm down some. Think about pinching yourself. Instead, you switch on the radio.
"Cath," you hear, in her tinny, muffled voice. "Cathy, please say you've got a light."
Copyright: © 2011 Cindy Rosmus
Cindy Rosmus is a New York textbook editor by day, a hardboiled Jersey female by night. Her fiction has appeared in Black Petals, The Beat, The Cynic, Red Fez, Zygote in My Coffee, Hardboiled, NVF, MediaVirus, The Monsters Next Door, Out of the Gutter, Devil Blossoms, 13th Warrior Review, Mysterical-E, A Twist of Noir, and Beat to a Pulp. She has four collections of stories out: Angel of Manslaughter, Gutter Balls, Calpurnia’s Window, and No Place Like Home. She is the editor of the e-zine, Yellow Mama. She is also a thrill seeker, a Gemini, and a Christian.
“Duty Call.” Collected in Gutter Balls by Cindy Rosmus. Copyright © 2007 by Fossil Publications. Black Petals, No. 34, Winter 2006. Copyright © 2006 by Fossil Publications.