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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-five THE BODY FARM



was mean in my old life.

It wasn’t my fault, though. I came by it honestly, through bad genes and hard living. I was the kind of girl who wouldn’t hesitate to screw one of my classmates over if it meant something good for me; I grew into the kind of woman who never met a double whiskey she didn’t like and occasionally stole things. Once, I sugared the gas tank of a woman who gave me a dirty look in the checkout line at the Piggly Wiggly. I never did find out what her problem was; it didn’t matter. People are mostly garbage, and they deserve whatever they get.

My family was never worth much. I’m one of those Kentucky stereotypes, a wrong-side-of-the-tracks girl raised in a trailer park ready to brawl under the watchful eye of an alcoholic father. My mom took off when I was a kid. I heard she ran to Vegas to be a stripper, but I always imagined her as a glitzy showgirl, cozying up to mobster millionaires and strapping her cash beneath the bed. Now I know she just ended up in another trailer, surrounded by desert instead of her family.

That’s one of the weirdest parts about being dead; I know things.


Here in Tennessee, the beauty is lush and suffocating. Dark greenery sprouts up in every corner, kudzu vines choke the landscape under heavy skies. Even when there are no clouds to speak of, the atmosphere feels like a blanket.

Sometimes I wonder if the South is only so humid and uncomfortable because of all the ghosts. Maybe our presence contributes to the weather patterns; maybe in areas of high concentration, like Civil War battlefields, it feels like you’re breathing through wet cotton. I can’t say for sure since I never visited this state before I died. Seems like I only know things that were tied to my old life, and I guess that’s for the best. A lot of people would probably be curious to find out what really happened to JonBenet Ramsey, or would fancy having a sit-down with Elvis for an afternoon, but it just seems like a lot of work to me. I never was an autograph-chaser anyway.

We keep mostly to ourselves here at the Body Farm. I can’t quite figure out if it’s because everyone is sad about the way this turned out or if we’re all just embarrassed. I mean, imagine that dream you used to have about showing up to the school cafeteria naked and then multiply it by five. Here you don’t just have your dong on full display to a bunch of FBI agents, you’re spread out in the dirt with bugs in your teeth and your hair looking a hot mess. I don’t think any of us thought that one through.

It wasn’t a way to be useful; I never had any guilt about that. I just didn’t like the idea of my body rotting away underground, partly because I knew no one would come and leave flowers on the grave and that just pissed me off. I’ve been terrified of fire since I was four, when I accidentally knocked over the kerosene heater in my bedroom and almost sent our trailer into the stratosphere, so cremation didn’t sound so great either. When I found out about the farm, I went straight to the computer and drafted up a will so there would be no question about what to do with me after I died. Donating my body to a forensics team sounded like the most badass option. Even the dead need street cred.

It’s not all bad. Once you get past the indignity of it all, it’s really just a matter of geography. I never was one to get homesick, so it doesn’t bother me a bit, but some people have a hard time with it. Old Joe is the worst. He had memory problems in his old life, so he doesn’t recall wanting to donate his body to science. All he knows is that one day he was at home farting into his recliner, and the next day he was here, watching decaying corpses get dug up.

One day he asked me why he couldn’t leave, said he just wanted to have some peach iced tea and take a nap. His eyes are pale blue; you can tell he was handsome when he was younger and full of pumping blood. I bet he got more than one woman into bed with those eyes. Now they’re the color of a bowl of milk at dusk, and there’s something in them that looks confused. I turned away from that terrible puzzlement and muttered something noncommittal in answer, because the truth is, I don’t know why we can’t leave. Doesn’t do well to think about it.

It could be worse, I think. It’s pretty here, and most nights are fairly quiet when the excavation teams aren’t doing evening work. They’ll drag their spotlights out here and dig up bones at midnight just to see what those conditions would be like out there, in the real world. The bugs help them understand what happens to a body after it’s been buried in a shallow grave for a while, or how long it’s been there. A lot of people wouldn’t have the stomach for it, but I don’t think I would have minded. Maybe being dead has affected my tolerance for gore.

I watch Old Joe wander through the honeysuckle, eyes fixed on nothing in particular. It’s not busy here at all tonight, unless you count the mosquitoes. They flit through the dusk, occasionally snatched up here or there by an enterprising bat. Even the middle-aged woman who usually sits under the biggest tree in the field is gone, off on some unimaginable errand. She’s a bottle blonde who wears too much makeup, but I don’t hold that against her. The standard of beauty is different in the South.

Now that I think of it, there are lots of people missing. The young guy with the shotgun wound to the stomach, the elderly lady who reminds me of my grandma. My mother’s mother used to grow roses and sometimes she’d tuck one behind my ear. Since I was a kid, the darkly sweet scent of a rose has reminded me of her. I even had the flower tattooed on the inside of my wrist when she died. I used to be afraid she’d haunt me, take me to task for inking up my body like trash. But she never came, and after a while, I stopped caring.

I wish I had known, as a kid, that not all ghosts are bad. The kind that make shadows flicker are harmless; it’s the ones we become while we’re still alive that do the most harm.

I have a small confession to make.

I haven’t actually seen my own body here. Knowing I’m there is one thing; seeing the body I carried through life, the body that miscarried two babies and took more than one beating at the hands of a cruel man, is another. I’m not ready.



The thing no one says in those after-school specials is that the violence is only part of it.

The rest of it is decoration. He sends flowers to the store on the busiest day so all the girls I work with will see. “How sweet,” they coo, “you’re so lucky.” Yes, I think, so lucky. I briefly wonder if any of them have bruises blooming under their bra straps and go back to folding t-shirts. When I get home, hauling the vase full of carnations and a careful look of gratitude on my face, I’m rewarded with a kiss. I played the game nicely and all I got was this bouquet of filler flowers.

I’ve always changed my hair color with my mood, but now I’m not allowed. He likes me with dark hair, he says, so red is out. The sting of his palm feels like being eight and watching “Teen Witch”. It sounds like my mother telling me I was born a brunette and I can’t change it, no matter how much I want to look like Robyn Lively.

The balcony is my new favorite place, and I can’t say why except that it feels like a neutral space. When I was a kid, growing up in a haunted house, I had Safe Places. My bedroom was the worst; I never slept a full night there once the shadows started moving. The kitchen was okay; the living room was not. My mother felt it too, and once, she told me recently, she saw something. A jean-clad leg leaving the hallway. A 4-year old me saw her looking and announced that it was only Bobby.

”Is he little like you?” she asked.

”No,” I replied with disdain. “He’s big like Daddy.”

I’ve never felt safe. Not from big hands, from dark rooms, from raised voices. Childhood was a stew of predators and hungry ghosts, nightmares and an education in infidelity. In that small town, I learned that men are loud and rough and that women must endure it.

Here it comes, then: past and present meeting at an intersection. When he punches me in the kidneys in the middle of the night and later says he doesn’t remember, it’s my father pistoning out his leg to trip my mom as she walked by. An accident, dad professes. The time he had his friend slap me in the face so hard my head rocked back so he could kill a nonexistent mosquito is really just my dad dumping cold water on my mother in the shower. It isn’t enough to hurt. Humiliation is the name of the game. Endure enough, and you start to slip away into the ether; you become a living, breathing ghost. I subsist on sugar and water, I’ve started showering with all the lights off. It feels like a womb.

Haunted. It’s as good a descriptor as any.


Memory is a funny thing. I find myself wondering when I’ll let go of the things that were done to me, but that meanness I was born with rears up and catches in my throat, and it’s all I can feel. His hands on me, the words he used to cut me. I think of the welts he left on my skin, and how good I got at covering them up, a talent too many women have had to master, and suddenly I’m moving through the dewy grass, carefully avoiding dig sites even though I know my feet won’t disturb them. I’ve come to respect this place, more than anyplace I ever did in life. I pick my way across the fields, into open areas I’ve never visited before. For some reason, it always felt very important not to stray, but now I think I know where everyone went.

And suddenly, there I am.

My body is partially exposed to the elements. I lay across a bed of thick ivy, beneath a canopy of leaves that block out only part of the midday sun. I stand over myself for the first time, marveling at how red my hair still looks against all that green.

I’m bloated. My pale skin has taken on a yellow tinge so that it looks bruised, but my tattoos are still there: the hot air balloon I got after I left him, the stargazer lilies for the babies I lost, the row of planets down my spine. The rose. That ink belongs to me. It marked me in a way no man ever could.

I think of all the things this body went through in life, all the pains and pleasures it took while it still could. I can’t think of the big things; it’s the little things that well up, like the way a slushy ginger ale tastes on a hot day and how, when I was a teenager, I used to drive through the country in the summer with the windows down. I’d turn Pink Floyd all the way up and push my arm out into the atmosphere, where it was buffeted by the wind. It felt like flying. But the good things, all those good things, can’t blot out the rest.

I wonder what everyone else thought of when they saw their bodies; if it was the little things or all the big ones that take up so much of our living days. I wonder how hard it was for them to let go of the bad in order to move forward.


I turn and see Old Joe, looking as lost as ever in his blue pajama pants. “Morning, Joe.”

“Where is everyone? Are we the only ones left?”

I swipe at my eyes and look around. “It would appear so.”

“I want to go home.”

I look at each and every tattoo, take them all in. I used to think that if I marked myself with ink, I’d be leaving something behind; that if I were found dead in a ditch, they would show the world what sort of person I was. And in a way, I guess, they do. I was here, they say. I was here for a while and look at what life did to me.

“I want to go home,” Joe says again, only Joe can’t go home. His broken mind can’t take him to the right path.

“This is home,” I say softly. I roll the last word around on my tongue for a moment, the syllables as bitter as crushed almonds. “This is your home.”




Amanda Crum is an artist and writer whose work can be found in publications such as The Bluegrass Accolade, SQ Magazine, and Blue Moon Art And Literary Review. She currently lives in Kentucky with her husband and two children and has a shameless love of Mexican food.

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