an awful truth I hadn't begun to imagine. “I’m gonna keep
trying her… until she picks up… until I hear her voice… until…”
The ringing was faint, from
inside my dorm. But it was there. Evan brought his phone down and stared at me,
and I stared right back. Neither of us said a word. We both covered our noses
and opened the door. The ringing echoed across the room, and came from under
From Melanie's purse.
I walked across the room, dropped
down to my knees, and pulled the purse toward me; it had been hidden pretty
well under her desk, but I was still shocked I hadn't seen it before. I
accidentally caught another whiff of the smell, and gagged, briefly, against
the carpet. I took out the phone. It was Melanie’s. It rang one more time,
before Evan’s call went to voice-mail.
I looked back at Evan. He
wasn’t focused on me; he was looking up, in a hypnotic trance.
“Oh dear God,” he said.
I followed his gaze to the
top bunk. The realization didn’t hit me right away. I still thought the smell
had to be coming from a dead rat, or a dead mouse, or any other kind of dead
But then I saw the feet. Again.
“ What ?” I said.
I jumped up on Melanie's desk
and darted my eyes toward the bunk. Near the edge were the covers, rolled up
into a ball. On the other side, shoved up against the wall, was a body, turned
on its side. Flies were circling it.
“No,” I said. “No, no, no,
I crawled up onto the bed,
brought my hand down from my nose to the mattress. My tears started to
overwhelm me, to the point that the stench didn’t faze me.
“Melanie…” I reached out for
her arm. My hand was shaking. My whole body trembled with a miserable medley of
terror and grief. “Melanie, talk to me…”
I pushed on her shoulder, and
she rolled toward me. I struck my fists against the ceiling and screamed.
Her eyes were all white, her
skin was piss yellow, her face was melting against the sheets like a microwaved
ice cream bar. Her mouth dropped open, and a worm slithered out, right onto my
I screamed, again, this time
so loud I must have caught the attention of the entire campus. I fell off the
bed, and slammed my head, my back—everything—against the carpet.
I got the wind knocked out of
But I really wished I had
“Melanie,” I said. “She’s…
Evan pulled me up and wrapped
his arms around me. He started sobbing, uncontrollably, against the top of my
“She’s gone ,” he said.
“Are you ready?”
I stared at myself in the mirror. The lipstick was too
much. I grabbed a piece of toilet paper and blotted it off. “I just need one
more minute,” I said. “Can you hang on a sec?”
I pulled down on my dress, the only one I had in the
appropriate color. It was so tight and uncomfortable that I considered tossing
it in the trash and buying something at a thrift store along the way, but there
I cocked my head to the left and right, then grabbed
another of my lipsticks. Raised it to my face.
Another knock on the door. “Sydney, we have to go.
We’re gonna be late.”
I sighed, and set the lipstick down. “All right, I’m
I followed Lukas out of our apartment, toward the
parking lot. We headed down the two flights of stairs and passed the crowded
swimming pool. He unlocked his Volkswagon Jetta and opened the passenger door for
“You don’t have to do that,” I said.
“It’s fine.” He nodded to me as I sat down, then hurried
over to the driver’s seat and turned on the ignition. He was wearing all
black—shirt, slacks, belt—but sported a pink tie. “The funeral
should have a little color,” he told
me an hour ago. “It’s what Melanie would have wanted.”
I wanted to assure him he had no idea what Melanie
would have wanted, but then I remembered he knew about as much as I did. Would
Melanie have wanted to be buried or cremated? Would she have