I have never understood this country's fascination with dead blondes. The way they smile at you from the color-coated stock of every magazine on the rack, the belligerence of black roots showing. They're on television when you wake up in the middle of the night and Warhol'ed across the tee shirts of boys who don't know a thing about mythology. Legions of them live on online, digitally looped across the collective consciousness. Their every postmortem move is narrated by the latest generation of dead blonde wannabees. Seems the bombshells' right to die an ordinary dust-to-dust kind of death has been revoked so that they can entertain us in perpetuity with their soft, lightly pigmented pathos. Sometimes they even seem to entertain themselves.
The most photogenic blondes are always laughing at something off camera that's slightly behind me and just to my left. Unless she's wearing sunglasses at dusk while clinging to the arm of some extramarital acquaintance. Then, her smile is duskier. More suggestive. The willfully blonde Amazon is a slightly different animal. Ten to one she's an undisclosed genetic male and engaged in some photographer's idea of ultra-feminine frolicking: maybe splashing among gentle waves, a multicolored string of a bikini riding high up the crack of her bulgeless ass. Laughter explodes from the bottom half of her face. She's overjoyed on cue and, apparently, impressed with herself for not having surgically enhanced her meager callipygian inheritance. She knows that the bewitched won't mind, and she doesn't much care about those whom she cannot move.
Lately there's been a bizarre glut of the two-for-one nastiness of the mother-and-child variety: some siliconed blonde leaning in to cuddle a two-year-old girl child with ghost-gold hair and candied lips. Their heads are always thrown back, their smiles chock-full of teeth and tonsils. That is, unless they're leaning into each other and laughing with only their eyes. Sometimes I think people keep plastering those pictures all over the place because they're hoping to finally detonate the unexploded potential of whatever secret hangs there between the two of them.
The suggestion that all these dead blondes had some kind of monopoly on loving their children or looking good in spandex is downright indecent. It's as if the blonde's trumped-up tit is supposed to make me believe that the heart that once beat beneath its suggestive swell was some kind of anatomical wonder. To have sustained such a blonde life! But the fabricators can sell that to somebody who's scrambling around for a clue. I've held hearts in my hands. For all their blunt complexity, they are very simple organs: they mark time in the same relentless rhythm for the blonde, the brunette, and the bald.
My heart is a wonderful case in point: it beats, no matter what. It thumps at my chest and pumps blood well enough to keep me on my feet day after day. And as long as I'm standing, I can drag the streets for bodies. My heart stays on duty whether I get paid or not, and the last time I collected a dime was 317 bodies ago. By all rights, I should be dead and not blonde-dead. Compostably dead. Nondisconfirmably ever extant. That kind of dead.
Not getting paid takes something out of me. Sometimes it feels as if it scoops out marrow. This lack of recompense makes me physically weak and wreaks a different kind of havoc on my will. But I just keep trawling the streets looking like a Holocaust survivor. And my dead bodies, along with the bodies deposited by some of the city's most reliable collectors, just sit there rotting away. Unregistered. Unburied. Unseen.
Two months ago Monday, I had some inkling that things were about to change. I didn't know then that I was going to force the issue. I had just dropped off a load of dead bodies, most of them males. Not one of them blonde. There's something stupid about me—the way hope jumps through me at the oddest times. Like when the fabricators showed up that day and started picking through the pile of black, brown, dead-leaf, and nut-colored bodies that were stacked like faggots on the left side of the damp basement floor. The stench of putrefying flesh mingled with the exotic storm of my anticipation that the fabricators had finally decided to tell the world a different tale. My abdomen swelled with the felt possibilities. I felt giddy with anticipation. Like I was close to recovery after a very long illness.
Maybe, I thought, the fabricators would script a story about the eighteen-year-old boy whose finely chiseled skull was stippled with points of black hair. I thought that because the oily little desk jockey with the boneless hands—the one responsible for lining up tellable tales—had reached out to stretch open one of the dead boy's eyes. Eyes that had been saturated with seeing until the night before, when one swift blow across the chest with a metal pole had knocked everything out of him: his seeing, his anger, his knowing. One last rip of a breath and it was all gone. His plucked-open eye wasn't naïve enough to ask the question, "Why?" People die. Accidentally. On purpose. At the whim of some airborne hatred.
While the porcine little storyteller gave the boy's sightless eyes a depthless look, I had swift visions of this young man splashing through waves, a thong cleaving his well-muscled buttocks into distinct lobes. Loving life. The loss of him hollowing out the imagination of the world, even as it sent it into overdrive. I could retire. Leave the collection and counting of the dead to somebody else. Even as I saw this picture in my mind's eye, I knew it wouldn't sell. The fabricators sucked hope out of me, like marrow from a bone, when they moved en masse over to the right side of the room.
And then things went back to normal. The fat boy shook his head, and some flunky wheeled out Dead Blonde Number 1, the one who had died under "suspicious" circumstances in a motel way the hell off the highway some damn where. The whodunit of her death had long since decomposed into a who-cares-anyway? At least for me. But the fabricators kept picking through the rot of scattered, plotless pieces and inventing new collages of possible, bygone truths.
I can still remember the day they dragged her in—a couple of well-dressed collectors, grinning from ear to ear. They must have known that they had it made because, not only was the body blonde, she was still fresh from the kill. Cyanosis hadn't yet begun to creep over her skin. You could see from the way the guys handled her that her skin still dimpled under their touch. The collectors had been very careful to highlight this simple fact. And to mention that she still smelled like meat and milk, or the last sexual act she had ever had. Or someone had had on her. That was a big selling point, especially because nobody ever found out who had manned that last sperm drop into her pink depths. That gave the fabricators yards and yards of potential story line.
The body was bathed in preservatives that same day, and the collectors were paid a handsome price. I like that word, handsome. It fits. They were paid so much money that even the ugly lines squiggling through life rectified themselves. Got handsome. And the collectors retired. I imagine them lying on a beach somewhere far from rotting flesh, counting the proliferation of well-formed zeros that round out their bank accounts. Let's not even talk about the residuals they get each and every time one of those sun-deprived liars spins another story the blonde for public consumption.
I am beyond hoping that I'll break into merchandising for the sake of making a quick buck. Beyond believing the fantasy that making money off of one dead body will buy me freedom from the endless task of counting all the others. But if I don't break the blonde's stronghold on the media, I can't get any other story in front of the judge. And if the judge doesn't hear another story, no decisions can be rendered. On anything.
That day intuition locked hands with desperation, and together they ruled me. I knew for certain that I was thinking just the way the judge was thinking: If I have to read about dead people, at least let me read about all kinds of dead people. Flat-chested ones. Males. Ugly, celibate, toothless brunettes. Navajos and Haitians. Fat, unapologetic gender benders. Then I can mete out real justice. Codify realistic remembrance, and not just repeat the pointless sentencing of the inconsequential. I knew that the judge and I were being wasted. What's more, I knew how to change things and relieve everybody's boredom in the process.
The plan came to me whole, and I acted on it right away: I crept into the chamber where the blondes were kept for the annual age progression extravaganza. This is when the bodies were photographed, digitized, and forced to star in speculative retrospectives and futurographies. Before the cryogenetecist weighed in on the Frankensteinian prospect of resurrecting a body (blondes first!), I scalped Dead Blonde Number 1. I sliced around her hairline and lifted off the fraying mane that had been her crowning glory in life and everybody else's meal ticket in death. I left the body outside its storage chamber, the face beginning its slow slide off the bone.
I crawled through the cavernous halls, the rag of flesh and hair stuffed down the front of my shirt. Then I sneaked into the other chambers, where the second- and third-string dead blondes were kept. I scalped them, too. My shirt was stuffed with the rubbery stink of ash blonde, strawberry blonde, and drugstore platinum rags of hair.
The next morning nothing happened because the fabricators were too busy vomiting and crying. One of them wailed, "Why?" Somebody else added a, "What are we going to do?" to the chorus of cries. They ignored the pile of dead bodies, which any Nazi worth his weight in ash would have been happy to claim as his own. They actually mourned the scalped blondes for another 7.25 hours and then—surprise—incinerated them.
That night I made my way back to the counting house and sewed the rags of blonde over the skulls of several of the bodies I had collected. I basted them on, because I was hoping to re-use the scalps until the streets were clean and I was out of debt. Only the freshest of the dead could take the stitching. But the newly dead are never is short supply.
The next morning, you would have thought it was Christmas, the way the fabricators lined up to touch the heads of my dead bodies. Their fingers played through the played-out hair as they peered into dead eyes looking for souls that had long since departed. The juxtaposition of blonde scalp and black face forced their collective imagination into new territory. Newspapers and magazines snapped up any stories the fabricators could provide. But in very short order, the glut of dead blondes was ridiculously thick.
The fabricators found it impossible to sustain the headlines, and their outrage began to scatter. Before long, exclamatory caps shrank down to pointless type crammed into white spaces, because everybody—absolutely everybody—had lost their fascination for dead blondes.