Andrew growled from the landing halfway up the stairs as the two men, inspectors wearing loose suits the color of ash, made for the door. Once they were gone the dog moved in a flurry, climbing his front paws onto the old piano bench and watching through the window.
Constance descended the staircase slowly and sat on the sofa and soon Andrew left the window, waiting for the girl to pat the cushion before hopping up and curling at her side.
“Those men were not nice,â€ she said.
“No,â€ her mother answered. She stood by the fireplace. “They weren’t. Although, to be fair, I wasn’t very nice either.â€
“You are to other people.â€
“Usually.â€ She smiled.
Constance nodded and scratched her dog’s neck. Andrew was a shedder, he shed red hairs onto her hand whenever she rubbed. She rubbed. The day was long and had left her exhausted and increasingly confused, which confusion too exhausted. She yawned and covered her mouth as she’d been taught, bringing the dog’s hair to her nose, which itched. She scratched and then sneezed in a way that flashed behind her eyes an image of the young man, Everett Pike’s smooth face vacant of life and traced with blood; his eyes, green eyes that for a young girl the only comparison was grass in the morning, dewy eyes open but unseeing. His body was what convinced her. She’d never seen a person so still. Nearly, she had thought, as she approached the body and crouched down, running a tiny finger along his hairline. Nearly a person but less. He was alive when she saw him first, but then as she got closer and sustained her look longer the boy stopped being alive, and became this other. She understood he was not living before she understood he was dead. It was strange. Then she flicked him, a flick as like she had seen her mom do to Andrew’s nose when he misbehaved. She flicked without meaning to. Stranger. Making a circle with her tiny index-fingernail pushing against her thumb’s meat as her hand hovered over the body’s forehead, she felt the tension in her fingernail, something like a tiny universe of energy, then she released and the sound was that like the boy’s head might have been wet wood. She stood up and moved his head with the bottom of her shoe, like a soccer ball. She did not feel the same responsibilities to him as she did someone who was alive. She recognized that, dead, he was incapable of feeling, and that feeling was the entire reason why you were supposed to treat people nicely. She kicked his head, then his shoulder with the inside of her right shoe, and the third kick she reared back for and delivered with all the force she could muster. Because any feelings you might cause in another you had to be willing to feel yourself. This was the primary rule of living. But now the rule revealed its impermanence, a flaw like a pressure crack and meanwhile the seasons work that crack open and closed, and it expands, a weakening.
“God bless you,â€ her mother said.