Screaming is a health hazard

By James R. Vanselow

(This first appeared in the Eastern Writers Group
Anthology Elixir)

She screamed. And screamed again. I hit her and hit her, but she
wouldn’t stop. If only she had stopped screaming so that I could
have stopped hitting her. After a long time she stopped screaming.
She stopped breathing, too.
It wasn’t my fault she started screaming in the first place, but
after she started I had to stop her. All I did was ask her for a cigarette
and she started screaming. So what if I did have a knife in my
hand at the time, I was only holding it by my side. Life under the
overpass is rough and a guy has to protect himself. Christ, it’s not
as if I went up to her and waved my blade in her face and said,
“Give us a cigarette or I’ll cut your face.”

I want a cigarette all the more now, so I go through her coat pockets
and bag and she doesn’t have any. Why the hell she couldn’t
have told me, I don’t know. Here I am with a dead woman who is
not screaming any more and no cigarette between the two of us.
Pathetic really. The newspapers would headline this as Killed For A
Cigarette if they knew the details, but in fact she was killed because
she’d rather scream than tell me she had none.
She hasn’t got any money either, apart from a few coins that
don’t add up to a dollar. The only jewellery is a gold wedding ring.
It’s an effort, but with some twisting and tugging I manage to separate
it from her finger.
A gold ring, some coins, and a dead woman is what I have, and
all I want is a cigarette.
I have never had a corpse of my own before, but instinct tells
me there is something I am supposed to do. The Egyptians are
good with corpses. They wrap them up and build a pyramid over
them so you don’t know they’re there. I could pile some rocks
over her to make a pyramid but there isn’t any under the overpass.
wonder where the Egyptians get their rocks from in the desert. I

remember something about grave robbers and feel the gold ring
and coins in my hand. I don’t want anyone thinking I don’t take
proper care of my corpse, so I push the ring back on her finger and
put the coins in her bag.
The lamps of the roadway overhead light some patches and not
others. Someone might come along in the dark and trip over her
and get hurt real bad. I am reluctant to be too familiar with the
lady, especially as we haven’t been properly introduced. I say “Pardon
me” and take her real delicate-like under the armpits and drag
her over to a pillar where I sit her up. She looks a bit better now,
but the wind is cold so I unroll my blanket and put it around her.
Looks just like any down-and-out sleeping under the overpass. If it
wasn’t for the blood on her face she wouldn’t look all that bad.
I don’t want to lose control of the situation, so I step back and
think about what to do next. I get an idea. I hear around that the
police have lots of corpses and I hope they may be in the frame of
mind to give me a few free tips as to what I should do for mine. I
take a chance on bothering them at such a late hour and make a
call from the phone box at the end of the overpass.
§
A patrol car slides to a stop, lights flashing, and two guys in uniform
get out. I direct their attention to where the woman is sitting.
They shine their torches on her for a while and then one shakes
her by the shoulder and she doesn’t wake up, although I can’t say
I’m all that surprised. “Looks dead,” he says to his partner.
The two police officers now look at me and one says, “Do you
know what happened, mate?” I don’t want to get involved with
police officers I don’t know all that well, so I decide to say as little
as possible—leaving myself out of the picture so to speak.
“She was walking along and all of a sudden she started screaming
and flapping her arms. She started bleeding from the face and
fell down screaming and jerking around.
“After a while she stopped screaming and jerking and I made
her comfortable.”
“God, that must have been a terrible thing to see,” the police
officer says and fumbles in his pockets with his right hand before it
comes to rest on the butt of his holstered revolver. “Damn! No fags
again. I could kill for a smoke.”