The dead body lay on the side of the road, some twenty yards back from where Mark and Christina’s old Volvo had come to a screeching halt. The rear end of the car, just like the dead man’s lower half, was jutting out into the opposing lane. The tail lights intermittently poured a deep red glow over his motionless legs, while everything above the waist was concealed within the dense pile of snow left behind by the plough.
‘I didn’t even see him,’ Mark told his wife. ‘I swear, I didn’t. I don’t even remember hitting anything.’
‘You’ll go to jail for this, Mark, you piece of shit,’ Christina was saying. She drew her thin, pink cardigan together over her bare shoulders and shivered. ‘You’ll go straight to jail, Mark. Straight to jail.’
‘Oh God! I didn’t even see him. Oh God! You’re drunker than me, Chris, I only had-’
‘But you were the one driving, Mark, you dumb shit! You’re going straight to jail. Straight to-’
‘Shut up!’ he said, clenching his fists and bringing them together around the back of his head. ‘Just shut up! I can’t go to jail, for God’s sake!’
‘Straight to jail,’ Christina was murmuring. ‘Straight to jail.’ Her eyes were fixated on the dead man’s legs. He was too far away for a conclusive diagnosis, and she dared not take a single step closer. But through the light sleet obscuring her view, he certainly appeared to be dead. Mark was checking the front of the Volvo.
‘There’s nothing here,’ he said. ‘Not so much as a scratch. We didn’t hit him, Chris. I didn’t hit him.’
‘Well, we sure as shit hit something, Mark. We sure hit something.’
Mark took a knee next to the front passenger-side tire. It had been completely shredded to the point where it clung unconvincingly to the exposed aluminium beneath. A small wooden handle jutted out toward him, and Mark yanked it free. The handle belonged to a knife, a switchblade, and it was stained almost entirely with thick, semi-clotted blood. It seeped between Mark’s fingers, as though he had thrust his fist into a half set bowl of jelly when he gripped the handle. The blade clattered twice as it bounced against the tarmac at his feet.
Christina turned back towards the car and said, ‘What’s that, Mark? What was that?’
‘Don’t go near it, Hon,’ he said. ‘Don’t pick that up.’ He wiped the palm of his hand on the pale brown lapel of his dinner jacket, and Christina screamed at the painted trail of red it left behind on her husband’s chest. ‘It’s not mine, Hon,’ he said. ‘It’s not mine, don’t go worrying. It was on that knife there, must’ve gotten stuck in our tire somehow, must’ve driven over it.’
Christina’s jaw hung loose from her face (catching flies, her mother would have called it) and she stared wide-eyed at her her husband’s crazed smile.
‘We didn’t hit him,’ he was saying. ‘We didn’t hit that man. He was already dead. We didn’t hit him. We’re not going to jail!’
Christina threw up. Remnants of her mother’s Christmas dinner poured over the tops of her feet. A small chunk, perhaps part of a sprout, or a mini pig-in-blanket, worked its way beneath the top of her shoe and lodged itself between her toes. She hopped, grabbed at the shoe, but the heel of her planted foot snapped, sending her sprawling to the ground. A pile of slushy, half melted snow matted her hair against the back of her dress, and she could feel drops of icy cold water trickling down through the fabric as she tried to sit up. Mark rushed to her side, and yanked her to her feet. Christina screamed. A red hand shaped stain had been transferred onto her forearm, and Mark scrambled to wipe it clean with the heel of his non-red hand. He spat on his palm, and scrubbed. Spat, scrubbed, spat, scrubbed. Christina yanked her arm free and collapsed back down on the slush covered road.
Some time later — it could have been thirty seconds, or thirty minutes — they were standing over the body. He had been a handsome man. Far more handsome than her husband, Christina caught herself thinking, as she so often did when looking at other men. But now his skin was pale. His eyes were open, and they were a vacant, misty blue. A web-like frost had begun to gather at his tear ducts and the corners of his open mouth. Below that mouth was another gaping hole, similar in shape and length, but this hole should not have been there. His throat was open, and thick red blood was still pouring from it rhythmically, as though it were being pumped out of him by a still-beating heart. The fresh blood poured down the sides of his neck, settling over the lighter dried blood already there, as though someone were adding a second, third, fourth coat of paint to a bright red room.
‘Don’t freak out,’ Mark said to his wife, ‘but we’re going to get back in that car and drive away.’
‘What?!’ she said.
‘We have to,’ he said. ‘In these situations, the people who report the body become the first suspects, and I don’t trust the police to not jump to any conclusions. Think about it, Chris. We were driving drunk, and my fingerprints are all over that knife.’
‘But surely we can just explain-’
‘No, we can’t. We’re part of this crime scene now. And even if we’re found not guilty, this kind of connection to a crime doesn’t go away. It stays with you. People talk, and I can’t have that tainting my reputation. You have to understand that. We’re going to get in that car, we’re going to drive home, and we’re taking that knife with us. We’ll get rid of it later.’
‘You want to destroy evidence at a crime scene because you don’t want to risk it hurting your re-election campaign? For a fucking village mayorship? Mark, honey, have you completely lost your mind?’
He clenched his fists around her shoulders, and she winced as his nails dug into her freezing-cold skin. ‘That’s my DNA on that knife, Chis. That’s my life about to go down the shitter, and I can’t stand by and let that happen. We’re innocent, Hon, I know that. We know that. Our consciences are clear, all we’re doing is changing a few little details. Making it so we were never here.’
Christina didn’t say anything. The wind picked up, whipping her damp hair across her face which had now grown numb from the cold. She would protest it later, but in that moment, she was just about to say, Okay. Let’s go home. But the words never came. Instead, a pair of headlights emerged in the distance. What would the driver have thought, when he drove by? A young couple pulled up by the roadside at midnight, stood beside a lifeless corpse, him clutching a bloodied knife and her appearing sick with guilt. Only one conclusion could be drawn from such a scene. Mark was the first to react, but both of them knew what had to be done.
‘I’ll grab the arms, you get the legs,’ he said.
The dead man landed in the field on the other side of the ditch, and rolled over onto his face. Mark leaped across, and dragged him deeper inside, beyond row after row of dead frost-covered crop. Christina kicked at the snow pile where the body had lay, concealing the blood as best she could. The car could have been no further away than a hundred yards when the pair started back up the road towards their Volvo with the red flashing hazard lights. Christina tugged at her husband’s bloodstained jacket, and he threw it to the ground as if it had caught fire, before kicking it into the ditch beside the car.
Mark and Christina waited for the car to pass, and prayed it would not be occupied by a Good Samaritan who would stop and say, ‘Hey, folks. It’s mighty cold out tonight, you two need a ride?’ Thankfully, the driver of the vehicle expressed no such sentiment, appearing as eager to get home following an arduous family Christmas dinner as had Mark and Christina prior to driving over that bloodied knife.
Once the car had passed, the two of them exchanged a look. It was a look they had exchanged on many occasions. Usually in the wake of a bitter argument, in which each party knew the other was right, but could not summon the will to admit it. Christina knowing, although she had protested initially, that she no longer had a choice but to follow through with Mark’s plan. And Mark, now realising his plan would henceforth involve disposing of a dead body rather than a meagre switchblade, acknowledging the short-sightedness of his initial idea. They had moved the body. There was no explaining that away. They weren’t just hiding a murder weapon now, they were hiding a victim.
In the minutes which followed, neither of them exchanged so much as a single syllable. Just that look. That long lingering look. The look that said, ‘That’s it. After this, we’re done.’ Because how could they move on from something so terrible? Any hope Mark still had of saving his marriage had died along with the nameless stranger on the side of that snowy country road on Christmas Day.
They loaded the dead man into the boot of the Volvo. Mark replaced the front passenger-side tire with the spare he liberated from beneath the dead man’s head. He retrieved the knife, and his bloodstained dinner jacket from down in the ditch. Christina picked up the heel from her broken shoe and pulled her cardigan down from the hedge it had blown into across the road. They sat in the car for a moment, their breaths steaming up the inside of the windshield as they panted, almost in unison, but not quite. Mark started the car and the radio between them fizzled to life;
I take a look at the driver next to me
He’s just the same
He’s driving home, driving home
Driving home for Christmas.