I was thankful for the dead guy’s food. It had kept me alive in the caved-in tunnel for the past two days. The dead guy, it might be said, taught me to like tartar sauce and dried fish. I found these in his lunch box just after the water from what appeared to be a broken sewer main began pooling at our feet.
If this was my last will and testament scribbled by company Sharpie on my dead partner’s back after taking off his shirt and his woolen undergarment, I began by making it known that this has been a most terrible finale to a most dismal and terrible life. I wrote this up near the nape of his neck and down the length of his hairy back. But then I wondered what kind of last words were those to be memorialized for?
I crossed that out and wrote down his left arm, “Reach for your dreams.” And around his wrist: “Carpe diem. Seize the day.” Finally, I wrote across his lower backside, “Wag more, bark less.” This all made me feel a little better.
I turned him around—not an easy task in this tight space, for he was a large man—and by the light of my headlamp, I told my brother, the union president, to keep up his good fight against the company and that he could have my baseball card and coin collections. I wrote this down the dead guy’s chest and across the vast geography of his belly, even as he gurgled, actually gurgled. But it was only air bubbles, I reasoned, trapped intestinal gases that needed to come out, or whatever.
I pulled down the dead guy’s trousers. “I love you very much and am sorry,” I wrote to my wife, very near the dead man’s pubic region, “for any pain I may have inadvertently caused you over the years.” To my mother, I said not to cry.
Up the dead man’s left quadricep, I wrote, “I’ll be with Dad soon…” and down his left thigh, “in heaven?” I crossed that out, that last question mark, and made it an exclamation point. And at that, then, just in fact as I dotted the exclamation on his kneecap, the dead man woke with another gurgle and a sigh.
“Joe!” I said. “I thought you were dead.”
He turned on his head lamp and held out his arms to see that I’d written there, but he was unable to decipher what it meant. He looked down at his fatty stomach, and pulled it away to see his leg, but none of it could he apparently understand. As it turned out, Joe couldn’t read.
“Why am I naked?” he finally said. “And why are my pants down at my ankles, sitting in the stinky water?”
“Joe,” I said again. “I thought you were dead. And your body was the only thing I could find to write on. I hope you don’t mind.”
He nodded like he understood and motioned for the pen. ”Strip,” he said.
“That tickles,” I said and giggled after I stripped, as he drew a heart around my nipple. Joe couldn’t read or write, perhaps, but he was a very good artist. This had been known for years all over camp. Next to the heart and a quick portrait of his daughter, he drew a unicorn jumping through a rainbow.
Alongside a portrait of his son on my stomach, he drew a boner, pointing upwards and slightly to the left. He handed me the pen and told me to write something. As difficult as this task was to write backwards and upside down beneath Joe’s drawing of the boner across my own midriff, I felt like I did a fine job. “Seed the world with your dreams!” I handed the pen back to him, and next to the boner, he drew an army tank and a trombone.
Joe flashed his white enamel as he held me out to examine his work in the dim light of his lamp. He was proud of what he had done and I, when looking back at him, was proud of mine. With the shitty drackle from the broken sewer main now up to our shins, he took the pen and continued working. And that was how the other miners of the rescue crew later found us after shining their lights into our squinting faces when clearing away the last of the rubble: Joe hovering over my neck with the pen, the Sharpie, drawing a final bouquet of black flowers for his wife.