Deleting the Dead

Car Dash Full


“There’s something remarkably sad about a website that belongs to a person who is dead,” Tina says. Her bare feet are up on the dashboard of my car, the window cracked so that she can periodically ash her cigarette out of it. I don’t let anyone smoke in my car, but Tina is the empress of the passenger seat. Her reality is as she wills it.

She has a flower in her hair, some pretty blue thing she had picked from the floral display at the grocery store, snapping it off the stem and putting it behind her ear as we passed. I’d never seen her pay for anything yet in the time I had known her, and I doubted that I ever would.

“I knew this girl once, back in high school. She got her head cut off in a car accident, all Jayne Manson-like…”

“Mansfield,” I interrupt.

“What?” she says.

“Jayne Mansfield. Not Manson.” I slow at a corner, and turn right, down a side street. “And she didn’t get her head cut off. It’s an urban legend.”

She sucks on her cigarette, obviously irritated with me. “Whatever. The point is that I was on Facebook yesterday and I saw that her page is still there, you know? She’s been dead five years, but she’s haunting the internet. She’s even got a couple of pictures of us together on there, which totally creeped me out.” She takes a final puff of her smoke, and tosses the smoldering butt out the window. “Somebody ought to have a job curating that stuff.”

“That would be a big job,” I say. “Facebook’s got a billion users.”

“So outsource it,” she say. “Everything’s run out of India anyway, right? Have a bunch of people whose job it is to look through obituaries and delete people off the internet who are dead. Or not delete them. Maybe just move them into an archive someplace.”

“An internet graveyard,” I sat. I slow at what I think is a parking space, but it is taken by a motorcycle that had been hidden in the shadow of the SUV parked next to it. I keep driving.

“Yeah, just like that. And they could store them all on special servers, put them in Palo Alto or someplace like that. And people could come and lay flowers by the computers. Like a new religion or something.”

Ahead of us, a car is backing out of a spot in front of a sushi joint. I pull up and wait for them to leave, then slip into the space they’d vacated. “Maybe that’s where we are right now,” I sat. I turn off the engine, but don’t open the door. “Maybe we’re dead and living in Cupertino in the back of some computer repair shop.”

“That’s a depressing thought,” Tina says. She takes the flower out of her hair and holds it in her hand, plucking loose a petal, and then another. “You’re such a downer sometimes, you know?”

“I knew a girl who drowned,” I say. “It was an accident. She went out too far, and the riptide got her. She didn’t have any family, don’t even know if she really had any friends other than me. Funny thing though, somebody took down all of her online accounts. Facebook, Twitter… all gone. I don’t even have a picture of her. It’s like she never even existed. Just a shadow against a cloud, and now nothing at all.”

Tina pulls the rest of the petals off the flower and drops them onto the floor of my car. “Goes to show you that everybody needs somebody to love them. Everyone needs to be remembered when they’re gone.”

“There’s too many everybodys,” I say, “and not enough somebodys. There’s not enough love to go around.”

She takes the pack of cigarettes out of her purse and shakes one halfway out of the box, before pushing it back inside and tossing the entire pack onto the dashboard. “I lost my appetite,” she says. “Take me back to your apartment.”

“You sure?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says, and then suddenly, as if she’s just realized I might have other ideas for the evening, she adds, “Unless you want something?”

I shake my head. “I ate a couple of hours ago,” I lie. “I’ll have something later. Maybe a sandwich or something.” I turn the key in the ignition, and the car starts up immediately.

“You should have some soup too,” she says. “Do you have some there? I could make it for you.”

I back the car out on the street, then put it into drive and start the trip back to my apartment. “It’s fine,” I say. “We’ll come up with something.”

We drive in silence for a dozen blocks, until she says, “I’m going to spend the night. I don’t want to go back home tonight.”

“Okay,” I say. “You can have the bed. I’ll take the couch.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s your place.” She touches her finger to a button on the door, and her window slides up, blocking out the night air. “We can share the bed.”

I take my eyes from the road and look at her, but she is looking away from me and out the window on her side. The lights of the night city pass by in a rush of neon blues and greens, casting her in alternating washes of color and darkness, and all I can see of her face is the ghost of a reflection in the glass, her features faded and blurred, like the finger of an outsourced god had tried to erase her from the world, but given up halfway through the job.

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