Body in a Barrel by Lindsey Baker Bower

When they found that body in a barrel at the bottom of Lake Mead I bet you were just as surprised as I was that it wasn’t a woman. They can go on and on as much as they’d like about mob murders—mob murders, mob murders, mob murders. That’s probably what this is. 

Remember swimming in the July lake when the water was like soup that sat out for a while? We would imagine there were dead women under us. We’d jump at any little thing that rolled over our toes under the water. 

I saw the story this morning after a late shift at the bar. “Late shift”—they’re all late shifts. I was alone in my little kitchen (Toby, who you so lovingly called Bug-Eyed Toby, is long gone—that’s another story), eating oatmeal, and the news was on my little TV. The water level is at a historic low, the ground all laid bare. 

Did you see the footage? The barrel was oxidized, dyed white by the minerals in the water. The people who found it could see the man’s belt. I don’t know why that detail sticks to me, that this man had been dead for decades, his belt cinched tight around his rotting middle. It got me thinking about what survives the water and what doesn’t. 

I went to lunch after with a woman I met through mutuals named Nora. I like her a lot (not as much as you—don’t worry). We drank margaritas and ate BLTs on rye and smoked and smoked, and she shook her head when I told her what the news said. 

“Just awful,” she said. And then I realized how it’s kind of fucked up that I didn’t even consider the fact of the life lost in that barrel. They found it, it wasn’t a woman’s body. I didn’t blink otherwise. 

Nora works at a strip club as a bartender. She went on to tell me a story about one of the girls who went home with a customer. Sounds sketchy, but he was a regular, and he’d come in wearing nice clothes (a belt?) and showing pictures of his kids, and everyone got real comfortable with him. They knew his name, even, but Nora wouldn’t tell me. She treats confidentiality more serious than a shrink, which is partly why I like her so much. 

Anyway, the girl went home with Regular Guy, and he drugged her and beat her. That’s the story. I waited for Nora to give me more—where is the girl now? Where is Regular Guy? He doesn’t still come in, does he?—but she twisted her forefinger and thumb in front of her lips, locking them up, keeping me out. 

Now why did she tell me a story like that? At first I thought it was because I clearly thirst for stories like that—grisly, quick stories that confirm my fears and make me happy to lock myself up alone at night. But then I realized it’s Vegas, and it was a story about a woman and a man she didn’t know very well. Sound familiar? I attract echoes. 

Nora started crying when I told her about you, and apologizing for telling that story, and I may have cried too. It’s hard to tell what’s crying and what’s the heat, or what’s the margarita. It’s hard to tell what moisture matters anymore.

I still drive by your house to see the flash of your blue rocks in the front yard, nestled in with all that tan. Tan, tan, tan. The new renters haven’t moved the rocks yet. Maybe they sense that if they did, I’d come in and rip them open with my hands just for something to do. Maybe they sense that this is only temporary—that one day, you’ll come back for all of us, and you’ll bring the blue rain with you. 


Lindsey Baker Bower (she/her) lives in Atlanta. Her fiction has appeared in The Forge, SmokeLong Quarterly, Third Point Press, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Georgia State University.