It is not as though Shelly fears waking up surrounded by the dead every morning, exactly, since the dead are in every way natural, that is, it is to be expected eventually by the time starlight makes its way from us to the next star over, that we will all be gone, vanished into a point or a line in an epic poem or the great whatever. And she is not squeamish about these sorts of things—she’s seen bodies, for God’s sake; she’s seen hundreds of them, been down to the morgue for identifications, seen them cut up like pumpkin pies for medical exploration. She’s walked through the vivisected cow behind Plexiglass that caused such a stir at the Tate Gallery in London years back. She’s buried her father, a half-dozen friends, and a number of animals—a couple cats, a dog, twenty-one goldfish, two ill-advised rats, and a barracuda that lived less than a week. What Shelly hates—and this is why she sometimes panics in moments like this, lying next to her lover in the platform bed, the comforter wrapped around her like she is a mummy, hoping (and almost praying, even) for her to breathe, to exhibit some sign of life—is the thought of sleeping an entire night with a person without realizing that they are dead, that they are no longer a person at all. What would this, what does this say about her, that she would even wish them dead before sleep found her so she could tell in advance and at least do something, take on the immediate heartbreak instead of postponing it awfully until morning.
Not written in Ames, Iowa, nor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I don't think, though highly inflected by several experiences in and outside of Ames, particularly on one overpass I used to spend a lot of time at, from which I could watch traffic going East or West on what I remember as (but may not in fact be) US 30. There was no exit, only an overpass, and it was far enough out of town that no one came here except for the farms that the highway bordered. They were corn fields primarily, and this was the first time I had the sublime experience of being in a darkened field as thousands on thousands of fireflies lit up and flew all around me. Originally published in American Short Fiction.