The Dead Thing in the Backyard

by by Noah Prestwich

illustration by by Jehane Samaha

Nobody speaks to the dead thing in the backyard.

The dog chews on it.  Slobbers on it.  Tries to lick it back to life.   No use.  That thing is dead.  It wants to be dead maybe.

The dead thing in the backyard touches everything it can.  The ground.  The grass.  A million flies.  Their fly babies.  Dog fur.  Dog skin.

Every thing it touches becomes part of it.  Becomes part of the dead thing in the backyard.  It almost got to be part of me too.  But I’m not touching that thing.  No way.

I spoke to the dead thing in the backyard and my words fell into it and got stuck in its rotting bloodness. The words meant less against the bloodness that seemed to make the dead thing dead.  I saw them fall into the maggot mouths attached to the maggots that call the dead thing their home, home and food all in one.  Living in their dinner.

I try not to play with my food.  I try not to live in it.

I told my mother about the dead thing in the backyard and the dog and their relationship that I find somewhat unholy and twisted in a deep, dark, and very real sense.  She pushed down my tongue with her thumb.  Mother made me drool.

That’s what you get for talking to the dead.

I said why does the dog know the dead thing but I can’t?

That dog has fleas in its hair that tell it nightly what it wants and truly really needs to know and I can’t say the same for you.

Sometimes my mother speaks in a heavily accented Morse code between vowels.  She spells her intentions in clicks that flick on my brain reminding me nightly of fleas on the dead thing.  I wonder if they made speed bumps for hearing.  I know I would.  Spitting while speaking is not uncommon in the home area.

When punctuation speaks, it’s hard to stop the word.

That’s how I found out I never had any fleas.  Something people should know about me.  Something I should know about me but until this point had not been privy to.  I’m glad I learned this truth from my mother sooner than later.  I never had any fleas.  Not yet.

Mother speaks to me and to my father but not to the dead thing in the backyard.  No one speaks to the dead thing in the backyard.  Only me and I learned my lesson.  I’m not getting stuck in the bloodness with my words all rotten and empty.  Fooled me once.  Where did my mother’s language go?

There’s a talkless rule about this old house.  No one told me but I don’t have to be told to know.

The dead thing in the backyard must get lonely with its only friend being the dog and they’re not really even friends, just assistants.  Acquaintances, working together for something.  I guess it’s got all those maggots.  They must be not so fun to talk to.  I wonder if they conjugate their weakest verbs.  I would but that’s me and what do I know?  I never had any fleas.  I wasn’t one though I was once in a dream I had.

My dog is special though.

I’ve imagined his voice against the back of my eye.  Fluttering.  Crawling.  Always slipping.  I.  I. Stillness does not belong to my dog.  He’s a full-bred dog from south of the border and we call him Burley.  My grandfather named him right before he died.  Before my grandfather died.  His last words to me were “I” and “this” and “under my skin.”

Sometimes I see a secret in the dog that hints at other voices present in our lives in the backyard.  I think the dead thing sees it too.  At least if it can.  It probably can’t see seeing as it is dead.  Then again, I could see how death could have moments of sight.  I’ve certainly seen moments of death in my life and I’m not dead.  Not yet.  Not yet I’m not.  Not today.

Not now.

There’s a secret in my dog and it has to do with the dead thing but I can’t work it out.  There’s a reason for the rubbing.  There’s a soundness to the paw against the blood and it makes my mouth dry.  We’re all dry-mouthed around here.  Except when we’re spitting.  How do you keep the water inside?  We’re losing it with all this droughting.

Neighbor and madman Douglass Freckle teases my dog with firecracky boobie traps designed to make crazed the canine mind.  I told my mother but she feels bad for Douglass Freckle and his tendencies.  She says-

One day he’ll be the death of us.

I said why don’t we go kill him then?  She packed her thumb down on my tongue until the spit came up to my teeth.  Made me gush.  What a funny picture.  I can remember that picture for when I need a laugh.

Mother speaks to me presently accented as she sometimes does and I translate with my Morse code dictionary but it comes out slow and strange like—



Get I




When I




I think my mother is trying to tell me about her country, which I have only heard her speak of in sleep so I say: Yes, tell me.  Tell me the story of your country. I want to know.

(And I do.  I really do.  But I’m not the only one.  Something else here is listening and it’s listening loud.)

Translation comes easier this time.  Night.  This Night helps translation.  Family recipe.

She speaks slowly so I understand.  I’m writing this down.  I’m writing down my mother’s words and I’m listening.  So is the dead thing in the backyard.  So is the dog.  Where are the maggots?  They’re in the dead thing.  Okay, we’re ready.

The story she goes on to tell is old and sad.  Full of cats and old women and sailors and dirty wood and disease.  There are good parts and we laugh at the funny parts, me and my father who does not speak but only laughs now.  Cannot speak, can only laugh.  My laughing father and I, we can laugh now.  My mother, she goes on clicking—

There was a different place.  Time.  I would feel—I could touch—my taste—

My father is smiling and holding her knee.  He is from my country.  He married this foreigner and he is proud of this.  A picture of it.  A realistic photograph of this event; you can find it on our wall in this home area.  He wears a hat.  She, a beautiful gown.

(He does not speak ever to anybody.  Only laughs now.  A quiet, squealing laugh.  He’s been known to snort at maximum hilarity.  My old man, when will you go?  Where did grandfather go?  “I” and “this” and “under my skin.”)


Dead things in the backyard, they didn’t try to touch back then there.  Instead we touched them.  We wanted to.  Then the dead things in the backyard.  More than just one dead thing.  And they all wanted to get touched.  We couldn’t help ourselves and we couldn’t help them.  We knew very little then there.  So small.  So.  Talkless.

I feel the backyard pull me from my bed.  I feel the deadness that was in it.  I feel the thingness that was dead there.  I feel these things now against my mother’s transcription.  Dots.  Polka-dotted words.  Dash—A code from her country.  A story of her past.  Father laughs. The one he uses for memories and listening.  No snorts.  Just guffaw.

Never touch that thing.  Never touch that dead thing.

I say no I would never do that.

Good.  That’s good.

But these words.  They’ve fallen.  Drooled.  Smooshed.  Deep down into the dead thing in the backyard.  On dog hair.  On grass.  Against the bloodness, all this is rotten.  Too squished for code.  Too dark for ink.  Hollow breath.  Maggot mouth.