“When in doubt, bury someone alive.” – Edgar Allan Poe
You see, Tag didn’t really believe he was to blame for Clara’s murder. In hindsight, that might be because she was already dead when he and Dante killed her, but that was beside the point. Tag met Clara in a dumpster. What was she doing in the dumpster? Neither you nor I will ever know. What I can tell you, though, is why Tag himself was in a dumpster behind a taco shop, wearing nothing but one of Stoney’s seven coats and a purple shawl Gusta knitted for him only the day before.
Tag was, for lack of better words, homeless. Homeless much like Gusta, Stoney, and Charles were. Whether or not Charles was homeless could be debated.
That night, the night he met Clara (the dead girl he kills in the future, though he is not to blame for that), it was his turn to find dinner. Now, Tag could hunt pretty well for someone who lived in the middle of the city, but living in the middle of the city makes it pretty hard to hunt, since it just so happens that no huntable animals live in the middle of the city. Why he was wearing one of Stoney’s seven coats, a cheesecloth around his neck, and a purple shawl Gusta knitted for him just a day before, you’ll have to find out another time. Tag certainly won’t be telling you, and to this day only Dante has figured it out.
Tag lived behind a towel shop, which was only a block away from the perfume shop he had been fired from. His boss had liked to say he started too many floods and was always covered in pigeon feathers, which isn’t great for business, Tag, get a grip. And so, poof, he was fired, lost his house in a fire (which he really didn’t start, in case you were wondering; his sister usually started those) and found himself living behind a towel shop on Gecko street with a bodybuilder, someone who was not a stoner, and an old Hungarian lady who still told them all folk tales before bed—despite the fact that they were all grown men.
Tag met Clara in a dumpster, on the one night a week he was really given a responsibility. You can imagine his discomfort at having to wake the girl up, but she was sitting comfortably on the freshest bag of Jim’s Taco Shop garbage, and all Tag wanted to do was get back to the towel shop alley and go to bed.
“Excuse me, miss,” Tag started, leaning over the blue dumpster in the dead of night, trying to tie the coat around his waist with the green rope he had found coiled around a tree 10 minutes before. “Miss, miss?”
He shuffled around a bag of what looked to be broken rat traps, as if the sound itself could wake her up. Tag wasn’t fond of touching people, simply because skin had an unusual texture most of the time. (He much rather preferred birds.)
The sleeping girl woke slowly, moving her head side to side, then up and down like that of what might be a turkey going out in the middle of January for an evening stroll with his friends and relations.
“Yes, well-” Tag continued, re-tying the green cord around his waist in what appeared to be a nervous gesture now. “I don’t mean to disturb you, yes, but you’re sitting on my dinner.”
The girl making turkey-like movements now made less-turkey-like movements and rubbed her large hand across her face, like she was waking up from a disturbing dream and only entering a more disturbing reality which she didn’t want to be a part of in the slightest. Tag, however, continued, now frantically shaking the bag of broken rat traps like it was a maraca full of drugged bees and he was someone who happened to be quite allergic to bees that got drugged from time to time.
“And I really, kind-of need to eat that, so if you could please be as so kind to kinda-”
Then, a perfectly good working rat trap that had only been mistaken for a broken rat trap clamped tightly around his finger, making Tag give a yell that wasn’t exactly manly, but anyone who wasn’t there would tell you that it must have been a very quiet yell, therefore whether or not it was the most manly or not was not very relevant.
“You see,” Tag was able to wheeze out, after a long line of slightly louder wheezes and a singular small curse that he would definitely be regretting later. “If you could get up for just a moment, I’ll be out of your hair in a minute, miss.”
The girl who now wasn’t sleeping in the blue dumpster, but was in fact very much awake and slightly disgruntled from the rapid talking she had just endured, followed by his erratic movements and boisterous hand waves, tried standing for a moment before deciding it just wasn’t worth it and sinking deeper into the bag of taco-shell garbage that Tag desperately wanted to enjoy for dinner.
Tag stared at her for what was longer than a minute for anyone who happened to be walking by, but was in actuality just roughly twenty seconds for himself and the girl who was no longer sleeping in the blue dumpster. A rat scurried past them, climbing into the dumpster before looking at the rat traps and deciding he was not suicidal that day, but would keep it in mind for when his mother-in-law came to visit in the coming months. Then he jumped back out again and tip-toed off. It was only when the rat left that Clara, who was only known as the not-so-sleeping dumpster girl by Tag, found the strength to shakily stand up and climb out of the dumpster. This allowed Tag to haul the trash bag full of Jim’s taco-garbage out and into his waiting lap.
“Yes, yes, thanks, I’m so sorry to wake you, you see, this was very important.”
Tag took the bag from the bottom and dumped it onto the wet cement floor, not caring in the slightest when something that definitely wasn’t a rat came flying at his face then flew away despite the illusion that it did not have wings.
“I’m glad you woke up. For a minute I thought you might be dead. Yes, thanks for waking up,” he continued, not looking at the girl, who had yet to introduce herself and was a bit confused as to how she had somehow escaped her grave and ended up here.
“I don’t want to be the one to find a dead girl in a dumpster. That’s not too bright of a thing to do. You see, I’m getting dinner.”
Clara, who hadn’t opened her eyes in a substantial amount of time, ignored him to look around at the lights that flickered on and off outside the back window of the taco shop that looked to be owned by someone named Jim.
“Yes, I said that already, I remember saying that already, I’m sorry, you see, I’m not used to finding sleeping girls in dumpsters.”
Clara pretended to listen, but she doubted sleeping girls were found in dumpsters on a regular basis and admired how well the poor guy wearing only a coat and a purple shawl over his head was dealing with her. He didn’t seem to be in the best of places at the moment, mentally and financially, seeing as he did find her as he was looking through a dumpster behind a taco shop.
“I don’t usually go sneaking around dumpsters, only from occasion to occasion, in case you wanted to know,” Tag continued.
If anyone had looked at her at this moment, since Tag certainly wasn’t, they would have realized that she couldn’t care in the slightest whether or not he spent his days dumpster diving. She looked at her hands, which were not yet decaying, but she could feel the process start up like an engine was placed in her gut—except the engine didn’t work properly anymore and therefore the car it was running should not be moving, yet somehow it was.
“Not that I’m appalled by dumpsters-I do spend a majority of my time sleeping in them, but sleeping in a dumpster and sneaking around one are both two very, very different things.”
Tag stood up, the cheesecloth he had tucked around his neck now full of taco meat, shells, and what appeared to be lettuce if you tried to squint your eyes and pray real hard.
“Yes, uh, I’m going to go home now. Well, it’s only a towel shop. I live behind a towel shop.”
She watched him rephrase, then rephrase again, then do it another time for good measure. He started to walk down the alley, still talking as if he expected her to follow but wouldn’t be disappointed if she decided against it and instead got back inside the dumpster.
“Where do you live? Oh, yes, that’s not a very good question to ask. Don’t tell me, I don’t think you want me to know. Are you sleeping in a dumpster because you don’t have a home? Usually people sleeping in dumpsters are sleeping in dumpsters because they either don’t have a home or they are dead.”
Clara, luckily for Tag, didn’t want to go back to sleep in the dumpster, mainly because she couldn’t quite remember how she got there and didn’t trust herself to find out. There were many words you could use to describe Clara, but none of them were along the lines of reckless. To what would be Tag’s future relief, she took a small step forward, and, figuring that she could remember to walk, Clara daintily took one step after the other and walked swiftly after him.
“You don’t look like you’re dead, though, because you are standing up and looking at me, which a dead person can’t do. Believe me, I should know, I’ve seen a dead person before.” Tag spoke, Clara in tow behind them as they took a left, then a right, then crossed through a large field of corn that shouldn’t be in the middle of the city but appeared there from time to time and wouldn’t be stopping any time soon that Clara and Tag existed in.
“I am going home now. Yes, I don’t have a home either. Well, you see, I do now, I supposed. You see, I live behind a towel shop.” Clara wanted to tell him that she did not see, since she tended to go blind at random moments and was momentarily only following so closely behind him because of the sheer fact that she could smell a heavy lilac perfume on his person that made her wish that she had something in her stomach to throw up.
“I’m bringing my family dinner,” he told her, which she distinctly remembered him saying only a number of times before. But, seeing as he had woken her up and was now keeping her company, she decided not to mention it. “Or, they are not family, I don’t think. They’re like family, I believe, yes, but you’ll have to ask them.” Tag did not notice Clara shake her head, since she did not want to ask them, and would not be doing so. “I don’t really know if we’re family or not. Either way, we live behind the towel shop together and-we’re here!”
Tag made an abrupt stop, turning to his side and pointing towards another dark alleyway that smelled strongly of lilac perfume that only accentuated the damp, earthy smell they were obviously trying to keep out. Clara sighed, peering into the darkness.
At first, you couldn’t see a thing until your eyes adjusted to the green and brown lights that came from the back window of the rundown towel shop, which did not sell towels at all, and had a very misleading name.
Against the brick wall, there was a large man with a cat-print jacket on, and he was looking down at a small book with a cow on the cover. A tiny boy with long hair and dirty pants was pointing at the book in the large man’s hands, sounding out the words for the man, who was making distressed noises the whole way through.
“You know what? I think Gusta is going to love you,” Tag told her, walking into the alleyway and making a gesture with his whole arm that probably meant Follow Me.“
You have very expressive eyebrows, if you didn’t know.” Clara studied the tents that lined the back of the alley and along the walls. They were made completely out of towels sewed together with straw and old red string, which was ironic in its own way. Quilts and sheets were held up by lemon crates that were piled up on one side to make what could be described only as a doorway if it was a slightly overcast day and you weren’t looking directly at it. All put together, it took on the form of a not-so-sturdy pillow fort that looked like it would crash down any second but must have been working pretty well for so many people to live in it.
“You see Charles over there?” Tag made a motion with his cheesecloth towards the large man reading a cow picture book. “He doesn’t have eyebrows, for some reason. Gusta doesn’t like that.” Tag ducked under one of the towels placed haphazardly over their heads and ventured inside the small shelter, Clara slowly making her way behind him.
The inside was lit up by only a lilac-scented candle, which made sense given the strong scent that kept trying to seep into her pores. An old Hungarian women sitting in the very corner, covered in an old, colorful quilt, was knitting what could possibly be a shirt with nothing but rusted needles and poor string.
“This is Gusta,” Tag introduced, the small women getting up from her place seated on the floor and hobbling over to them with a large smile. She spoke to Tag first, but she spoke in a language neither Clara nor her companion understood. Despite this, Gusta went right on talking as though she didn’t know Tag couldn’t understand her. It was only when she had finished her monologue, grasping the cheesecloth from Tag’s limp hand and calling out in a loud voice for the others, that she turned to Clara and spoke in relatively polite English.