I’d been a member of the Coalition to Reclaim Wasted Food for five months when I discovered a decomposing body in the dumpster behind the Whole Foods at 24th and Noe. As I lifted a bunch of browning-but-still-edible bananas to the edge of the bin, I noticed what looked like a bloated surgical glove wedged between a box of expired baby food and a flat of surprisingly fresh strawberries. I carefully moved the strawberries to one side to investigate, discovering that the “glove” was actually a hand.

I ended my investigation there.

“Quincy!” I called, trying to get the attention of my Coalition-assigned partner who was busy inventorying moldy loaves of bread under the alley’s only light.

He raised a slender finger but did not look away from the bread. “One second.”

“This is important,” I said, my voice cracking.

“More important than feeding those less fortunate than us with the run-off of American consumerism?” Quincy was a freegan, so he took the whole dumpster diving thing very seriously.

“Yes.”

Quincy stopped counting loaves.

“There’s a dead person in here,” I blurted. I had done a good job of suppressing my emotions up to that point, but saying the words made the situation suddenly, alarmingly real.

Quincy arched one eyebrow, a gesture he usually reserved for evaluating the details of another person’s sex life. “Man or woman?” he asked. “Or child?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, look.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Lavender.” He said my name under his breath, shaking his head like an exasperated parent. “Just look.”

“Why don’t you come look?”

“Because I can’t stand blood.” He stated this as if it was a known scientific fact, like water freezing at zero degrees Celsius. “I’d pass out. Is that what you want?”

“I guess not.” I made myself glance behind me. The pale hand was attached to a slender arm, which was attached to a boney shoulder, which was attached to a curved, swan-like neck. I couldn’t look at the face. “It’s an adult,” I said. “A woman or a skinny man.”

Quincy sniffed a bag of open bread. “How’d she die?”

“How should I know? “

“Do you see any puncture wounds or bruises or anything?”

I flung one of my legs over the edge of the bin.

“What are you doing?” Quincy asked. “You said there were some nice strawberries in there.”

“Yeah. With a dead body!”

“Big deal. Members of the Coalition find a corpse every six months or so.”

I remained perched on the edge of the dumpster. “Then what do we do?”

Quincy put one hand on my leg. “Hand me the flat of strawberries and I’ll tell you the procedure.”

“No!” I said. “Those strawberries are contaminated.”

He rolled his eyes. “We’ll wash them before we serve them.”

I shifted my weight away from the bin. “Come get them yourself. I don’t see any blood to keep you away.”

Quincy’s hand on my leg went from comforting to restraining. “Stop being a bitch, Lavender.” He shoved me toward the trash. “Don’t let one dead person keep a hundred living ones from getting a meal.”

His logic made a kind of sense. And besides, I knew that he wasn’t going to let me out of the garbage until I gave him the produce. I grabbed both sides of the flat. It really did contain some nice strawberries, red and juicy. I slid the cardboard container across the lip of the dumpster.

While Quincy was busy examining the fruit, I leaped to the concrete. “We better call the police.”

Quincy didn’t answer, distracted by the berries.

“Quincy!” I shouted. “Let’s call the cops.”

He waved one hand at me. “Better to just leave it.”

“What do you mean?”

“They’ll find her eventually.”

“This is a person we’re talking about!”

“No, it’s a corpse. Nothing we can do about that now.”

“But we should report it. She probably has friends, family—people who are worried about her.”

Quincy sighed. “Look, Lav. You do realize that dumpster diving is technically illegal, right? If we call the police, they’re going to say we’re stealing food. If we get the cops involved in this, it’s just going to expose the Coalition to all kinds of scrutiny.”

“So, is this the procedure? Take the food and move on?”

“Pretty much.” He scooped up the flat of strawberries. “Grab those loaves of bread.”

Numb, I did as I was told. I felt shaken. I had thought the members of the Coalition were kind people. Do-gooders. I was going to have to seriously reconsider my membership.

Quincy hurried down the alleyway, glancing at his watch. “We’re supposed to start cooking at 9 o’clock.”

I followed him, bags of bread hanging from my hands. I glanced back at the dumpster, half expecting to see the dead woman rising from it like a zombie climbing from its grave.

Ahead of me, Quincy stepped onto Noe Street, still marveling over the beautiful strawberries.

And that’s when the Bayshore Express bus plowed into him.

Time seemed to slow down, and I saw Quincy hovering in mid-air like a freeze-frame from a movie. He looked almost angelic, his sneakers free from the bonds of gravity, his head thrown backwards in a scream or a laugh. Then time resumed its normal course and the bus rolled over him with a sickening ka-thunk-thunk.

The bus’s tires squealed, bringing the vehicle to an emergency stop. A bearded man in a blue uniform ran around the side of the bus, his shirt stretched tight over a distended gut. His face was drained of color as he examined the mound of twisted limbs, intestines, and blood-soaked clothing that had been Quincy. He puked, chunks of half-digested hot dog mixing with brain matter.

I wanted to comfort him. It hadn’t been his fault. Quincy hadn’t given him a chance to stop.

The bus driver looked up. Our eyes locked for the briefest of instants. “He came out of nowhere,” he stammered.

I felt suddenly exposed, as if I’d been transparent and was now visible.

I dropped the bread, turned, and ran.

****

Photo by Seerig (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.