They found the body on the side of Interstate 89 in Vermont, on a regular late summer day. There was nothing memorable about the humid heat and the trees reaching to the sky for rain that wasn’t due to come until the next evening. It was a boring stretch of highway, the kind where one would roll the windows down and sing their favorite song, hand hanging out the window, surrounded by blurs of trees and the occasional field. A prison inmate doing his time picking up Marlboro butts and Kit-Kat wrappers saw the flies first and thought it was just another deer, but as he walked over the smell got stronger, less animal, more acidic. It was the kind of biting smell that burns your lungs and permeates your tongue, almost fake like rotting barbeque, molding and hanging from trees on a particularly redneck haunted hayride in the middle of October. The inmate peeked over the embankment and upon seeing the source of the smell, yelled to his crewmates to come check it out, as he covered his nose with his shirt and stared.
When the crime van arrived, the body was surrounded by men in orange blazers and maggots. The first investigator out of the truck observed the body, a seasoned professional to the point where this was no longer a body, once a life, but just a item on his list of workday projects. The hair, yellow like a cheap scented candle at a discount store, was greasy and mangy, piled around the remnants of what had been a feminine face, now bloated and graying. Her tongue pushed past her teeth and the maggots had already begun to feast on it. Her body was clothed in cashmere and silk, an uncomfortable combination for the heat the county had been blessed with all September. Her feet, browned by dirt and age, had toes that matched the chipped nail polish on her hands. It was OPI, Excuse Me, Big Sur!, but that wouldn’t matter to anyone outside of a nail salon, the last place her body would be spending any time at now.
The day went according to the book – procedural, efficient. There were no hiccups, nothing unusual to find. It took hours to document everything accordingly. The heat bared down on the backs of the technicians, as they took photographs, documenting the way her body had been allegedly tossed out of a vehicle and rolled into the brush. Her clothes were dirty. Food stains, dirt, a small cigarette burn hole on the arm of the cashmere cardigan. The silk slip dress with a J. Crew tag was pale pink and nearly see through, not doing well to conceal the skin underneath. The investigator estimated she had been dead for the better half of a week. There was no blood splatter, no spectacular pool of blood for the body to soak into during her time on the side of the highway.
“She died simply,” he told his partner.
“Better that than something worse,” she replied.
They placed her carefully into a body bag as the investigator closed his notebook and got back in the passenger side of the van. They were professionals. This was just a job. He would go home to his wife in the evening and reply to her nagging interrogation of his day, “it was just a day.” They drove off into the sunset, leaving nothing behind but the crunched up weeds where her body had laid.
A few years earlier, the station would have been in shock over finding a dead body. But the drug activity outside of Burlington had skyrocketed, heroin and meth creeping their way into the sleepy town, and now her body brought with it depressingly drug fueled rumors that would hold only the attention of the local news station. The autopsy technician received the body with a sigh, assuming what he had seen already three times during the same month. An unlucky cop, assigned to office duty, checked the missing person’s report. Nothing. He called hospitals, homeless shelters, but drew blanks. They tagged her in the system, Jane Doe, September 2011. Jane Doe’s file and photos made her way through the station, and eventually to an eager reporter. She ran the story excitedly, updating every evening on the five o’clock news.
“Missing woman! Found on 89! Who is she? Who is her family?”
Her photo ran at every commercial break for a week. Nosy stay-at-home moms in their jogging groups talked. The details got passed around to anyone who felt an innate need to view death and mystery. They speculated, made assumptions. Rumors flew, it gave them something to do until the next big story.
A body on the side of the highway!
Meth is a crazy drug, do you think she’s a junkie?
Cashmere and silk, she must be somebody!
Look at that hair, a down on her luck hooker?
I wonder if she has children somewhere?
The women talked about her with contempt. They created a story. She had a family she had abandoned, a child looking sadly for his mother. Someone commented on the designer brands that were noted. Stolen? Maybe, but they looked almost made for her. The men commented on her body. She had been beautiful once, that was clear even with the impending decay. The agreement between the sexes was that Jane Doe knew how to take care of herself, that there had to have been obscene amounts of money spent on her to still retain whatever beauty and infatuation that a rough life and a boring death couldn’t even mask. But the questions faded with the days that passed by. The story never outgrew the small town. Nobody came forth to claim the mysterious woman. Her autopsy came back, prescription pills in her system, obviously unable to determine if they were hers. Her liver indicated severe alcoholism. She wasn’t altogether unhealthy, but she wasn’t healthy. She was labeled as a natural death, dumped on the side of the road by someone who didn’t want to be known. It was a mystery with no leads, a story with no real plot. The lead investigator petitioned after a month of no news to have her body cremated, and Jane Doe’s ashes were moved to a box in the back of the station with the other forgotten cases.
She had died how she lived. Tragically beautiful, haunted by demons nobody knew how to decipher, and forgotten once the infatuation faded. She had been a nobody that could have been a somebody, and ultimately died as a nobody. Her file, much like her life, dusted over and vanished into the past. She would have had a problem with this, blamed it on circumstance and not her own doing, but nobody would hear that story again.