Sara Corris

Downhearted

“The coroner game’s a sausagefest. We all know it. Which I do not get AT. ALL. The work-life balance is fantastic! I leave at 5 p.m. every day. They’re dead, you know? As long as you remember to pop them in the fridge before you go, there’s nothing that can’t wait until the morning–can you hand me that scalpel?” 

“This one?” Kelly O’Kelly asks.

“Yup. Thanks.” 

I’ve got horror auteur Kelly O’Kelly shadowing me at work all week. You cannot imagine how exciting this is for a friendless neurodivergent like me.

“Is there anything particular you’re looking to see, or learn about–”

“Bicycle accidents,” O’Kelly says as she watches me make the Y-incision. “I completed my latest film, which I regard as my opus, months ago. But it’s languishing in Censor Purgatory–”

“I know,” I blurt out. I read all the news I could find on O’Kelly, so I’m aware of the controversy surrounding I Squirt On Your Corpse: Day Of The Bitches.

She grimaces. “Anyways. While I’m dealing with that bullshit, I’m moving ahead with my next project. It’s a remake of Cronenberg père’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s Crash. But with bicycles, instead of cars.”

“I’m not sure you’ll be seeing many bicycle accidents here,” I confess. “This is the America where ‘my bike’ still means ‘my motorcycle.’”

“Thank Christ!” O’Kelly says. “It’s fine. Just point out any gnarly shit that could result from horrific-yet-erotically-charged bicycle accidents.”

“Will do. Hand me the pruner shears, will you? Thanks.” I set to work on a rib. “You know, the cyclist scene in Faces of Death was always my favorite as a kid–”

“Same, bitch, same!”

“I think watching Faces of Death, and the cyclist scene in particular, made me realize I’ve got what it takes to be a coroner. The whole time they’re scraping clumps of hair and blood clots off the highway, my friends were all whimpering and looking away. But not me. I was like, ‘I feel nothing.’” 

“Same, bitch. Same! God, I loved Faces of Death growing up. I loved going to those independent video stores as a kid, heading back to the horror section, and reading all the fucked-up plot summaries and content warnings on the boxes. I could do that for hours. Those are some of my happiest memories.” O’Kelly frowns. “I just heard that out loud, and realized how sad that is.” 

“No! It’s the same for me, honestly.” I mean it.

***

“You can be honest,” I say. “You think this town’s a shithole, don’t you?” 

“Honestly? I was expecting an even bigger shithole,” O’Kelly says whilst declining my proffered Bloomin’ Onion. “Thanks, but I don’t like eating in front of people.”

“Jeez. No wonder you look the way you do.” I look down at my own perma-paunch. “And I look the way I do.”

“Please! I’d kill for your boobs.” O’Kelly smiles at me. “I’ll have another drink though.” 

“Things have improved since the Outback opened,” I tell her after we order more drinks. “Between this place and the new State Pen, unemployment’s finally headed in the right direction.” 

“The cabbie at the airport said there’s talk of a Cheesecake Factory–” 

I laugh in her face. “They’ve been singing that song for years. I wouldn’t hold my breath.”

I work up my courage as she finishes her drink: “I’ve actually been a huge fan of yours for ages. Since the earliest stuff. I watch Death, Actually every December. And I love the movie where the woman’s chasing the guy down the hallway, screaming and holding an open bear trap in front of her crotch—”

Egg Donor From Hell?” 

“Yup. That’s the one.”

***

On the drive home I see that most of my campaign signs have been defaced with “KUNT Kelly for Koroner.” 

The coroner’s race is getting real ugly this year. I’m facing down the Italians. They’ll stop at nothing to reclaim the post. Four years ago, I unseated their guy for the first time in over a century. Now they’re out for blood. 

I’m too worked up when I get home to fall asleep. I flick on the TV instead.

You know your mental health’s in the shitter when you’re watching a Jeffrey Dahmer documentary and the dude’s mostly making sense. 

Dahmer soon grew frustrated with the Milwaukee gay scene: ‘All the guys I met were just looking for a few minutes of penetrative sex,’ explained Dahmer after his arrest. ‘And I wasn’t interested in that. I wanted someone to stay with me through the night, to cuddle with me. I wanted to feel close to someone.’  

“Samesies, Jeffrey,” I murmur sleepily. “Samesies.”

***

Excerpt from the Guardian’s recent piece on Kelly O’Kelly: 

The Maple Game was O’Kelly’s greatest success to date, yet it also precipitated her fall from grace. Not so much the film itself, as O’Kelly’s subsequent licensing of SugarBushes™, the enormously popular stripper-restaurant chain with locations throughout Canada. SugarBushes™ is rumored to have made O’Kelly a multimillionaire overnight. 

(For those who haven’t seen The Maple Game, the chain’s name and tagline–SugarBushes™: You’ll Wanna Tap Everything In Here!–come from a line uttered by fan favorite character Mordecai Eldritch, the harrowing film’s sole comic relief: “Am I in a sugarbush? Cuz I wanna tap everything in here!”)

Art-house types accused O’Kelly of selling out. Female fans felt betrayed after footage leaked of Toronto fatcats eating poutine off naked strippers, a popular off-menu item across all SugarBushes™ locations. The hashtag #notmyfeminist blew up on Twitter … 

***

Tuesday

First thing I see when I open my eyes this morning is the goddamn horse’s head. 

“Not this shit again,” I groan. We’re still two months out from the election. Guess we’re not pacing ourselves this year.

“You really think THIS is going to rattle me, you fucking garlic eaters?!” I roar. “I’m a CORONER, for fuck’s sake! I run bowels for a living! I use skull saws on the daily! Way to reference a fifty-year-old movie, you basic stronze.” 

“Mommy, what’s wrong?” whimpers Cheetara from the doorway, rubbing her eyes. 

“Nothing baby, it’s alright.” I steer her out of the room towards the kitchen. “Let’s hurry up and get ready for Take Your Daughter To Work Day. You excited to come see mommy’s job?” 

***

“I’ve got an Esperanto ass. Unites all creeds, races, orientations. Started when I was 15 and hasn’t let up. For 25 years, it’s been receiving universal, highly vocal acclaim. It’s humanity’s last best hope, my ass–”

“Um, is it ok if we avoid swearing today?” I ask as I glance over at Cheetara. She’s too preoccupied with the liver on the scales to notice.

“Sure.” O’Kelly follows my gaze. “Are anagrams ok?”

“Yeah, anagrams are fine.”

“Cool.”

I close the fridge door and make sure it’s running. “Right. I think we can call it a day and make it over to the Outback in time for happy hour! But first, let’s swing past the operating theater and moon the surgeons.”

***

“Three autoerotic asphyxiations in one day is super unusual, just so you know,” I tell O’Kelly over espresso martinis and coconut shrimp. 

“Yeah, I thought that was weird!”

“Typically that’s a whole week’s worth.” 

“Oh.” She frowns. “That still seems high.” 

“Yeah. There’s really a dearth of things to do in this town. Supposed to be a Dave & Busters opening a couple towns over next month; maybe that’ll help—”

“Oooh!” O’Kelly cuts in, all excited. “Is it maybe a serial killer, making it look like autoerotic asphyxiations?” 

“I wish. That would be dope—” 

I halt as I spot Chad arguing with the Outback hostess and pointing our way. “Uh-oh,” I mutter.

“Kelly!” Chad calls out as he approaches our booth. “I knew I’d find you here. How many times have I got to tell you: don’t moon me when I’m in the middle—” 

“Oh yeah, mustn’t disturb The Genius at his work—” 

“You shouldn’t be mooning your colleagues at all! It’s deeply unprofessional–” 

“Maaaaaaansplainer,” I sing to the tune of “Goldfinger”: 

He’s the man, the man who explaaaaaiiins the stuff 

Yes all the stuff 

Such a huuge dickwad–

Chad stomps off. I shout after him: 

“You think you’re the only one whose work is important? My work has meaning too, Chad!” I start singing the Coroner’s Song from The Wizard of Oz

“Who was that self-important cuffcake?” O’Kelly asks when I’ve finished. I glance over at Cheetara, who’s busy coloring on her placemat. 

“Just another pompous nowclass named Chad.” I sigh. “He’d be the first one to admit after a few drinks, that we don’t know bupkis about the brain. Or he would have done, back when he was a resident and cool. ‘We’ve got some neat ideas, but that’s it really,’ Chad would always say. Back when he was Resident Chad and not Chad, God of Neurosurgery.”

“Wait–is Chad her …” O’Kelly nods her head in Cheetara’s direction a couple times.

“Heck no!”

***

It’s only later when I pull into the driveway that I realize I forgot to buy new bedding. “Oh shit,” I groan. 

I’m too tired to care. I push the horse head off to the side to make some room, and fall asleep.

***

Wednesday

“Tell me more about your opus,” I say as I begin my external examination.

O’Kelly slumps against the slab and groans. “I can’t, it’s too depressing. My opus will never see the light of day. It’s already been banned in 70 countries.” 

“Yeah, but what about the other 130-odd countries?” 

“They haven’t seen it yet.” O’Kelly sighs. “So I guess there’s still hope.” She takes out her flask. “Alright if I drink in here?” 

“For sure. What the hell are they gonna say about it?” I gesture around at all the corpses.

O’Kelly takes a swig. “It’s the menstrual bukkake scene that’s causing all the problems, I know. Don’t let anyone fool you; nothing’s changed. Everyone claims to be a feminist, but you try depicting some real female empowerment …” She shakes her head. “And it’s a great scene! No way am I removing it. Once the Bitches have immobilized the rapists by six-packing them–you know, shooting them in the knees, elbows and ankles–the Main Bitch joins hands with her Sister-Bitches, and they menstrual bukkake all over the rapists’ faces—”

“Hold on a minute. Where’s all this blood coming from?” I step back and frown. “This is a straightforward autoerotic asphyxiation gone wrong, there shouldn’t be any blood—” 

 “Oh shit. You know what?” O’Kelly scoots her bum off the slab. “I’ve been perioding all over your stiff this whole time. Fuck, I bet it’s got my DNA and everything. Am I gonna be in trouble?”

I force a smile. “Nah. Lucky for you, you know the coroner. Literally the last word on cause of death.”

“God, that’s so cool. The bribe money with this gig must be insane.”

“I mean, not that I ever accept it–”

“No, of course not.” O’Kelly gives me a grotesque wink, which I ignore.

“–but yeah, I’ve gotten some sick offers.” I lower my voice. “Honestly? The highest ones aren’t from people looking to amend the cause of death. They’re from the corpsebuggers.”

“Seriously?!”

“You would be … disturbed. Corpsebuggery’s nowhere near as uncommon as you’d like to think. Plus there’s a serious dearth of things to do in this town.”

***

“Is it ok if we make a couple stops en route to the Outback?” I ask. “We’re looking for my opponent’s campaign signs. Name’s Wes Pisa.”

“No problem, SoKel. I’ve decided I’m gonna call you SoKel, is that ok? To make it less confusing, the whole Kelly-Kelly thing. And you’re Southern, so, you know: SoKel.”

“I mean, I’m not from here originally. And this isn’t really the South–” 

She laughs. “Sure. Sure it isn’t, SoKel.”

We spot one of Wes’s signs after a couple blocks. I pull over and get out of the car, O’Kelly at my side. 

“Wes Pisa: Someone With The Balls For The Job,” it reads. The text is accompanied by a picture of the Coliseum. 

O’Kelly stares. “Why doesn’t he use the Leaning Tower–”

“Right? That would be the obvious choice.” I give my paint can a good shake and alter the wording to “Wes Pisa-SHIT.”

***

“Wait–the other candidate for coroner has got zero medical schooling?” O’Kelly looks dumbfounded.

“Wes has got zero schooling of any kind, at all!” I explain. “Most parts of the country don’t impose educational requirements on becoming coroner. Even in places that use a Medical Examiner, that title doesn’t necessarily mean they have a medical background *cough* West Virginia *cough*.” 

“I’m so confused. Why is it even an elected position, that’s so weird–”

“It isn’t always an elected position. It varies state by state, town by town. Some states, it’s an appointment. Other places, whoever’s the town sheriff is automatically the coroner. Or the D.A., or the mayor … there’s at least a couple counties in Kansas where it’s the head of the post office. And in certain parts of Alaska, it’s the highest ranking sommelier.”

“I’m forever in awe of this great and fascinating country,” says O’Kelly, before hiccupping and falling off her bar stool.

***

O’Kelly and I relocate to a booth, once I’ve gotten her up off the floor. 

“Say SoKel, you think tomorrow night we could try someplace besides the Outback? The Outback’s great and all, but–”

“That’ll be tough.” I look down at my drink. “I can’t go to any of the Italian spots in town. No one will seat me, on account of the bad blood between me and the Italian community over the Coroner’s Office.”

“You’re kidding. Not even the Olive Garden?!” 

I shake my head and blink back tears. 

“But I thought their whole shtick was, When You’re Here, You’re Family?” 

“Yeah, well. Don’t believe the hype,” I say. “Honestly, the Outback’s been more of a family to me than the Olive Garden ever was. I think I would have lost my mind, if they hadn’t opened up last year.” 

“This world is garbage,” O’Kelly mutters. She reaches across the table for my hand and squeezes it, without looking at me, without saying anything. 

She clears her throat. “I’ll see what I can do about opening the first Stateside SugarBushes™ here, okay?”

“Aw, thanks.” I hesitate. “Are there other menu options besides the poutine served on a stripper–” 

“How should I know? You think I go to these places?” 

“Don’t you?” 

“Fuck no. I’ve never even been to Canada. Why would I? It’s cold and boring.”

***

I’m driving us both to my place so O’Kelly can show me her opus when I see Wes Pisa by the side of the road. The sonofabitch is actually removing my campaign signs and stuffing them into the trunk of his car, as opposed to just defacing them. 

The tires screech as I pull onto the embankment and leap out.

“Oi! Wes, you Pisa-shit! What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

Wes flashes a shit-eating grin. “Oh hey, Kelly. I’m looking for my horse. Have you seen him?” 

“Have you tried looking up your ass? Cuz that’s where that head’s gonna be, before this campaign is through.” 

Wes’s smile fades. His lips draw back in a snarl. 

I wrench a sign out of the ground and flip it stake-side out at Wes. “Let’s dance.” 

Wes hoists another sign up and does the same. “Bring it.”

We commence sparring. 

Minutes later, we’re at a dead heat when O’Kelly comes charging at Wes with a sign, screaming “FEMINISMMMMMMM!!!!” 

She deals Wes a body blow that sends him staggering. Wes rights himself just as she drives the sign’s stake through his left foot and into the earth. 

Aaaaaaaargh!” Wes screams. And screams and screams.

“Please tell me,” O’Kelly pants, “that this is not Cheetara’s dad.”

“Heck no!”

***

We settle into my den to watch I Squirt On Your Corpse: Day of the Bitches.

There’s a shit-ton of warnings before the film even begins.

**WARNING**: The following film has not been rated, but is intended for mature and resilient audiences only. It contains the following:

  • Severe Sexuality
  • Frontal Nudity 
  • Dorsal Nudity 
  • Gratuitous, Gruesome and Depraved Violence
  • The F Word
  • Unsimulated War Crimes
  • Cultural Appropriation
  • Depictions of Drug Use
  • Extreme Cockfighting
  • Depictions of Cigarette Use
  • Nonconsensual Fire-Topping
  • Rampant Promotion of Conspiracy Theories
  • Depictions of Tampon Use
  • Suicide
  • Prolonged and Repeated Scenes of Male Full Frontal Nudity Which in No Way Advance, or Even Relate To, The Plot
  • Gratuitous Abortion

and

  • Menstrual Bukkake

Viewer discretion is strenuously advised.

Two hours later:

“I get it,” I sob as I writhe on the ground uncontrollably. “My god, I get it! It’s brilliant–”

“Right?” O’Kelly squats down beside me. “Finally! You don’t know how much this means to me. I was beginning to doubt myself–”

“NO!” I sit up. “Kelly, you can’t do that!”

“I was worried you were going to hate it. Especially when you blacked out for a few minutes–”

“Please, I’m so embarrassed about that–”

“No need to apologize. If it makes you feel any better, Eli Roth blacked out during a screening too. Plus he lost the power of speech for a whole two weeks after, the fucking pussy.” O’Kelly rises to her feet. “It’s official. I’m wasted enough to consume food before a fellow human. Let’s order up whatever passes for pizza in these parts.”

“Can’t. Italian joints won’t serve me, remember?” 

“Even the pizza establishments?” 

“Especially the pizza establishments!” 

“C’mon. Domino’s? You’re telling me if we call Domino’s they won’t help us out—” 

“They OWN the Dominos! They own it all!” I wail. “But I do have frozen pizza bagels. We can heat those up, if you like.”

“Fuck yeah.”

***

Excerpt from the new Slate exposé on Kelly O’Kelly’s first film:

Although the straight-to-streaming Remind Me Again What You Did That Summer was little seen upon release, it did succeed in drawing the ire of the Alzheimer’s Foundation. According to a spokeswoman, “the film’s 110-minute runtime is devoted to alternately mocking those afflicted with dementia, and slaughtering those afflicted with dementia in unspeakable ways.”  

***

Thursday

“Please. I’m not worried about the friggin’ Alzheimer’s Foundation. They’ll probably forget all about it by tomorrow. Right?” O’Kelly snort-laughs. 

She seems chill about it; I guess she’s telling the truth. I’m relieved. 

“Alright. Time to remove the pancreas.” I hold the toothed forceps out to her with a smile. “You wanna have a go at it?” 

O’Kelly’s jaw drops. “Really?” 

“There’s nothing to it,” I assure her. “You ever play Operation when you were little, with the teeny tiny tweezers and the buzzer? It’s like that, but for grown-ups.” 

She’s gotten the pancreas out of the cavity and is transferring it over to the scales when I do it:

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE–

O’Kelly drops the pancreas on the floor with a splat. 

“Shit SoKel, I’m sorry–” 

“It’s my fault,” I say. “I was making the buzzer sound from Operation–” 

“Yeah, I know! It was funny!” She looks back down at the exploded pancreas. 

“Seriously, don’t worry about it. The pancreas is super unimportant.” I reach for the dustpan. “Lemme just tidy up, pop everything back in the fridge, and we’ll head out. K? We can check out that roadside dive if you like.”

“Fuck yeah.”

***

“Often what the cannibal really seeks is a feeling of closeness, of connection to his fellow–”

“WHAT?” O’Kelly shouts. “I can’t hear you over this shitty fucking music! Jesus. What is this garbage, and why have they got it cranked so loud?!” 

“It’s live music. The band is right behind you.” I point behind her. 

O’Kelly looks over her shoulder and sees them, crowded onto the tiny stage a couple feet from where she’s standing. “Oops. Sorry!” she calls out. 

They smile at her with their mouths but not their eyes, which convey abject sadness. 

She turns back to me. “Do you think they heard us?” 

“Why don’t we go to the Outback,” I suggest. “They always let me stick around the bar after closing.”

***

“I don’t do this for the money. My SugarBushes™ bring in 10 times what I’ve made from all my films combined, in a single week!” O’Kelly slams her empty glass down onto the Outback bar. “I do it because I love it, and I’m fucking good at it, and nobody else is.” 

Uh-oh. She’s getting sad-drunk. 

We both are. I can’t believe tomorrow’s Friday already.

“I can’t believe tomorrow is your last day!” I tell her. “I’m gonna miss you. It’s been great having someone around–”

“Yeah, it’s been really interesting for me as well. You’ve been super helpful, I can’t thank you enough.” Her eyes are on the bartender the whole time she’s talking. “Could you give him a wave, when he turns around?”

“Sure.” Once I’m done I turn back to O’Kelly. “It’s been pretty lonely for me in this town. Yeah I’ve got Cheetara, and I love her and everything, but it’s not like having an adult–”

“Same SoKel; same. I’m shit at making friends, always have been.”

“Well. You can always text me, if you ever need anything. Or maybe–”

She smirks. “You don’t want to be text-buddies with me, SoKel. Trust me on this. Imagine receiving texts from Henry Darger. Except longer, and more fucked up.”

“Informer” starts playing. O’Kelly laughs. 

“My brother loved this song when it came out. He bought the entire CD, not just the single! Then I overheard him at school telling people, ‘I’m really into Snow at the moment, his music’s not in English …’ Fucking idiot! I’ve never let him forget it.”

A whole mess of 90s tunes ensues, and we’re back to being happy-drunk.

Ace of Base comes on. No, not that song. The other one.

“I think it was this song, that made me want to move to Sweden,” I say. “Because I realized, the Swedes must have zero actual problems. Seriously, what is this song about? ‘Oooh men beware, cuz there’s this hot Swedish babe who wants to take you home and fuck your brains out, but she’ll be gone long before morning and even if she goes on to bear your child, she’ll never trouble you for financial assistance?’ Is that a thing in Sweden?!”

Soon we’re comparing our 2 Legit hand moves:

“I can’t believe I still remember how to do this!”

“I mean, that’s debatable–”

“Yeah right! I’m kicking your ass, SoKel!”

We take a break to order another round. O’Kelly swivels on her stool to face me.

“I realized today, I’ve been to this place before. Not this town specifically, but close. There’s a military base near here, right?”

I definitely wasn’t expecting that. “Uh, yeah. Yes there is, about 10 minutes down the highway. Do you have family–”

“God, no! Back in college, my brother and I were on a road trip down to Florida, and we stopped there for a night. I fucked a dude from the base. This was during Iraq and all that, so I wanted to do my part for the troops. Obviously I didn’t support the war, but … you know. I was working on opening my mind and legs to different perspectives.” O’Kelly grins. “Plus it was my first time banging a dude with a six-pack.”

“Nice!” I say. “Not gonna lie, I’ve sampled the base’s wares, and they do not all come equipped with six-packs–”

“Right? Actually the sex was garbage. Dude lost his boner after a couple minutes–”

“Ugh, I hate that! I take it as a personal insult–”

“Same, bitch. Same! But it gets worse. Dude is laying there, all sad and flaccid, and he starts telling me about his mom’s early-onset Alzheimer’s, and how the last time he went home on break, she didn’t even recognize him anymore, and he didn’t care if he got sent off to Iraq and died–”

“Fuuuuuuck. That’s really sad! What the hell did you say to him?”

“Shit, I just pretended to be asleep! I mean, that’s some heavy shit he’s laying on me; I didn’t sign up for that! I just wanted a fun one-night stand, you know? I just wanted to grind away on this nice body. Is that such a huge ask? There I am, trying to do this patriotic thing, send a young man off to a senseless death with some kick-ass memories–”

“What was his name?” I blurt out.

“I don’t fucking remember!” O’Kelly snickers. “Much like all the other women in his life.” 

She sees the look on my face. “Is Cheetara’s dad … from the base?”

“Yeah. No one with a six-pack, though,” I add. “And not in the picture. Never was. I don’t even know if he’s still stationed there. We weren’t in a relationship, or anything.”

That Primitive Radio Gods song comes on. I whisper along to the words. 

“I always liked this song. ‘Downhearted’ is a strange word. But a good one, I think. It’s bigger than a feeling, more permanent. It’s a state. I know it well.” I look down at my hands. “Been downhearted going on five years now. Way too long, I know. I can’t seem to help it. I’m tired all the time, but I can’t turn it into sleep. I’m embarrassed to be this way. I know how it sounds.” 

O’Kelly chuckles without looking at me. “My god, you and I are so much alike. Same, bitch. Same.” 

I reach for her hand but she doesn’t reach for mine. Instead she gets up to use the bathroom. 

When she returns, she says she’s beat and is going to turn in for the night.

When I wake up the next morning, O’Kelly’s sent me a text thanking me for my time, but saying she’s got to head back north ASAP. Something about her brother needing her. Some fresh development in the neverending custody battle with his ex.

Then O’Kelly blocked me. I found out when I tried messaging her a couple days later. She must have thought I was a creepy loser the whole time. 

Which sucks, because I can’t enjoy watching Kelly O’Kelly flicks anymore. I’ve got even less now.

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