Ten Dead Men (Scott Mashlan)

We screamed, “Ten dead men and a bottle of rum!” Like we knew we’d all be dead someday. Screaming like we really felt our deaths. The rum was the only bottle of booze we could find in the apartment. We passed it around until it was gone. We had beer too, and some of us had snuck into the girls’ rooms, sniffed their panties and squeezed into their pajamas. My pajamas were covered in clouds. 

The girls were in Mexico for the summer and Denny had the key to their apartment. We played the same games we did when the girls were there, like trying to flick our cigarette butts onto the light across from the balcony and balancing on the overturned pots, but some of us jumped off the balcony this time, and climbed back up. And Denny scaled the brick from the balcony to the dining room window. We were unsupervised children in men’s bodies. Drunk and amped by youth. I don’t want to say we were dumb kids, but the girls were in college and we weren’t. During the week we worked our low paying jobs while the girls went to class and did homework. Their parents paid their rent. Our parents didn’t pay our rent, and some of us still lived at home.

There was no food in the apartment so we pooled our money and ordered as much pizza as we could. While we waited we put on more of the girls’ clothes. Hats, boas. We had never seen the girls in boas. Well, maybe Denny had seen Haven. The rest of us wanted to see them all in boas. We wanted to see them naked. When we had showered in their bathroom we thought about their naked bodies in the same shower. But we never got to see them. The girls besides Haven had their college dating lives. Men who wore bandanas and had opinions about philosophy. We didn’t have opinions about philosophy. We tried to talk to them about music or movies, and they didn’t like the music and movies we liked. But now with them gone we could really see who they were. We became the parts of them they hid from us, and we became the parts of us we hid from them. We were all hidden parts out in the open. Screaming in each other’s faces, jumping from balconies, prancing, acting like we had been turned inside out. 

We found a scooter in the hallway. In the courtyard we zipped up and down the shallow hills. Toppled over, stained the girls’ pajamas with grass. We felt like we belonged. Like we could be college kids too.

When the pizzas showed up we were still in the courtyard, wearing the girls’ clothes. The pizza man didn’t care. He had seen everything before and had more pizzas to deliver.

We started eating in the courtyard then moved upstairs when passerby asked us for slices. The first guy who wanted a slice was kind of funny, but the second guy wasn’t. When the second one asked for pizza he said, “Gimme a slice.” And didn’t expect us to say no. Upstairs, we opened all the pizza boxes up on the living room floor. Cardboard tiles glistened with sweating cheese. Gorging, we put on cable hoping to find nudity on one of the channels the girls never let us watch. When the softcore stuff wasn’t enough, a few put on their regular clothes and headed to a strip club. 

The rest of us stayed back. We kept on the girls’ pajamas. We settled into cushions and wrapped ourselves in blankets. We opened the futon so someone could begin sleeping. Then we really felt like the girls in their home. Sated, comfortable. Minds being drunkenly massaged by our full bellies. We put on a movie. The movie was a movie Haven made Denny watch before, and he explained to us what was happening. We had so many questions, “Do they like each other?” “Where’s that one guy?” “What does she do?” Denny knew the answers to most, but there was one he didn’t know the answer to. He tried remembering the answer. He stared into the aching television light like he was trying to see past it. “I guess I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I should know that. Hunh. Yeah.” We watched the rest of the movie anyway. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know the answer. Everything still made sense and we forgot all about the question.

In the morning I woke up in Haven’s bed. I found my phone and called in sick to work. It was what I had planned to do. Then I went back to sleep. 

When I woke up the second time I remembered I was wearing girls’ pajamas. The sun was shining brightly through the window, and the flannel clouds on the pajamas were fuzzed out with little strings and knots. I closed my eyes and the world glowed hot and orange on the other side of my eyelids. Despite my arms stretching out long past the cuffs, and the bottoms stopping at my calves, I was comfortable. But it was time to go back to who I was.

My clothes were crumpled on the floor, and I put them on. I folded the pajamas and smooshed them into the pajama drawer. Denny was asleep on the futon, Hock and Gimbel were on the floor. When we were screaming ten dead men and a bottle of rum the night before there were ten of us. 

I left the door unlocked and headed out in search of an egg sandwich. This was a process I repeated over and over, in city after city. Walking, slightly hungover, searching for an egg sandwich.

I wandered over some railroad tracks and down the university avenue. The streets seemed big like a downtown, but all the buildings were campus buildings. Nobody was out on the streets like they were during the school year, and I looked like one of the students who didn’t go home for the summer. I found an old coffee shop. Layers and layers of paint on everything. Carvings in the walls. They didn’t have egg sandwiches on the menu. I ordered a coffee and bought a muffin wrapped in plastic alongside the cash register. The guy behind the register in thick glasses and jean vest looked like no one I knew, and I wondered how he knew to look like that. 

I found a booth and unwrapped my muffin. The coffee was too hot, but I took a sip anyway and burned my tongue. I wish I had a knife because I wanted to add my mark to the booth, but I didn’t have a knife. I read all the names and with each name I read I wanted a knife more and more. The muffin wasn’t as good as it looked with the plastic on. 

The guy behind the register yelled at a man who came in. “Yo. Gotta go, buddy. Out” 

The man didn’t budge, said he wanted to buy coffee. 

“O-U-T, mutherfucker. Out.” 

The man had a big smile on his face and wasn’t moving. 

“You don’t want me coming over there.”

The man still didn’t move. Then the guy behind the register jumped over the counter. The man tried bolting away, but the guy grabbed him and the man fell on floor. It was then I realized there were only two other people in the entire coffee shop. I didn’t know the situation. I didn’t know this man or this guy. By the looks of the other two drinking coffee they didn’t know them either. The guy picked the man up from the floor and pushed him hard into the glass door. Then used the man to open the door and threw him onto the sidewalk. 

“Mutherfucker shits in booths,” the guy said when he came back in. 

“Do we need to call the cops?” One of the other two asked.

“No. We good.”

Outside the man was standing on the sidewalk, looking back and forth, checking his pockets. I finished my muffin and waited for him to walk away, so I could go in the opposite direction. 

Back at the apartment everyone was still asleep. It was afternoon, but the blinds were drawn. I sat on the couch and Denny’s eyes fluttered open. “What up, dude?” he said. “You been awake long?”

“A little,” I said. 

Denny was still in the leopard print pajamas. He yawned and stretched like a cat. When he stretched he saw the leopard print sleeves and laughed. “Forgot about that.”

Hock also woke up and blinked his swollen eyes. “Last night was fun.”

Denny got serious and stared us in the eyes. “We can never tell the girls about this. Like ever. Promise me you won’t say anything.”

We both promised. Then Gimbel woke up and said, “Where’s everyone else?”

We shrugged. Then we picked up the garbage. Took out the trash. We looked around one last time. The place was perfect. Denny was happy. We had really never been there.


Rum Rickey

  • Rum
  • Lime juice
  • Club Soda

Stir in ice and garnish with lime


Scott Mashlan is a writer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He works as senior editor for New American Press and teaches at a local technical college. He has been a finalist in Glimmer Train’s new writer contest, as well as shortlisted for Dzanc Books’ Disquiet Literary Prize. His writing has appeared in F(r)iction, MAYDAY, Litro and elsewhere.


image: MM Kaufman