By Nick Nowak
He tied a Dead End street sign around his neck with the n scratched away, so the locals called him Dead Ed. Dead Ed stood in places. He stood outside the real estate office. He stood outside the bank. He stood outside the convenience store and at the gas pumps and sometimes even washed car windows with that squeegee. They’d buy him booze at the liquor store, but he wouldn’t take it, and they wouldn’t return it. A dad yelled in his face at graduation while some kids put their caps on him and took pictures. A brother ripped the sign off his neck at a funeral but didn’t know what to do with it once he had it, so he threw it. Mothers picked their children up walking into the grocery store and had them ride in the cart on the way out. Dead Ed put the carts away, and the baker brought him bread.
The town officials asked the police to remove him, but they said they couldn’t do that. He stood next to the ATM at night and the coffee shop in the morning. On Sunday, he went to church and sat in the front. When he got up for the host, he crossed his arms over his chest. They asked him if he was baptized, and he said he didn’t know. At the town square on July 4th, the teenagers threw firecrackers at him. On Saint Patrick’s Day, he stood outside the pub and had a beer dumped on his head. On Valentine’s Day, he stood at the crosswalk after school, and a girl gave him a card with little heart candies. He stood in the parking lot at a wedding, and a sister pushed him, saying no no no no no.
They tried to do a news story on Dead Ed, but he said he didn’t have answers to any of their questions. He went to the hospital and was throwing up in the bushes outside. They said they wished they could help him, but their hands were tied, so they called the police. The police locked him up for the night, indecent something. Someone had to give him a zap in the morning because he wouldn’t leave the “god-damned” cell. When the chief asked Dead Ed if he knew he was breaking the law, Dead Ed said he didn’t know.
He stood on top of the landfill and underneath the banner that said Welcome Home, David! Some people started passing around a petition to have him removed, but the police said they couldn’t do that. In the summer, he stood outside the movie theater, and in the winter, he stood outside the gym. On the lawn at a party, some kids pulled out their phones and asked Dead Ed why he wore the sign. He smiled and said he didn’t know. A few weeks later an old couple came to town and hugged Dead Ed and cried. The three of them looked like one big wrinkly tree in the wind. That night, when the sun went down, he stood in the middle of main street, and everyone woke up to find him dead in the road with the sign swinging from the traffic light above. They took the sign down and blinked.