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All Things Bright and Beautiful

The sound of sirens suddenly surface and grow louder as I march down a set of eroding stairs to the street. A loud whine echoes up the road. The echoes blur into a single deafening noise, as flashing lights peep into the horizon. Red. White. Trauma lights. Ahead, in a cul-de-sac, a few scattered people speckle the ground. Standing outside their cars, they grip their door frames, wind-burned faces watching the intersection, anticipating the siren and its cars to arrive to the scene. A white BMW maneuvers around something clung to the wheel and speeds past me, my hair whipping behind as if to start chase. A small crowd of students clot the sidewalk, mouths slightly open, bags slipping off their backs in a gradual slide. The ambulance merges at the crossing, splitting the spectators, and men in uniformed costumes leap out of their doors.

As I come closer, I look up at the nearby buildings, inquiring the concrete and the window eyes about what they had seen. A heart attack? The blinds shake. A shooting? They shake once more. Crossing the road, the EMTs scurry behind their car, yanking out a stretcher with a loose hand. A spectator jumps in their van and begins to pull away. The small lump of students shifts forward, necks still twisted behind them. As the van backs out of the scene, a small body comes into view. An elderly woman is curled in the middle of the road, torso wrapped around an invisible tire, shoes lying a foot away, set as if kicked off before she decided to nap on the parched asphalt. In her puffy coat, a Dartmouth green, she is formless, her tattered navy sweatpants collapsed to her brittle form, flitting occasionally like folded wings. One EMT nears with timidity, setting two careful fingers on her neck. We hold our breaths. He withdrawals from her, arm deliberate, unbending, and the man with the stretcher grips the florescent orange cushion against his chest, waiting for a command.

Eight chimes ring out from the clock tower and another mass of students run past me, squeezing to keep their feet on the sidewalk, backpacks slamming into my shoulders. Another round of sirens begin to thunder down the street, red and blue peeking through the trees. One EMT chases after some students, pulling at one’s sleeve, soliciting them to stay for a police report. They all shake their heads and tell him in an annoyed tone that they’ll be late to class. He swings his eyes towards me and, overwhelmed, I look down at the sidewalk. Someone else will file a police report, I mouth to myself. I march forward to go to class, feeling his eyes on the back of my head. But when I walk further I look back, eyes telescoped on the old woman’s chest as it rustles with either a breath or a breeze.

The scene falls out of sight as I continue down the sidewalk.

I can no longer feel my hands.

—–

As I near my class, I prepare my speech. I close my eyes, rewinding to the sirens, the woman, the EMT’s outstretched hand. I anticipate someone sprinting into the room, face blushing, as they pant the news that someone was hit by a car. Hit by a car? Oh God! All the students will turn around in their desks with large fish eyes. Who was it? What if it was my friend? She rides a bike and can’t see worth shit. What if she’s dead? And as the class moans with bloodthirst, because this is stimulating news for a Monday morning, I interrupt with first-hand account, heads tuned and angled to hear my story first. I’ll recount the bloody scene of an assumed hit-and-run, breathing heavily as I recall my trauma, still uncertain if the old lady lived or died. Then for five days after the breaking news comes out in the school newspaper, my interview on the front page, I’ll be approached by all the school, quietly asking what I saw and if I need counseling to deal with my pain. But no scandalmonger ever bursts into the classroom and I have to repeat my story alone in my head, slouched over my desk: I was there, I was there, I was there.

—–

Between classes I take out my phone, as I hunch up against a wall in a hallway. I search local news station websites, rummaging through the breaking news headlines for my incident. I jump at the word “grandmother” in one title, but it’s a false alarm. I type in more keywords, “grandma”, “old”, “old lady”, “car”, “hit”, “dead”, but I only find a dated hit-and-run from three months ago. At my next class, I once again watch the door for my anticipated whistleblower, ranting in a sing-song voice about our local vehicular manslaughter as they walk through the door. Five minutes until class starts and no one busts in with a montage. Surely other people saw an old woman lying in the street? When Tracy Bladstone was hit by a drunk driver and broke her leg into fourteen pieces, everyone went mad with excitement. They even petitioned to add a crosswalk while students camped at the site, playing guitar and adding flowers to a living mural. People don’t get hit by cars every day. I softly punch my hand against my desk, my phone tight in my palm. Frustrated with waiting, I decide to lean toward a neighbor and tell her my tale.

“Oh God, that’s horrible!” she gasps, mouth parted so I can see her white teeth and pink mouth, “Was there any blood?”

I hesitate, “A little, I think.”

“Wait, what? Blood? What did you say?” someone calls behind our backs.

“Someone was hit by a car!” my neighbor shrieks.

“Where at?”

“Seventh street, at the cul-de-sac!” I chime, my hands a little sweaty.

“Did you see them get hit?” he asks me.

“Out of the corner of my eye, well, not that much, it happened so fast, I really couldn’t tell what happened.” I swallow hard.

“Who was it? Was it a student?”

“No, no, it was an old lady.”

“A professor? Oh God!” the girl gasps

“No, I don’t think so. She was wearing really ratty clothes and was pretty old,” they both recline a little in their chairs and the horror on their faces softens.

“Probably a homeless person, in that case,” the boy tells me, a frown outlining on my face, “that happens all the time in the city. I guess it’s not as common in a small town like this.”

—–

I go slightly out of my way to pass by the site again, predicting to see a chalk-white outline, lake of blood spilling over the lines. I imagine a small platoon of officers searching the scene for witnesses and clues, slumped over with magnifying glasses and finger print puffs, all encased with yellow “Caution” tape. Instead, the cul-de-sac lies vacant, not a drop of red on the concrete. Not a single officer pops out of a bush to cuff me against the trunk of his car, brutalizing me, asking why I look so familiar and if I knew anything about a white BMW and why Grandma Thompson was in this area at 7:52 am? Then, after they take me downtown and a cop interrogates me for three hours, another guy comes in with a filled doughnut and a Diet Coke, asking me if I need to use to the restroom and if this room is too cold?

No, none of this happens. The cul-de-sac is now filled with worn flats, tennis shoes, and the occasional dress heel of a business student stomping across the place where there should be a chalk white outline of an old woman’s body, a crime scene, a shrine, and a student journalist taking pictures of me as I reveal my tale.

—–

As I walk down the hall in my dorm later that day, I notice my RA’s door cracked open half-way. After living here for five months, I have never seen the inside of her room. For that matter, I don’t even know her name. The old woman flashes in my mind and my mouth feels sour as I picture her crumpled body in a gutter, swept off the street. I think of the EMT’s eyes…surely someone filed a police report. I tilt my head for a peep inside her room when she catches me peering in. Lifting one hand from her laptop, she waves me inside with a tired palm. I slide in the crack, not to touch the door, and stand against the door frame. I shift my weight from leg to leg until I settle on the left.

“How are you?” she asks between mouthfuls of popcorn, eating them in threes.

“I’m good. Busy with school.”

She nods, covering her lips with a closed fist, “Me, too,” she lisps through kernels.

I glance around her room, stopping at a Viva la Vida Coldplay poster on a side wall. A rainbow blinks on the poster, the woman’s breasts, her flag, her raging Revolutionary troops, and the pile of corpses underneath her feet, flashing green to red from Christmas lights hung along the ceiling.

“It’s Sarah, right?”

“Emily,” I correct her.

“Oh, sorry.” She leans towards her computer screen, squinting into the blue light reflecting onto her cheeks. “Are we friends on Facebook?”

A take a couple of steps forward, leaning a little towards her screen, her pupils wide with pixels, “No, I don’t think so. It’s hard to find people.”

“I know! Here, I’ll add you.”

She types “Sarah” into the search bar, while I hover near her bed. I think of the old woman and the white BMW and my upset stomach, as I watch my RA. I clear my throat, but it retightens. This confessional booth has no screen and I don’t think RAs offer any reconciliation. I glance up at the television during a loud commercial for BMWs which returns to a program with a man running around on an oversized playground wheel. His wetsuit chafing to his skin, he eases towards the edge of the wheel, aligning himself with a small platform separated by a large gap. He grips the railing tight with both hands, preparing to jump.

“How do you spell your last name?”

“D-a-v-i-s.”

As I look back up at the T.V., the man squats and bounds across, arms and legs spread like a fat bird. His face smashes against the steel edge of the platform and his body crumples into a pool of water below. My RA blurts out a loud “HA” behind me. As he resurfaces from the water. Blood is washed away but is quickly refreshed with a new stream spurting from a thin crack in his forehead.

“He’s bleeding!” I tell her, pointing at the screen, clutching my stomach.

We both watch as the man paddles to the edge of the pool, medics applying clean, white cotton balls on his head while removing the red ones. They replay the scene, slowing as the man’s neck flings back with a sudden rush, arching back to tap his spine, and body then unfurling before he cuffs the water.

“Ooooh, ouch, I bet that hurt. Well, I can’t find you. Maybe you can add me?”

I nod, lips smashed together and sucked in.

“Well, I have homework to work on. Nice seeing you Sarah.”

I close the door behind me and head down the hall to the bathroom. I quickly close the stall and lean over the toilet, gripping the seat with my palms. I pant and spit into the bowl, coughing hard. The cul-de-sac projects against my eyelids as all the cars abandon the scene, the EMT staring at the back of my head as I walk away.

—–

Before I go to bed, I search online once more, starting with the school’s newspaper. There are two headlines, neither what I’m looking for: “Are Violent Video Games Really Bad for You?” and “Sophomore Shot and Killed in Local Robbery”. A pixelated photo accompanies the robbery article’s excerpt; a small sub shop is encased with yellow police tape, a squad car, lights running, pulled up on the sidewalk. The squad lights seem like strobe lights in the picture, the red and blue mixing to a warm purple shade. A few yellow evidence number markers litter the little parking lot. In the center is a body bag with, I assume, at least according to the article, Greg Hamilton, 20, sophomore, from Baltimore, Maryland. Middle child of Scott and Grace Hamilton, scholar swimmer, lover of rag-time music and his two- year girlfriend who also goes to school here.

Further down the article is Greg in his senior portrait from high school, dressed up in a black suit and tie. A few student interviews are in the article, one girl confessing that she “couldn’t see much because I hiding behind the counter” but heard the fatal gun shots. The reporter then asked if she was scared and she replied, “I was terrified! I couldn’t even think straight. I did my best to tell the police what happened.” I scroll back up to the main picture of the scene, rapping my nails against my laptop. I enlarge the picture and wonder if a body bag is hot.

I lay down to go to sleep that night, but end up tossing around and checking my alarm every hour instead. The things in my room begin to shadow strange beasts, a sweatshirt tossed over a chair morphing into a monster. I turn on my side and face the wall and begin to finger the dimples in the paint. I suddenly remember the time when I saw a bird get smashed by a car. It was windy and as the bird tried to return to her nest in a large “A” of a Wal-mart sign, she was pushed to the street. Her little legs tried to move forward, wings spasming violently above her head. As another gust of wind came, she was pushed beneath the tire of a large truck. I’m sure I was the only one who heard the hushed crunch escape from the rubber tread. As the truck pulled away, the puddle of bird came into view, all blood and white guts, and grey feathers which still flickered in the breeze. Even in a memory it is still clear. As I began to cry and clutched my mother’s leg, she shook my shoulders with force, face bent into mine, reprimanding me for looking when I knew what was going to happen. When I finally close my eyes, I dream of the old woman, beggar sweatpants aflame with navy blue, she a worn shoelace wrapped tight around a white BMW, enlaced between the rolling tires.

—–

Despite the chill, I decide to go on a walk the next morning. I head for the middle of campus to a small creek and forest. This little ecosystem splits the college in two, interrupting the long clusters of concrete and machine. I walk off the sidewalk and slide down into the ravine, removing my shoes as I settle below. I push my toes toward the water, gasping with surprise and pain as they make contact. I scoot farther away from the bank and begin peeling blotchy red nail polish off my toenails. Without the paint, my toes look discolored and frail. Glancing at the sidewalk above me, I inch back toward the shore and stand, planting one leg on the opposite side. I straddle the creek, the insides of my feet in the water. With excessive rain, the creek is bloated with water, fat and brown. A few twigs circumambulate a large rapid, a large rock peeking above the water line like an iceberg. The creek can only sweep away dead leaves, wrappers, and other small, trivial things, but I know that if I fell in this ankle-deep creek that I would drown and be rushed off to the drainage pipe just downstream.

I plop back alongside the bank, with mud probably coating my jeans. There have been a few rubbernecked passerby this morning: a bicyclist, some joggers, and now a couple. I stare down into the mud, rubbing a stick along the ground in front of me. I’m sure they stare down the hill at me, my purple feet pawing cold, dirty creek water, bum thawing the frost-bitten grass as I occasionally toss clumps of mud into the rapids. As they walk a little farther, I hear the girl laugh and tell her boyfriend something in a low voice. Probably something about the freak who’s rolling in the mud and water in the middle of November. I shove my wrinkled socks in my pocket, slip on my shoes, and leave.

—–

Everyone on Facebook is discussing the death of Greg Hamilton, most posting a link of the article I saw a few nights ago. They send their condolences to Scott and Grace and his 2-year girlfriend via a status update and talk about how Greg Hamilton was a hero because he chased after the guy who robbed the sub shop. After reading this, I decide to pass by the sub shop to scope out the scene. The yellow police tape still wraps around the sub shop, though it’s twisted so you can’t read “Caution” anymore. I stare at it across the street, unable to make myself cross the street and get any closer. I pretend that I can still see Greg wrapped up in a body bag laying somewhere along the fading chalk lines.

I turn around and make my way to the cul-de-sac where a potato chip wrapper is glued to the asphalt where the old woman lay. I wonder if she got to have a body bag like Greg Hamilton or if her body was pushed away by a street sweeper as I walked off to class, her eyes, whether dead or alive, watching my hair bounce towards the horizon. Greg gets a headline news story in the school paper with 125 condolences in the comment section and an old woman gets hit with a car and is memorialized with a Doritos bag. But I wasn’t the only one there that day, hell, I didn’t even see her get hit with the car, so why wouldn’t anyone else call the paper with their story? Why wouldn’t they tell the police about the white BMW they saw? I’m pretty sure people get arrested for not telling details like that. Other people must be thinking of what they saw of the old woman, wondering if when they laid eyes on that body whether it was a human or a corpse. Even Tracy Bladstone got a goddamn petition after the idiot rode her bike out onto the busiest street on campus and got herself hit by a drunk driver. People carried her backpack around and drove her to class, as she scooted her purple casted leg across the street like a lame dog that needs to be put down.

I feel a soft hand on my shoulder and I tremble and bunch my shoulders as I spin around. A janitor, still clenching her yellow trash bag, asks me if I’m okay because I’ve been standing there staring at the road for the past few minutes. I can feel my ears and face warm and I tell her that I’m alright, shoving my hands in my pockets and shrinking into my coat collar as I leave. I can see her walk to the dumpster out of the corner of my eye, watching me as I walk away.

When I get back to the dorm, I notice a friend request from my RA, but I decide to leave it there. She’s changed her profile picture to the Viva la Vida poster that hangs in her room, though I don’t think Lady Liberty suits her well, not in this dorm at least. I wonder if Liberty would listen to me talk about an old woman who was hit by a car and if she’d still let me join her call to arms if she knew I walked away.

As I continue to scroll down the page, I receive a mass message from my RA to other students in the dorm. She talks about the “Greg Hamilton tragedy” and how her student organization is gathering people for a silent march on campus in his honor. I slam shut my computer and hurl a nearby book across the room, crushing into my door with a loud thud. I stare out my window, snow beginning to flake outside. I press my cheek against the cool glass, my uneven breath fogging my view.

—–

I decide to Google some local hospitals of the area a few days later. I write down a list of five numbers and begin at the top with St. Joseph’s. As I listen to smooth jazz on the other side of the line, I realize that I have no idea what to even say. I don’t have a name or even know if the old woman left the hospital after getting an X-ray and maybe a few stitches. I close my eyes, the crackling sound of a saxophone moaning into my ear, and I picture her cheek against the black asphalt. She seemed like she was napping, curled in her coat like a small bird. I can see her face, muscles loose and brow smooth. Only a dead person could look so peaceful. A man’s voice suddenly explodes through the speaker, asking what I want, and I hang up the phone. I peel my shirt away from my armpits, feeling the wet cloth in my pinched fingertips.

—–

I still can’t sleep. It’s been three weeks. Every night I dream of Greg Hamilton in a chafing wetsuit, edging towards a platform, and smacking his head up-side its steel edge. He falls like a fleshy rag doll down into a pool of water while a T.V. crew swivels to capture his busted forehead. I imagine Scott and Grace and his 2-year girlfriend padding his head with cotton balls until he gets back up and finishes the obstacle course, a big plastic check somewhere off screen. I dream of the old woman as Liberty, leg propped upon a pile of corpses, one arm raising a French flag, another a bayoneted gun, deflated breasts falling over her torn winter Dartmouth green coat. She grows a pair of wings, broad brown eagle feathers stretching out of her shoulders and back, and flies out of her hell, away from this revolution. Through a mesh of a black body bag, I watch her soar into the sky, the sun flashing like trauma lights.

—–

I decide to take another walk outside and pass by the sub shop, this time without the yellow police tape, so I have the strength to cross the road and look around. Though still closed, the front door is piled with dying, frosted flowers, stuffed animals, and hand written signs with glitter hearts encasing pictures of Greg Hamilton. Somewhere a few blocks away is a silent demonstration, marching in a zigzag path to this shrine. For the first time, I feel a little sad for Greg, as I stare back at his senior portrait which has been watching me since I crossed the street. I bend down and yank the petals off a nearby rose, Greg’s eyes still looking at me. I remain kneeling and look in his eyes. I hold up my clenched fist to his face and tell him that they’re for her. I pretend that he offers me an understanding nod. The robber, Greg’s killer, was arrested two days ago. I imagine a white BMW still driving around, a bulky dent in their front bumper. I then head toward the cul-de-sac, my body still trembling though it’s tucked inside layers.

I remain on the sidewalk as I reach the cul-de-sac, refusing to step out into the asphalt circle where the glued potato chip wrapper still flips in the wind: a three-ring master of this abandoned crime scene. My arm stiffens and I clench the petals to my skin, red poking between my fingers. I suddenly remember the janitor who caught me staring at this spot and, glancing around carefully, hurry away. I retreat to another sidewalk and walk down a hill to my creek, fatter than when I last left it. I dump the petals into the brown water and watch them, with contempt, as they spiral down the rapids to the large sewer drain downstream. I don’t find any relief. My palm is now red and, as I lean to rinse my hands, I notice a lone petal clinging to a nearby pebble. Nudging it with the tip of my shoe, it chases after her sister petals, following them to oblivion.

—–

I return to my room with no blood in my body and stiffened limbs. I dig around in my desk for the list of hospital phone numbers and decide to re-call St. Joseph’s.

Hello? Yes, do you know if you’ve admitted an elderly woman who was involved in a hit or run? I’m sorry? No, I don’t know her name. It would have been four weeks ago. You haven’t had anyone like that? Oh, I’m sorry, thank you.

And I try the other numbers, each disgruntled nurse explaining HIPAA to me in a slow voice. But no, she isn’t here, wasn’t here, and there were no elderly hit-and-runs that came in four weeks ago that they remember. The last one I try is Clairton. The phone rings through the first time and someone hangs up on me the second and third time. Finally, a husky woman answers.

“Hello?”

“Um, hello ma’am, do you have an admitted patient that is an elderly woman? She was involved in a hit-and-run four weeks ago?”

“And who is this I’m speaking to? Are you related?”

“Uh, no, I’m not related, I-“

“Ma’am, I cannot relate that information to you unless you are a relative. That’s hospital policy. Are you familiar with HIPAA?”

“Yes, I know what HIPAA is,” trying to control my tone, “but please-“

“I cannot disclose any information.”

“You can’t even tell me if you had a patient that meets the description?”

“No.”

“Please,” I tell her, my voice breaking, “I’m really worried about her. I just need to know if she is okay.”

She pauses and breathes heavy through her nose into the receiver.

“We did have an elderly woman. She was involved in a hit-and-run and died within a few hours from internal bleeding.”

She stops as she hears me sob into the receiver.

“The police did a background search and couldn’t find any information. They looked at missing persons but didn’t find a match. They assumed she was homeless; there weren’t any records. Did you know her?”

“No, but I was there.”

“You were?” and she breathes harder. “Why didn’t you file a report with the police? They said there was no eye witness testimony and they really couldn’t do anything, so they closed the case. You should really file a report. Did you see her get hit?”

“No,” I answer, my mouth filled with the taste of sick, “I didn’t see anything. Where is her body?”

I hear her wheeze through the speaker, “All unclaimed bodies remain in the Clairton morgue and after a month that are cremated-”

“What?! You cremated her body?” I scream into the phone, smashing my fist against my desk. “You don’t even know who she was and you cremated her? How the fuck does that make sense?”

With a click, her line is gone. I take out two sheets of paper. On one I scribble down the Clairton address. On the other I write my story, my confession about a white BMW I saw pull away at a hit-and-run on November 15th. I put on my coat and leave.

—–

I arrive at Clairton an hour before visiting hours stop and end up sitting in a chair in the lobby, too scared to go any further into the hospital. Flipping through a National Geographic, I pretend to be interested in the plight in Africa, as I eye the front desk. Only a small patch of sunlight squeezes into the glass front of the building as the sun sets. The enormous lobby only holds myself and a sleeping middle aged man across the room. He snorts loudly, his body slouched over the arm of his chair. With a slow breath, I toddle to the front desk and stand there until the secretary notices me. I ask if I can use a phone book and as she turns around, annoyed that anyone would need a phone book in this day and age, I slide my confessional with other papers on her desk. I flip through the phone book, opening at random pages and pretend to take down a number.

I then ask her, without any formality, “What happens to the ashes of an unclaimed body at the hospital?”

The mousy woman eyes me as she chews on the ends of her fake nails. She then informs me, in a hesitant tone, “All unclaimed bodies go to David’s Funeral Chapel where the bodies are cremated or buried or, if state funds are tight, sit in their morgue for a little while.”

“Can I get someone’s ashes if I’m not family or friend?” I ask her and her eyes bulge out a little as she stares at me in silence. I glance around the lobby until she finally begins again.

“No, but they hold a public service once a month and this coming Tuesday should be the next one.”

—-

I trudge through the snow in a little black dress and knee high snow boots. The parking lot of the funeral home is unplowed and three cars sit along the pallid, empty lot. The inside smells like agar and moth balls, and I place my coat on a cheap gold rack, grimacing at the room. The interior reminds me of a nursing home: tight grey brown carpet and slightly faded floral wall paper with chipped gold iron trimmings, once modern only two decades ago. I don’t like nursing homes, but as I think of the old woman stuffed in an urn, I feel a little ill to my stomach.

I slide into the closest chair to the door and fold my hands in my lap like I did when I went to mass as a child, except here there’s no stain glass or crucifixes, just white walls and pews. Up front is a worn blue curtain with two dome lights on either side. Two small bouquets of white roses sit in plastic wrap on a pair of stands. An elderly man adjusts the flowers, a loud crinkle with each movement. A middle aged woman sits across the aisle in the second row, head bowed, moving her lips in what I’m sure is a prayer.

The elderly man straightens and glances up, catching me in his sight. He quickly recovers his surprise and offers me a soft smile He nods to the woman, who uncurls herself and fixes her black shawl, never glancing back at me. There is no music. The elderly man leans to grab a book on a podium, saying a few words about death and the spiritual beyond. He looks awkward against the felt blue curtains, dressed in all black like a pseudo priest. He then thanks us for claiming these deceased people, their souls, and I think he must say “us” at every one of these ceremonies, except this time it’s true. He then clears his throat and begins a list:

“John Tribelete, November 1st, 2011.”

“May he rest in peace” the woman calls out in a loud voice that makes me jump.

“Unknown, November 1st, 2011.”

“May they rest in peace,” she calls again, head tilted back.

“Lucy Van Scivet, born July 15, 1942, November 2nd, 2011.”

I join the woman in a soft murmur, inaudible from the back, “May she rest in peace.”

He continues through the list and I fold and unfold the ceremony program, softly joining with the zealous woman upfront with our reply. And then, “Unknown, November 15th, 2011.”

All the warmth in my body sinks into the pew, as I lean forward and shout, “May she rest in peace!”

The woman looks over her shoulder and the elderly man looks taken aback, though regains his stride in a breath, “Unknown, November 15th, 2011.”

My hands cup around the edge of the pew, my breasts smashed into the wood, “May she rest in peace!”

We end the procession with a hymn: “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. As we sing, I wonder if God really does care about his smallest creatures, like the old woman. Greg Hamilton, young and strong, was a great creature. No one cares about the poor man, the smallest creature, at his gate. Justice is sought for the strong. No one fought for the old woman. No one filed a police report. I rub the sweat from my hands onto my dress; I didn’t file a police report.

At the end of the ceremony, the elderly man gives both me and the woman the bouquets of white roses. He smiles at me and leaves with the record book into another room. The woman unbows her head and looks up at me.

“We have made several new friends today. Thank you for coming here to claim them.”

I nod to her, “That’s why I came.”

She gives a delicate sigh, “I like to think that they are thankful that they are not forgotten, even when so many people may have turned away from them.”

A lump settles in my throat, so I can only nod, but as she walks to get her coat, I hide my face in the roses and cry.

—–

I peel the Kroger sticker off of the plastic wrap of the roses as I return to campus. I tread at a lethargic pace to the creek, slipping a little as I walk down the hill to the bank. A thin layer of ice covers the top of the water, the air bubbling beneath. I dig a little in the snow, hands naked, and toss some through the ice. Now a gash of brown grass sits like an iris against all the white. Tearing off the plastic wrap, I hold the bouquet against my breasts. I pull out a folded piece of paper from where I read the funeral hymn and I skim it over once more. I place the flowers in the water, petals still brighter than the surrounding dirty snow. This will be her shrine, I tell the neighboring trees. The petals and leaves twitch and one rose begins to roll with the drowsy current, then hides beneath ice, traveling down the creek beneath its glass roof. Soon another leaves with another following behind. Each rose touching the other by stem or petal, afraid to lose the other as they float together to an unknown.

As I stare up into the dark, I wonder if the driver of that white BMW is looking at this sky right now or if they’re in bed, asleep and shameless. I squeeze the lyrics of the hymn, but I still feel bare. On my knees, in the snow, I confess to the stars that I hate Greg Hamilton. That every night when I fall asleep I see the eyes of the old woman. My precious, nameless, Lady Liberty, and the EMT silently begging me to stay. I know she would be alive if I had stayed. I imagine her black ashes being dumped into a trash can in the back of David’s Funeral Chapel, ashes that should be smeared across my forehead to leave a permanent scar. The night is not forgiving, though, and offers me no absolution except the snow piling onto my hair and face. I then remove my boots and stand at the bank, feet heating the frozen mud beneath. I haven’t been able to feel the cold for four weeks now. I step into the creek with a slow stride, easing into the current of these rapids, head bowed, waiting to be swept away.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Fiction, True Story

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