Sunday, October 9, 2011

Short Story


I grew up on a dead end road with five other houses. The type of road there was no reason to ever go down unless you lived there. So when I found my dog run over at the side of my driveway, I knew it meant something: it meant one of my neighbors did it. It meant they killed Jessie, and they drove away.

So two days later, after I lost my voice from crying and regained it, I went door to door to question each neighbor - a ten year old detective. I wanted to know where they were during the time of the accident, which I knew happened between 8am and 3pm. I wanted to know if there was blood on their car, which, after seeing Jessie’s body severed in two, I imagined there to be buckets of. And, most importantly, I wanted to know if they had a reason to kill my best friend.

I got no answers. Just confused stares from middle aged men and women, no doubt wondering what kind of child would go from house to house accusing people of a hit and run, and what type of parent would allow them to do so. But the last house I went to was different.

It was at the far end of my road, partly hidden by trees, owned by a woman I knew nothing about. Never spoke with, never waved hello to, nothing. But regardless, I was determined to get answers from her - the last suspect I had in Jessie’s killing.

I walked up her porch holding a notebook and a box of cookies.

“Hey!” a voice said from inside, before I could even knock. “I don’t want any girl scout cookies.”

“I’m not a girl,” I said.

“Well, I don’t want any boy scout cookies either.”

The door opened, and there she was: late fifties, thin, with hair so red I knew it must have been dyed, but by her pale skin and light green eyes, I imagined it was the color she once naturally had. She was beautiful. Off, but beautiful. She looked like fire with an hourglass figure. And I knew this was my killer.

“My dog was run over,” I said. I adjusted my notebook, preparing to take notes. “I got off my school bus two days ago and saw her dead by my driveway. Everyone on my whole bus saw it.”

“Hey!” the woman said. “Can I have a cookie?”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“A cookie! I’m not buying one, but if you’re gonna hold them there like a carrot stick, I want one for free.”

She grabbed a cookie and held it to her side. And, just as quickly, I started wondering if she was insane.

“So what’s this all about?” the woman said. “You think I killed your dog or something?”

“No,” I said.

“Then why’d you come here? Did someone tell you I killed your dog or something?”

“No,” I said.

“Was it Debra? Two houses down? I bet she told you I killed your dog, didn’t she?”

“I don’t know who Debra is,” I said.

“Ah, fucking Debra.” The woman reached for another cookie, now holding two, and scratched behind her head. There was a large patch of hair in her armpit, also dyed red.

“Hey!” the woman said. “What’d you do with the dog?”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“The dog. Your dog. After it was dead. What’d you do with the dog?”

“I buried her in my backyard,” I said.

“Did your farther burry her?” she said.

“No, I buried her,” I said.

I knew she wanted to ask why my father didn’t do this, as if that was the unspoken job of a man to take care of dead animals, but she said nothing. She may have been crazy, but she also knew what it was like not having a man around.

“Heyyyyyy,” the woman said, as she tapped my open notebook. “You can draw.” I’d written nothing since interviewing my other neighbors, but had taken the time to draw a large sunflower, which the woman was now staring at with wide eyes.

“I’m a great drawer, too,” she said. “But I used to be even better.” She then lifted her left hand, the one not holding any cookies, revealing the stub of three missing fingers.

“Want to know how I lost my fingers?” she said.

I looked away. Seeing a mutilated body only reminded me of Jessie. And I began wishing I hadn’t come here.

“I had a daughter named Adrienne,” the woman said. “And one day when she was four months old, I picked her up out of her crib, and she died. No coughing, no crying, nothing. She was alive, and then she was dead. A blink. Right in my arms.”

The woman talked in an even tone, not a tremble, like how a stranger might describe the weather.

“So that night I had too much to drink,” she continued. “I went driving places I didn’t know, and I crashed.”

She lifted her hand again, as if showing her mutilated fingers was the only way to finish her story. Then she reached for another cookie. She did it so hard and fast I almost dropped the box.

“See what I’m saying,” the woman said. “Sometimes people just go down roads. It doesn’t matter if they live there or not. People just do things. They go down a road, they kill a dog, and then they leave. Got it?”

I nodded, but kept my eyes down. I wanted to write what she was saying, like it somehow explained what I was looking for, but I couldn’t. I could only think of Jessie. So I ran. I dropped my notebook, my box of cookies, and I ran off the porch. I remembered thinking she would yell at me for doing this, but there was nothing. I didn’t even hear the door shut behind me.

At home I went to my kitchen: defeated, no answers, a failed ten year old detective. My mom was sitting at the kitchen table when I walked in. I knew she heard me, but she didn’t turn. I wanted her to ask if I sold any cookies that day, which I told her I was doing, a lie to avoid the actual reason for going door to door. But she never asked. And as I stared at my mother’s arched back and thinning hair, I knew she never would.

“Hi, Mom,” I said.

She nodded.

Outside I went to my backyard. I walked over to Jessie’s grave. The dirt I buried her with was still fresh, a darker color than the rest, and a few red and orange leaves were sprinkled about. Jessie used to love rolling in the leaves.

I stood there for a long while, looking at animal tracks, which I assumed belonged to raccoons. They were probably digging for Jessie, I thought. Trying to eat her. That’s just what animals do, I remembered thinking. People just do things.

And then the wind picked up. The leaves blew away, circling my legs as if the world was trying to hold me in place. And I saw my notebook. It was partly buried in the dirt, sticking right out of Jessie’s grave. The same notebook I used to question my neighbors, the same notebook I dropped on the woman’s porch. I bent down and saw the page with my sunflower flipped open. It looked different, though. It looked finished. There were more petals on it, more color, as if someone knew how to make it perfect; make it beautiful in a way I never could.

I picked up the notebook and saw a note.

“Hey!” it read. “I kept the cookies. But you keep the notebook. You keep drawing. Keep drawing pretty, pretty flowers. And hey…I’m real sorry to hear about your dog.”

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