“I don’t know why I did it.” Those are his first words.
Right now I’m holding the mother. She’s sobbing hard against me. I can feel her warm tears seeping through my button shirt, and I’m thinking, I hope her mascara washes out. I gently rub her back to try and calm her down, but it’s obviously not working. Her hair is really dry, and it’s tickling my nose. I’m trying not to sneeze or laugh, but it’s hard not to do two things at once. The lady’s hair is a dirty blonde color, very messy and unkempt. The smell is okay though. A little coconuty. Nice. The rest of her isn’t though. Occasionally, I get a hot MILF, and I casually make my way down to her ass. But not this one. Mid-forties. Single parent. Fat. The lady mumbles something against my chest, but I can’t hear her through all the phlegm and spit. I continue rocking her saying, “Shhhh…it’s okay…it’ll be okay.”
I go through this routine two, three times a week. Whenever I have to talk to the family members, I always change into my crying shirt. No sense in ruining my good shirts. I look down and see a patch of light red above my left nipple. That was from the other day. I remember. Cute girl, not my type though, and wore too much lipstick. I’m also wearing my blue Regis Philbin tie, the one I got from my nephew for Christmas. I don’t like Regis, and I don’t like my nephew. Don’t care much for Christmas either. That’s why I’m wearing it. It’s my crying tie to go with my crying shirt. “Why? Why?” the lady chokes out from beneath my chin. I say something comforting and rub her back some more. Nothing’s shutting this bitch up.
There are three types of criers—low, medium, and high, I call them. The low ones, they’re the silent criers. They just kind of gently sob and don’t say anything. Those are my favorite. The medium ones, they cry harder and bury deeper, moaning and groaning. Those kind of turn me on. The high ones, they go all out, like a 5-year-old boy having a tantrum in the middle of the toy aisle at K-Mart. They’re the ones that make you feel extra uncomfortable—screaming, yelling, drooling everywhere. They also like to move their hands a lot—scratching, squeezing, fist-bashing. I remember this one girl left me with bruises on my chest for over a week. Sometimes I consider having a crying bulletproof vest, but I think that’s going a little too far. The lady I’m holding now, she’s a medium crier, but I know if I don’t calm her down soon, she’s going to escalate to the high level. Oh crap, now she’s hiccupping. That’s what happens when you cry and try to speak in complete sentences at the same time. You hiccup. I shush her some more.
The television is still showing static snow. I forget exactly when the tape ended, but judging from the size of the warm puddle spreading across the front of my shirt, it’s been about four minutes. By now, I would think that my partner would have popped the video out. I turn my head slightly to the left and find him snoozing with his head propped up on the metal table. There’s a thing of drool hanging from his bottom lip, and I suddenly feel the urge to vomit on him. I nudge him with my foot, and he springs awake and yells, “Boobies!” His hand goes to his crotch, where a boner is growing. I try not to laugh, but it’s too hard now. I quickly turn my chuckling into pretend sobs and rock the lady some more. My partner looks around and remembers where he is and blushes. He yawns and rubs his eyes, and then goes over to the TV and presses the STOP button on the VCR. After ejecting the tape and setting it on the table, he sits back down and goes back to dreaming about boobies and whatnot.
Meanwhile, I’m still holding this lady in my arms, telling her it’ll be alright. It’s better when there are two or more family members. That way they can hug each other and weep. When it’s just one, they go to the nearest person—yours truly. Apparently, I look a lot friendlier than my partner here, who usually sulks in the corner or takes a nap at times like this. Sometimes I wonder if this is just an act. I wonder if after they leave here and get in their nice little cars, they wipe their fake tears and go over to Burger King for a Whopper, or pull over somewhere and have oral sex. But usually I can tell. I’ve been doing this long enough to know an actor or actress when I see one. A lot of times you can tell by their heartbeat. The fake ones, their hearts stay pretty steady, despite their overenthusiastic screaming and clawing. This woman is genuine though, I can tell. Ms. Jacobs or Johnson or James. I don’t remember.
Ms. Leonard, that was it.
“I don’t know why I did it.” Those are his first words. It suddenly occurs to me that we don’t know why we do a lot of things. Why we discharge salty fluids from our eye ducts at times of emotional distress. Is it some kind of evolutionary adaptation? When we are sad or happy, does a chemical reaction take place in our brain that causes our eyes to water? Do animals ever cry? I make a mental note to myself to go on the Internet when I get home and look it up. I make another mental note that I’m going to forget, and it won’t come up again for a long time, maybe another few years.
Another thing I don’t get is why I care about the cleanliness of my shirts so much. So there’s a little lipstick on it. And a little green snot. And just a hint of orange (don’t ask, because I don’t know). It gives it some color, some pizzazz. Why I do it, I don’t know. All I know now is that this bitch just won’t stop, and I’m thinking too hard at this time of day. I pull Ms. Loren or Ms. Lipton a little closer so I can see over her shoulder at my watch. It’s one of those fancy-looking Rolex knockoffs that I wear so people don’t think that I’m living in a one-bedroom apartment, and I eat Cheetos and drink beer for breakfast while looking through my stack of porn. I doubt I’m fooling anyone, but it’s a habit now, like my crying shirt and my crying tie. At home, I wear nothing but boxers and a crappy digital watch I got out of a Captain Crunch box one time. That reminds me.
It’s 1:13 AM, and I need some sleep.
There’s a bad cup of coffee on the table. I pick it up by carefully shifting Ms. Little a little to my left and reaching over with my right. I’m about a foot taller than Ms. Lamb, so I try to take a sip of the coffee over her dirty blonde head. She just happens to hiccup at this moment, causing her head to jerk up and bump into the Styrofoam cup in my hand. Scorching hot (not to mention unsavory) coffee spills on her dry scalp, and she falls on her knees holding her burning head, screaming and wailing. I’m glad I can’t hear her curse words through her tears and snot. All the noise makes my partner jerk awake again and yell, “Boobies!”
I drink what’s left of the coffee and think about lawsuits and losing my job and how this lady could bite me in the balls right now without me looking. I can tell she’s having trouble deciding what she should be crying for—her third-degree burns or her dead son. I say, pick the latter.
I burst out laughing. Coconuty. Captain Crunch. Boobies. I can’t help it. Man, does this coffee taste bad.
Mental note: stop drinking the coffee here.
Mental note: try to remember what I was going to look up on the Internet.
Mental note: I don’t know why I did it.
Mental note: stop making mental notes, you damn fool.
I pull up to the victim’s house. Patrol cars are parked in the driveway and in the street. Neighbors look out their windows wondering what happened. Later, they’re going to be on TV, telling the unsympathetic news reporter that this is a fairly peaceful neighborhood, and it’s a surprise that something like this would happen. They’re going to say that the victim was the sweetest girl in the world, even though they hardly knew her. Then the news reporter will interview her friends at school, and they’ll say she was an honor roll student, and she was in Beta Club, and everyone liked her. On TV, they’ll post a picture of her, probably in her cute cheerleading uniform, so all the folks at home can feel bad for her for ten seconds, before moving on to the next dead girl. What was her name again? Mary? Molly? Martha? Jamie, that was it. Poor, poor, little Jill.
Mental note: get some cheerleader porn.
My partner’s standing on the front lawn and sees me from across the street. He runs up to my car as I’m getting out. He says, “It’s about time you got here.” I ignore him. I slam the door shut and lock it. My car is a rusty piece of crap, over a decade old. There’s not even a CD or tape player in it, just an AM/FM radio missing the knob. I think I got it out of a Captain Crunch box, along with my watch.
I jog across the street toward the front door. “This better be good,” I tell my partner. “I’m missing Will and Grace for this.”
“It’s a rerun,” he says.
“So is this,” I say.
It’s a two-story brick house. The lawn is thick and green and evenly cut. There’s a pretty flower bed along the front. Parked in the driveway, alongside the police cars with their flashing lights, is an expensive black car. Already I know this is a nice family before I even meet them. My partner and I flash our badges to the officer on the front porch. He nods and lets us through. “Upstairs, second room on the right,” he says.
The interior is warmly lit. There are picture frames hanging on the wall, flower vases in the corners. I walk through the foyer and see the parents crying in the kitchen, holding each other as the officer pats the woman on the shoulder and says something comforting. My eyes lock with the officer’s for a second or two, and we nod at each other, as if to say, you’re stuck with that job too, huh? I suddenly think about my crying shirt and tie in the back seat of my car. I turn to my right, and my partner and I make our way up the stairs. We reach the victim’s bedroom, and my partner hands me a pair of latex gloves.
Mental note: buy some more condoms.
Mental note: find someone to use them with.
Inside, the photographer is still taking pictures. “I’m almost done here, detectives,” he says.
“Take your time,” I say. I turn to my partner. “Get me up to speed.” He yawns and takes out a notepad from his breast pocket. I begin walking around the room as he speaks.
“17 years old. Attends the local high school. Been dead for a little less than an hour.” I stop at her bookcase and crouch down. There’s a series of John Grisham novels. I pull one out at random and slowly flip through the hundreds of pages. She read this book, I think to myself. When did she read it? Was it any good? Doesn’t matter now. I put the book back in its place.
“She was studying with some guy friend in her class. Her parents were downstairs watching TV and saw him walk out in a rush. He said he had to go home.” I open her dresser and find a drawer full of underwear and bras. I pick out a pink thong and hold it up. This string was once up her crack, I think to myself. How did her mother react when she bought her first thong? Does she ever lift up her skirt at parties and let guys gawk at her underwear? Doesn’t matter now. I put the G-string back in the drawer and close it.
“Her mother went up to see if anything was wrong. At first, she thought she was sleeping.” I pick up the picture frame on her nightstand. It’s a photo of the victim and her parents, standing before theGrand Canyon. All three of them are smiling. She was alive then. She was happy. I wonder: Is there a John Grisham novel in her knapsack? What color thong is she wearing? Doesn’t matter now. I set down the picture.
“She was smothered with a pillow. We think he also raped her. There’s a blood spot at her crotch, and her clothes are scrunched up.”
“Why is she still wearing clothes at all?” I ask. “Did her mother put them back on?”
“She swears that’s how she found her.” My partner sees the look on my face. “I know. Doesn’t make any sense.”
The photographer leaves the room. At last, I reach the victim herself. The straight-A cheerleader that’s everyone’s friend, that likes to read John Grisham, that wears thong underwear, that visited the Grand Canyon. But none of these things matter anymore, I think to myself. Because she’s dead, and she’s not coming back. I never say these things to the women I have to console. I say it’ll be okay, that it’s all going to work out. But the fact of the matter is that it’s not. You can’t reverse death. You can only pick up the pieces afterwards. This is my job. I pick up the pieces.
I crouch down next to her, watching her lie there peacefully. With my gloved hand, I brush a strand of blonde hair from her beautiful, young face. Her own hands lie limp on her stomach, blue and gray, the colors of death. “I wish I could get to know you for more than ten seconds,” I whisper to her in a voice so low that my lips seem to be silently moving. “I wish I knew more than the mere labels they have placed upon you. But I can’t. You have your own story, but I don’t have time to read it. I can only figure out why it ended so soon.” I tell this to all my patients—that’s what I call them. I don’t care much for the family members, mourning, grieving, weeping on my chest. Yet I do owe something to the dead. The parents have lost nothing—they are still alive. The patients are why I am here, why I do what I do. My partner assumes that I’m saying a silent prayer, and I let him think that. Sometimes I make an invisible cross with my hand to humor him. But this isn’t about religion. Or emotions. It’s about business. This is just another job, I always have to tell myself. Just another interruption in Will and Grace. I have to get it done and move on.
I stand up and look at my partner, who’s standing there silently with his notepad in hand, watching me perform my ritual. There are textbooks scattered on the bed and some more fallen on the floor half-open. I pick them up one by one. Algebra. Physics. Literature. She probably had a test tomorrow and was cramming the night before. Doesn’t matter now. I open a textbook and find a male’s name in the front cover. I show it to my partner. “This the guy?” I ask.
“Yeah. We tried his house, but the only person home is his mother. She says she doesn’t know where he is. We got the license plate and car description though. Shouldn’t take too long to find the son of a bitch.”
“Any possible motives?”
“Nope. Her parents are still being questioned downstairs, and the perpetrator’s mother doesn’t know much at all. From what we know, he and the girl have known each other for some time now.”
“Did they ever go out?”
“No, she already has a boyfriend. He was contacted too. He doesn’t know anything either. So far I got no reason why he would kill her.”
“Sometimes we don’t know why we do things,” I say quietly.
“What was that?”
“Never mind. Let’s go to the guy’s house and question his—” My cell phone rings in my jacket pocket. I let it go for a while, listening to Beethoven’s Ninth in a series of annoying beeps. After I realize I hate this song, I press the ON button.
“We found him…he’s dead.”
“I don’t know why I did it. I loved her so much. I fucking LOVED her, man! Oh, God. I can’t believe it, you know. I just can’t fucking believe it. I’m thinking I must have dreamed it all. But I can smell her on me. It won’t go away. I’m thinking I might be imagining that too, but you can’t imagine her smell. Why did I do it?! I don’t know. I don’t know. I couldn’t stop, you know. Once you start, you can’t look back. You can’t just quit and say, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I take it all back, will you forgive me? The moment you fall in deep shit, there’s no chance of climbing out. You can only sink deeper and deeper. And now, now I’m at the bottom of the shit pile, making my farewell address.
“We were sitting there on her bed, like we always do. Cramming for some stupid test. Her parents are real nice. They trust me. They trust that I won’t do anything. Not anymore, of course. Oh, God. I keep picturing the look that must have been on her mom’s face when she opened the door. How she must have felt… Fuck! I don’t know why I did it. I don’t know. We study all the time. What was different this time? I know why. It was because I loved her this time. Every time I see her, I take a part of her with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. And now, now I just snapped. Why? Why? Fuck why. I don’t know. I don’t know. It just happened so fucking fast. One minute we’re just talking, and the next I’m on top of her, and she’s screaming, but no one can hear her. Fuck! I shouldn’t have kissed her. I should have known she didn’t feel that way. But I didn’t. Because I’m a fucking dumb ass. I should have thought first. But I didn’t. I didn’t. And now I’m paying for it.
“God. I loved her. She was so close. So close. I could feel her breath. And I just watched her, sitting there, beautiful, smiling that adorable smile. I couldn’t help it. I wanted her so fucking bad. So I kissed her. And she kissed me back. And at that moment, I thought it was all going to be alright. I did the right thing. But then I opened my eyes, and I looked into hers, and I knew it wasn’t the right thing. I said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and she said, ‘It’s okay,’ and we didn’t say anything after that. It was so uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to do.
“Then I had a flash in my head. You ever get one of those what-if flashes? You know what I’m talking about. You’re sitting there, and you think, what if I just punch the first person I see? What if I just pull my pants down and take a piss in front of everyone? What would they do? What would they say? That’s what happened to me. I had one of those what-if flashes. Except it wasn’t just a flash. For a brief moment, I saw myself fucking her. And before I knew it, I was. I was on top of her, unbuttoning her pants. She was confused at first. She didn’t know what was happening. What I was doing. And why would she? I was confused too. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. I was already inside her, and there was nothing I could do but go forward. It’s like those wild car chases. I understand why they do it now. Why they can’t stop. Why they can’t surrender. It’s not because they don’t want to, but because they aren’t able to. You don’t need anything to fuel it. Once it sparks, you’re off, and you can’t look back. The shit’s hit the fan, and it’s not over until it’s over.
“She tried to say something. She tried to say ‘stop,’ but she couldn’t. Nothing came out. She was in shock. I was in shock. I said I was sorry. I said I didn’t mean for this to happen. I said, please don’t scream. And she was going to. And again, that spark, that sudden impulse. I was scared she would yell, so I grabbed the pillow, and I used it to smother her cries. I kept glancing back at the door, waiting for her parents to come bashing through at any moment. I wasn’t afraid. I wanted them to. I needed someone to stop me. Because I couldn’t. I kept looking back, begging someone to catch me and stop me from doing this to the person I loved more than anything in the world. But no one came. The cops didn’t corner me yet, so I had to keep driving.
“And all the time, I bore down harder and harder, snuffling her cries of pain. And all the time, I fucked harder and harder, feeling her tearing inside. Feeling her blood on my cock. And I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop, goddamn it! And finally, she stopped struggling. Her body went limp. I slowly lifted up the pillow, and I looked into her eyes, but they didn’t look back. They were dead and empty. I didn’t know what to do. I had to get away. I was about to just run out the door, but I looked back and saw her lying there half-naked, and I knew I couldn’t leave her like that. I didn’t want someone so sweet and so beautiful to be remembered that way. So I went back and redressed her as best I could. Then I ran out like a coward. A coward, that’s what I am. And here I am now, sitting in my car, in this empty parking lot. A coward.
“I guess it’s time for me to go now. I know what I have to do. It won’t bring her back, and it won’t make up for the pain I caused her and her family. But I can’t live on anymore. Not after what I did. I’m sorry, so fucking sorry. I didn’t mean to. I don’t want your forgiveness. I just want your understanding. Please. Oh, God. I don’t know why I did it. I don’t know why. I’m sorry, so fucking sorry. I loved her so much. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. But I couldn’t stop.
“I couldn’t stop.”
Remember those cartoons where the Road Runner meets a dead end, so he quick paints a tunnel on the wall and somehow goes through it? (Beep! Beep!) Then good old Wile E. Coyote comes along and smashes into the brick wall and gets flattened like a pancake. This is supposed to be funny. It doesn’t make any sense—how did the Road Runner get that paint so damn fast?—but it’s okay to laugh, because we know Wile E. Coyote is still alive and well. In a world of cartoon pain, yes, but still alive nonetheless. Unrealistic violence is always funny.
Mental note: get some pancakes.
I have yet to see an episode where Wile E. Coyote runs off a cliff, stands in midair, looks down all surprised, holds up a “fuck” sign, plummets hundreds of feet through the air, and then hits the ground so hard that we hear all the bones of his body break at the same time in one loud CRACK! We all kind of nervously chuckle until we see the pool of blood seeping from beneath the corpse. That’s when the laughter stops.
“Must have been going ninety, a hundred miles per hour,” says my partner. He yawns and scratches himself.
“Beep, beep,” I say.
We’re standing at the scene of the “accident,” though I don’t know how you can accidentally drive into a wall at ninety, a hundred miles per hour, beep, beep. The sky is pitch-dark now, and with the big spotlights and flashing red and blue from the police vehicles, this looks like a Looney Toons episode gone wrong. Something to save for the blooper reel. I can’t tell what kind of car it is—half of it is completely demolished, the steering wheel now in the trunk. The driver is much the same—the bottom half is nowhere to be seen, and the top half is smashed about an inch into the concrete wall like good old Wile E. Coyote. Blood is splattered everywhere, including the Super Wal-Mart sign and the mechanical horse next to the door whose best customers are drunken teenagers who come late at night and give new meaning to the term “sex toy.”
Mental note: get some crazy dildo porn.
I put on a new pair of latex gloves and get ready to go to work. The photographer is still taking his pictures. He sees us and says, “Hi again, detectives! Busy night, huh?” We nod. I walk up close to the remains of the body, still thinking about the Road Runner but not laughing. The stench is almost unbearable, and so is the sight. A string of intestines hangs from the severed torso, swinging back and forth in the breeze like a pendulum. The arms are spread eagle against the wall, and it’s almost comical, but it’s not. My partner starts making gagging noises, trying not to vomit all over the place.
“Sorry, man. I can’t take this,” he says. He has his eyes tightly shut and a hand over his mouth, doing his best to keep control.
“That’s fine. You can go meet me back at the car.” I watch him stumble back into the darkness, and then turn back to Wile E. Coyote. So this is him, I think to myself. The guy who fucked and murdered poor 17-year-old Jane or Jackie or Julia, the cheerleader/honor roll student/Beta club member/John Grisham fan. I thought he’d be taller. What’s his name again? Willy Cayat? Wayne Cooper? What are his interests? His likes, his dislikes? Doesn’t matter now. He’s dead, just like Jenny or Julie or whatever her name is. I picture Wilson yesterday, driving to school, taking a History quiz, maybe walking through the hall with Joy, maybe asking her if she wanted to study, and having absolutely no clue that the next day he would be nothing but a bloody torso stuck in the side of a Wal-Mart. Do we really make up our own future? Could he have avoided this? Was this his fate? Whether our path is set or not, every day I’m more and more glad that I’m ignorant of the future. I’m glad that my patients are too. Death is nothing compared to the torture of its approach.
After a while, I feel a little queasy myself and turn away. I look at what’s left of the car. From what I can tell, it’s old like mine. There’s obviously no airbag. The entire front part is crushed in like a soda can. I touch the cool metal, absorbing the physics of it all, trying to feel what happened. Going a hundred miles per hour and then suddenly coming to a stop, except not really coming to a stop. The last second thinking, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Feeling myself moving backward from the equal and opposite force, but at the same time moving forward, because Newton says all things in motion tend to stay in motion until acted upon by an outside force. Flying through the windshield headfirst, glass slicing my eyeballs open. Feeling myself being cut in half by the roof of the car as it continues to push against the wall. The rest of me floating upward to meet that outside force at one hundred miles per hour. Sinking into the concrete, my ribcage pulverized into sand. My organs, the passengers of my body, still going forward according to Newton, my heart bursting out of my chest. Painting the Wal-Mart smiley face in red blood. Rolling back prices. All of this in half a second.
I try opening the back door, but it’s stuck. I take a flashlight out of my pocket and shine it inside. There’s an empty McDonald’s paper bag. A blue backpack, shredded open now with textbooks half-fallen out. In a Hollywood movie, the car would have exploded. A mushroom cloud of fire and smoke would have shot upward dozens of feet into the air, seen from blocks away. Somehow James Bond or Arnold Schwarzenegger or MacGyver or Batman would have escaped unseen. But this is not Hollywood. Just the screech of tires, a loud bang, the sound of breaking glass and breaking bone. Then pure silence.
I make my way to the back of the car. The beam of the flashlight reflects off the white license plate. Must have been how they identified the car, I think to myself. No other way. The rear window hasn’t completely shattered yet, but it’s filled with a million little cracks, turning it into an opaque white. I move the beam of the flashlight across it, and there’s a spot where the light shines through into the back seat. I stick my hand there. It’s a hole in the glass. Something must have been forced out at impact. I’m thinking it’s a leg or a shoe.
I begin walking away from the car in a straight line, sweeping the light back and forth across the ground of the parking lot, searching for whatever may have been ejected through the back window.
“Looking for something?” My partner’s voice makes me jump about two feet in the air. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you. I feel better now. Thought you might need some help.”
“There’s a hole in the rear window of the car,” I say. “Looking for something that—”
My partner suddenly yells, “Shit!” There’s a thump. I look over and see him lying face down on the concrete, his arms spread out. My first thought is that he’s mocking poor Wile E. Coyote, splattered against the wall, and that it’s not very funny. Then I realize my clumsy partner’s tripped on something. I shine the flashlight at his feet. There’s a black, mangled object of plastic or metal. My partner holds out his hand. I reach down and pick up the black thing instead.
“Thanks a lot,” he says, getting back on his feet.
“No problem,” I say.
“What is that?”
“Looks like a video camera.” I turn it over in my hands. I try opening it, but it’s stuck. “Hold this.” I hand my partner my flashlight. With both hands, I’m able to pry open the lid.
Inside, there’s a videotape, undamaged.
About now, a group of teenagers, two boys and two girls, pulls into the 24-hour convenience store. Inside, dozing off behind the cash register, is 21-year-old Amy or Amanda or Amelia, working the night shift. The bell above the door wakes her up. She sits up suddenly, and the word “hello” bursts from her lips awkwardly and unexpectedly. She fixes her hair and wipes the drool from the corner of her mouth, feeling slightly embarrassed. The lone customer doesn’t seem to notice. He looks nervous and embarrassed himself. It’s the oldest—or at least oldest looking—of the underage adolescents. He casually grabs a bag of Cheetos, some Slim Jims, and a twelve-pack of beer, and walks to the counter. Casually.
“Will that be all?” says Alyssa or Ashley.
“Uh, yeah,” says the responsible young adult in an unnaturally low voice. The cashier smiles. Very convincing, she thinks. She rings up the items and takes his money, casually as well, pretending she’s an idiot. She knows the guy’s underage, but she could care less now. She was a teen herself not too long ago and depended on dumb/uncaring cashiers like she is now to have fun.
She hands him his change and says good night.
“Night,” he says, and casually walks out the door. She watches him as he gets in his car, and his buddies cheer and give him high fives and pat him on the back. Oh, to be young and dumb again, she thinks. Now she’s just a little older and still dumb. She smiles and puts her head back down on the counter and begins to snooze again. She has other things to worry about than stupid high school kids. Tomorrow she’s got midterms. Her shift is almost over, and if she leaves right away, she can take a quick shower and get about three hours of sleep before having to go to school. If she has time tomorrow, maybe she and her boyfriend can go see a movie or something. They also haven’t fucked in a long time, almost three days, and it’s beginning to get to her. Maybe she’ll do a little finger-fucking under the counter before she leaves. Between her legs, she’s beginning to feel wet and hot.
Mental note: you’re way too horny.
Of course, this is all speculation. A little movie prequel running through my sick mind. She probably doesn’t masturbate in the workplace. She probably doesn’t drool in her sleep. But she does in my version of the story. The rest of it is pretty much true. I’ve seen all of this before. Just dumb people doing dumb things. People dying for no other reason than sheer stupidity. They don’t know why they do it, but they do it. And they face the consequences afterwards.
I’m thinking all of this while I’m holding Anita or Allison’s mother. Rocking her back and forth in my arms, whispering comforting things in her ear, not because they mean anything, but because it seems like the right thing to do. I don’t know why I do it, but I do it. “It’s okay. It’ll be alright,” I tell her. Lying right in her face. I feel her tears seeping into my crying shirt. And then, for some reason, my eyes become blurred, and I feel my own tears running down my own cheeks, dripping on this poor lady’s head, which by the way is very soft and feels wonderful. I stand there and cry. I tell myself, this isn’t professional. I tell myself, stop your weeping, you pansy. But it won’t stop. I can’t stop.
“Shhh…it’s all going to be okay,” I say to her. Though now I’m not sure if it’s less to her than it is to me—if I’m holding her, or if she’s holding me. This has never happened before. Until now. “It should have been me,” I tell her out loud. “I’m so sorry. It should have been me.”
And though she doesn’t nod her head or say anything, I can tell she’s silently agreeing with me.
I pop the tape into the VCR and place my finger on the PLAY button. “You don’t have to see this if you don’t want to,” I tell Ms. Lake, sitting at the metal table with her hands calmly resting in her lap. We’re in the interrogation room. My partner has his head propped up on the table about to go to sleep. “I have to warn you, there are some things on here you might not want to hear or see.”
“No,” she says firmly. “I want to see it.” I nod and press PLAY.
A dark figure appears onscreen, adjusting the position of the camera on the dashboard. When he has it in place, he looks directly into the lens and says, “I don’t know why I did it.”
I go and stand behind her, letting her watch her son’s last moments, listening to her son’s last words. The hands in her lap go from calm to clenched and shaking. Meanwhile, I’m unbuttoning the shirt I have on and putting on my crying shirt. Tying my blue crying tie from the Regis Philbin collection. I quietly observe the mother as her features gradually change. She’s not crying yet, but she’s building up to it. It reminds me of a standup comedy show. Your smile grows wider and wider until you reach the punch line, and that’s when you burst out laughing.
This is the same thing, except it’s not.
“I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop.” The to-be Wile E. Coyote begins to weep, his head against the steering wheel. Eventually, he wipes his tears and snot and turns on the ignition. A look of acceptance appears on the young man’s face, the look of someone who has resigned to their fate. The camera shakes slightly from the rumbling engine. Orange light fills the screen and disappears, fills the screen and disappears, as lampposts sweep by overhead. The appearance and disappearance of the orange light grows more and more frequent, almost blinking. And then a loud crash.
Wile E. Coyote flies out of his seat like Superman.
The camera begins to fly as well, making its way to the spot where my partner will trip and fall about half an hour later.
And then static snow as the camera crumples like a Caffeine Free Diet Coke.
The punch line: Beep! Beep!
Ms. Lovett erupts like a volcano, almost knocking the chair over on its side. She twirls around and sees me.
My arms are already outstretched.
It’s almost two o’clock now, and I’m tired as shit. I finally convince Ms. Lee that I was sorry, and that it was an accident, and please don’t get mad, and here’s twenty, fifty, a hundred bucks for the inconvenience. I bet her hair doesn’t smell like coconut anymore. I finish all the necessary paperwork and tell my partner see you tomorrow. I stumble out to my piece of crap of a car like a drunken old man out of a saloon.
I try changing the station on the radio, but I forget for the millionth time that the fucking knob is missing. I make a mental note to myself to remember to replace it, but I already know it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Nothing seems to be going right today. I try to avoid thinking about what lies ahead of me tomorrow. Then I remember it’s already tomorrow. How did I miss the transition from Wednesday to Thursday? Oh wait, there is no fucking transition. All I can think about now is sleep and porn. Cheerleader porn. Crazy dildo porn. Anal porn. Orgy porn. Porn, porn everywhere and not a drop to drink. I think I’ll call in sick tomorrow.
Mental note: get a new hobby.
I approach a 24-hour convenience store on my right. A young woman in her car is at the parking lot entrance, waiting for me to pass. I don’t know why I do it, but I slow down and let her go in front of me, even though it’s late at night or early in the morning, and we’re the only two people crazy enough to be awake and driving at this time of day. Maybe it’s because I’m such a gentleman, and ladies always go first. Or maybe I’m just a fool. It’s the same either way. As she pulls in front of me, she gives me the thank-you wave, and I give her the no-problem nod. I should feel honored now, because I’m the last person Angel or Abigail is going to see.
We come to a stop at an intersection, and I read her bumper stickers. GOD IS ALWAYS WATCHING! JESUS LOVES YOU! HONK THRICE IF YOU LIKE APPLE PIE! I do what I’m told, and I honk thrice. She gives me a ha-ha wave outside her window. The light turns green.
Meanwhile, a group of drunken teenagers on a joy ride, probably on their way to the nearby Wal-Mart to have some fun on the mechanical horses, decides to run the red light. They collide at one hundred and twelve miles per hour into Anna, the clueless cashier who sold them the beer less than an hour ago. I watch as her car flips over four times and comes to a halt upside down on the sidewalk. I watch as the other car swerves and crashes into a lamppost and wraps its way around it. All I can do is watch.
The screech of tires.
A loud bang.
The sound of breaking glass and breaking bone.
I wait for the explosion and the mushroom cloud of fire and smoke, but there isn’t one.
Mental note: it should have been me.
Mental note: I don’t know why I did it.
Mental note: I couldn’t stop.
Before I call 9-1-1, I turn off the ignition and reach into the back seat for my crying shirt.