Edited by BLAS FALCONER | BARRY KITTERMAN | AMY WRIGHT
It was Mark Spaddon’s height that got him killed. Mark was walking home with his sweetheart—that’s what they called themselves, “sweethearts”—on the gravel on the side of the road because there was no sidewalk, him holding her hand, Mark closest to the street because he had recently discovered Southern manners and had taken them to heart. He wasn’t what anyone would call tall, though; had he been taller he would have played basketball for Potomac High, he loved basketball, he had a Washington Wizards Juwan Howard jersey, and on the day he died he would have been struck in the shoulder and it would have been bloody, but not fatal, and if he had been shorter he would have been slashed across the back of his head and it still would have been nasty, a concussion, bleeding. Survivable, really. But Mark was five feet ten, and the stop sign that this obese woman found and stashed in the back of her pickup truck hung off to the right, her right, about five inches lower than that, at Mark’s neck-level, laid flat, cutting through the air at forty miles per hour like a crescent blade, the type the Moorish cavalrymen used in Spain in the seventeenth century, curved to catch the jugulars of footsoldiers, a fact that Mark had learned two weeks earlier in Mr. Brown’s History class with this girl, their one period together, Mr. Brown who loved old weapons and sometimes brought examples to class—broadswords, maces, once a medieval flail—Mr. Brown collected them and said they were simultaneously elegant and brutal in a way weapons of war were only before the invention of the gun, but he stopped after the Columbine, Colorado shootings during Mark’s junior year, last April, and at Potomac Falls High School they canceled everything and watched CNN in the cafeteria, not unremarkable because it was a small school and they did things like that, until the news turned really bad, and the Principal sent everyone back to class, and after that April Mr. Brown never brought things like crescent swords to school anymore, and so he became boring, boring and old, like forty or something, and then two weeks after that class on the Moors, Spain, crescent blades, and why the Spanish love pork—invading Islamic Moors couldn’t raid pig farms for food—this fat woman hung this stop sign off the side of her truck and she drove past the school, exactly five miles per hour above the speed limit, because five miles per hour over doesn’t get you pulled over, eating pineapple yogurt and listening to ninety-two-point-nine-FM country-music-all-the-time, humming along to The Way You Love Me by Faith Hill, speeding, but only slightly, toward her single greatest act of violence, thus far.
Mark liked this girl, Patricia, but this year she told everyone to call her Trish because Pat was a boy’s name, and she didn’t want to spend her senior year with a boy’s name. The sun was bright, and they stared ahead or down and squinted until their cheeks hurt, him holding her hand, and Mark talked about basketball, how he could almost, almost touch the rim, while Trish pretended to listen and kicked gravel, watching the rocks skip and bounce. Sometimes she felt like Mark was a kind of animal, like a lemur or something, she loved lemurs’ buggy eyes and thought their prehensile tails were cute, and she imagined a lemur rustling around near her and making chirping noises she could listen to if she felt like it but if she didn’t she wouldn’t be missing anything important. She wanted to get home for her shows,CSI and Law & Order, anything starting with a corpse and ending with an answer, and she wasn’t rushing or trying to get away from Mark or anything, but television was on her mind. The afternoon horizon was orange and flat, the road a straight corridor of dry deciduous trees and shrubs, so if they had only turned around they would have seen the pickup truck for miles. Trish’s hand became sweaty and she squeezed it from Mark’s and wiped it on her pants and that’s when this pickup truck passed, whizzed by, and she noticed the What Would Jesus Do? bumper sticker, and the stop sign, and she heard this grinding sound, like a zipper opening up, only wetter, and then she held out her hand for Mark’s only to find vacant air.
She walked another few steps, searching with her fingers, pawing really, annoyed because she wouldn’t ever tell Mark but she liked his hand-holding, and then she turned and saw Mark on the ground, in a condition a State Trooper would later call “technically not decapitated,” but she didn’t scream or cry out. She ran to him and stopped before she stepped in the blood. There was a lot of blood. She stayed calm though and she called nine-one-one on her phone and explained what had happened, and when the responder asked her to check if Mark was breathing, she said in an even voice that she was sure he was dead. Then she sat in the gravel, in the sun, squinting at the median while she waited for the ambulance.
Trish wiped sweat off her hands onto her jeans. She loosened her backpack so it hung off her right shoulder only, which was more comfortable. Mark looked like a prop from the opening sequences of her shows, or the enemies in Mark’s videogames after the hero is done with them. Trish felt grown up, sensible, like she had done this before. Like it was nothing. Trish felt like Sarah Sidle from CSI. Sarah Sidle was smart and beautiful and always provided an insight that pulled everything together at the moment the plot made no sense: that the maturity of larvae can—with the application of certain formulae and hard-won statistical data—determine time of death, that muriatic acid can restore a serial number filed off a gun, that bone doesn’t float. In the presence of a corpse Sarah Sidle never flinched.
The sun felt good on Trish’s skin. She had only gone out with Mark for a couple weeks, and now that she thought about it she didn’t know his favorite food, or even color. She knew his face, but not exactly, and she couldn’t bring herself to look now. He called her “sweetheart,” drawling “heart,” but she didn’t call him anything.
June 14th 2001. A bird cleaned its feathers in the branches above her and cooed. Trish knew the ambulance would arrive soon. Instantaneous, they would say. She bit her lip, hard. Eventually a few tears squeezed out and she looked more like what she knew they’d want her to be. There would be a light summer rain that evening, and in a few months, in a few months it will be September.