How It Is
My best friend, Ryan, called me today. He was staring out his
front window as the coroner removed two bodies from a burning
house. Apparently, an elderly couple lived there, and the
husband cracked, just as they were about to move to Florida.
The old man shot his wife, doused the house in gasoline, and lit a
match. Now they're both dead.
Ryan is depressed by the dreary scene. It doesn't help that it's cold
and raining, he's home sick and I'm at work only half-paying attention
to the conversation. "This is what life is," he says. "Just when you're
about to reach the promised land, you get a bullet in the head." Ryan
loves Florida because his parents took him to Disney World after an
unfortunate incident while we were in high school. He spent two weeks
getting to know every inch of the park, eating junk food, and ogling
girls in short shorts, so now, years later, Florida has become something
of a nirvana for him. When Ryan isn't around, those of us who know him
lament that he peaked at 17, at Disney World.
He gives me a play-by-play about the bodies being rolled out, shrouded
in black vinyl. There's not much smoke, he says, on account of the
weather, but there's not much left of the house either. He tells me
about the dead couple's adult children, a boy and girl now man and
woman standing in the driveway talking to the cops. It's the son, Ryan
says, who's crying, leaning on his sister, making a mess of the moment.
When we were in high school, Ryan accidentally killed a kid, our other
best friend, this guy named William Turner. They were
wrestling on the cafeteria floor. The teachers sitting nearby didn't
give a shit—they were eating their sad lunches and pondering
their sad lives. It was one of those situations where a perfect
confluence of events ended badly. Will accidentally hit his head on the
leg of a table, hard, sending lunch trays flying in every
direction. Then Will stopped moving and Ryan started losing
his shit, and then everyone else started losing their shit and Will
just lay there with a couple ketchup-stained Tater Tots resting on his
cheek and some pudding on his chin. Ryan was never charged but things
didn't go so well for him after that because everyone in town started
calling him Dr. Death.
"Should I go over there?" Ryan asks, but I ignore the question. "I
think I should go over there," he says. Ryan does this
now—he's a self-appointed angel of death—always
thinks there's something he can do in the face of tragedy. "We all grow
into our reputations," he once told me. I tell him I'll call him later
and we hang up. As I pull into my driveway hours later, I look down the
street toward Ryan's house. All the lights are off. Then I look across
the street at the burnt skeleton of the old couple's house. Ryan is
sitting on the concrete steps in front of the ruin. He's
keeping watch. I raise my hand to wave, start to walk over, but then I
Roxane Gay has writing in or coming from Night Train, DIAGRAM, Staccato
Fiction, Keyhole, Monkeybicycle, Storyglossia and others. She's the Associate Editor of PANK.
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/200909how.htm
Photo detail on main page courtesy
of Lowfat Brains.
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