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the empty

The fat girl as they call her, came to school with a hypodermic needle in her backpack. It may have been to defend herself, it may have been to instigate something. She comes from a broken home and this is her second or third school. E steers clear of her, and the bullies she tangles with. It was never understood  - how things began, who threw the first insult, the first punch, the first grabbed book but the end is a chronic cycle of violence. At one point, the girl's mother got the police involved and this was seen as offensive, a step too far. The police did not resolve anything so it was all just a lot of saber rattling. That is the most common sound here. The empty threat.

Last week, there was a sobrani, sort of a cross between a parent-teacher conference and a school meeting. I was busy, so E went by herself and took notes. Five minutes in she messaged me, that I was wise not to be there. Nothing about this girl was going to be resolved.
"Boys will be boys" was all …

tomorrow



I speak to her over the crackling phone line, her tiny voice choking in her throat with emotion. I will ask her again when I take her tomorrow, but I know what she is saying. 

She is scared there. 

But that is tomorrow. 

Today I fill the hours with the scattered details of Pasha (Easter), Passover, Spring. There are great loaves of sweet bread to slice into on Sunday morning, dotted with raisins and perfumed with cardamon. N's mother has made a cake for us. The top glistens in the late morning sunlight of her tiny kitchen. We sip black tea sweetened with honey. I take pictures of N and her. I am always fascinated by the way their faces look next to each other. The shocks of black hair, the eyes set wide apart, hands moving slowly in the bright air as they speak.


And then a box of matzoh makes its way into our bags as well. The pale, powdery crisps make me want more tea. I have not eaten matzoh in years.


The streets are choked with people. Lines extend in long curls from the churches, as people wait for bread to be blessed, as they stand in the flat sun in new coats.


We visit the neighborhood where my office used to be. I have not walked these cobblestones in more than five months. I feel nothing. No sentiment. No loss. No welling of emotion.

There is an art museum open now, after two years of construction. The same man sits on a bench outside, begging for change. His face a great drooping mass of red skin, he mutters the same speech to me that I heard every time I passed him.

Inside, Fellini's drawings, rare production stills and video loops of famous scenes play out across a series of rooms and corridors. The Saturday crowd travels randomly through the exhibit. We take our time. N knows everything about these films, these mythical Italian stars. We see them caught topless on the beach, holding babies, in quiet moments between shooting famous scenes. I want a hat like one of Fellini's. Maybe a straw one.

We go to the car wash, as N thinks being clean on Pasha is especially significant. The line goes all the way around the block. No, not today. Maybe early tomorrow morning.

On the way home, traffic comes to a complete stop. We are practically home and wait for minutes. There are sirens, flashing lights. It must be a car accident, another fender bender between fancy cars swerving and passing too quickly as they do here. The police always arrive, even for the smallest scratch to write up evidence forms, to make a record.

A great green trolley bus is next to us, laboring and wheezing in the right lane. N lets it pass in front of us. Then we see the black garbage bag on the ground, the long lines of blood running to the curb, the hair on the top of the head that is not covered. There is a crowd on the sidewalk. Silent. There are paramedics and an ambulance doing nothing. A white SUV stands closest, empty of passengers in the street.

We find our way inside. I balance the bread and the matzoh and groceries in my hands. It is quiet here for once. My blood rises into my ears. I can hear my heartbeat. My skin prickles. I ask myself if it was a child under that sheet of black plastic, the body was so small. Maybe an old woman. I want to know, selfishly. I think to find out, and then let the question fade. It matters, but it doesn't matter. The specifics mean nothing. Someone is dead under that bag. No one on the sidewalk is crying. Just grim faces that are already leaving in groups of two and three.


I go to the balcony in the bedroom and look down. The white SUV has a huge dent across the right front headlight. The bag and the body are still there.
N stands next to me.
"The police must have taken the driver away." She explains. "It was a murder."


On Sunday I collect E. We take a walk in the bright sun along an empty sidewalk, our shadows running far in front of us. We will go to a friend's apartment and decorate eggs. E will tell me that she has only eaten lunch, not breakfast, not dinner the day before. E will tell me she is tired. She will sit on my lap and squeeze my arms, resting her cheek against my chest. Her head is suddenly warm. Yes, she is running a temperature and we are going home, the eggs still wet, carefully wrapped in a paper towel. Purple, yellow, blue, decorated with hearts. A tiny crayon house with smoke curling from the chimney.

She cannot walk, even to go to the bathroom, so I carry her.

I hold her until she sleeps, checking her temperature, nesting her with stuffed animals in her bed. Her cheeks are red. She sleeps, her eyes half-open. I know she will be fine somehow, but I sit and watch her for a long time.

Comments

Annie said…
Oh, Marco....somehow you took all those disparate images and created a whole. For a while I didn't think you could pull it all together, and then it suddely WAS together, leaving me with anticipation, dread, unease. THEN, I think - this isn't a short story. This is life. Hardly fair for you to be writing about real life.

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