Gordon White is both a short story writer and poet living in Southeastern Michigan. His poetry and prose has been published in Thin Space and he works as a professional journalist. When not writing, he can be found reading literary classics, singing along to musical soundtracks, or strolling outside.
I Killed The Peace Prize Winner
I killed the Nobel laureate Miriam Lucia.
The morning of her death, I stepped out of the Village Gardens Correctional Facility with my assets: $150 gate money divided into tens and twenties; discharge papers crumpled in my back pocket; a bus ticket to Paynestown, Michigan; jeans and a plain black tee; decreed freedom.
The VGCF, that colossal brick painted the color of skeletons, had vomited me out onto the liberated sidewalk. A guard leaned against its body and smoked.
“How's it feel?” he asked with a stifled laugh. Without answering, I stuck my middle finger up at the VGCF and walked away from the monster that consumed the past six years of my life with little more than a burp.
If there were bluebirds chirping liberty in the surrounding dogwoods, or an awakening sun streaking the sky with molten metal, I noticed neither. I felt only a chilled, slumbering morning, muted and colorless, dimmed by a lingering, wispy fog. I started toward the bus stop.
The VGCF resides in a busted town west of Nashville. I reached the main road within two blocks, and the lonely morning drivers, accustomed to a city of tattered men roaming from alley to alley, would not have considered a man recently released from the federal prison as unusual.
On my right, the Jim Turlette Hospital rose seven stories, the only building taller than the VGCF in the area. A decade of disuse had shattered its windows, devoured its innards, and repainted its entire body with obscene graffiti. Three years prior, my cellmate escaped and hid in the condemned building's closet for three days before his recapture. He told me that he found dusty cans of tomato sauce that he drank for his meals. Without Emile, with nowhere to settle, I would have escaped to that hospital and decayed into a forgotten vermin tucked away in a city cranny.
During my stint, Emile Liza-Boyette mailed a letter every six months and visited every twelve. Always composed in sloppy handwriting, the letters told of tedious busy work at his father's investment firm — Edward never trusted him with real money — and repeatedly reminded me that I had a place to stay upon leaving the VGCF. When he visited, the thirty minutes we had were spent discussing what we'd do together when I got out: binging the television series he had discovered, basketball and mountain biking, road trips to the west side of the state, and joining him as a grunt at the firm.
Emile was the type of guy who popped like popcorn. Wherever he was, his exuberant spunk leaped up and bucked, most like a naïve pup jumping against a fence far too tall to be hurdled. He constantly spoke about “defeating the system,” and I never learned quite what he meant by it.
In high school, we snuck into a nightclub on the south side of Paynestown. As we sat at our table and drowned in the thumping music under icy blue halogen lamps, he leaned in close. “Dude, Jonah. This is what I'm always going on about. These people just dance and drink and laugh, but they're all so empty. It's the system, right? But we're different. We see beyond it. We're gonna get out of it. Defeat the system, you know? Overcome the hands that reach up from the ground to pull us down.” His gesticulations typically held my attention more than his words. He had pounded the table like a dictator when he declared our freedom from the system, and he had grabbed my hand and nearly dislocated it when talking about the need to overcome the grave-people.
On another occasion, in lieu of playing basketball, he proclaimed with an adamant speech that it was time to “defeat the system” by bringing a ladder to the park. He toted it under his arm to the asphalt, stood it up beside the basketball hoop, and climbed. Then he shifted his weight from the ladder and plopped himself on the rim of the basketball hoop, whooping about how the system wasn't going to tie him to Earth.
“Yeah?” I said. I pulled the ladder away. He looked down from his ten-foot throne, dangled his legs, and then gymnastically slid through the hoop so that he was hanging from it, grasping the rim with his hands. He dropped himself to the ground and landed on his feet, wincing at the shock.
“Two points,” he said. “The system loses.” That was Emile, and after my six years of exile, we would reunite.
Before reaching the bus stop, I detoured into a McDonald's. A man with sagging eyes and tangled white hair squinted at me from behind the register and frowned. My tattoos — a skull on my left arm and an inverted gothic cross on my right — branded me as creature of danger in the free world. Standing six feet and six inches tall added to this image.
I strode to the front counter and grinned at the old man.
“What would you like?” he said dutifully.
“A sausage biscuit and a medium soda.”
The old man took my five dollar bill as he squinted and frowned at my bankroll. He gave me my change and an empty soda cup before retreating to the kitchen with a grunt. I filled my drink at the soda machine and he delivered the sausage biscuit in the typical paper bag. He disappeared to the kitchen and I took my food to a greasy table in the corner. With two hours before I needed to meet the bus and only ten minutes to walk, I sipped the soda and chewed the sandwich without rush, watching the man come out to refill the ketchup dispenser and attend to other tasks. He spoke with someone in the back office.
As I ate and my eyes followed the employee moping back and forth within the kitchen, I remembered, faintly, the day in third grade when my parents had awarded me a burger to celebrate my first soccer goal. And I remembered the single letter they sent me during my stay in the VGCF: Jonah, we are moving from Paynestown. Written between the lines: Do not contact us. After what I did to my cousin, I understood.
Two police officers marched into the fast food joint. They were pygmies compared to the titans I had acclimated myself to in prison. They did not order, but strode directly to me.
“The sign says all stays should be limited to thirty minutes,” the first officer said, pointing at a paper sign taped to a window. She was a bit shorter than the male officer, and her dry coffee hair had been pulled back in a ponytail.
“I hadn’t read it,” I said. “But I’m the only guy here. I’m sure its fine.”
“This manager would like to know why you’re just sitting here. He says it's been forty five minutes,” the second officer added. Body odor oozed from his belly's flab.
“The sign says all visits should be limited to thirty minutes,” the woman included.
“You already said that.”
“Don’t you think you should leave?” mister police officer said.
“The sign says…” he began.
“Says thirty minutes, yeah, I know.” I slurped the final dregs of my soda. They kept standing there. “Am I doing something wrong? And don’t tell me what the sign says. The restaurant’s empty.”
“Do you have ID?” fat man said.
I handed him my prison ID. Miss officer took it from mister and inspected it with squinting eyes.
“Congratulations on your release,” she said flatly. She gave the ID back. “You can stay if you’re just waiting for your bus. But a word of advice — being a bit nicer to us officers might make your life a bit easier. I’m sure you don’t want to end up back where you came from.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You guys do a lot of good. Kicking people out of fast food restaurants and all. Keep at the noble work, officers.”
The two of them spoke with the manager at the counter, who had emerged from his office to watch my interrogation. The manager crossed his arms and nodded, lips pursed. The old man eavesdropped, and I smirked when he glanced at me. He shifted his gaze and grunted.
As they spoke, I stood up and walked to the exit, leaving my assorted trash on the table. “Have a great day, all you.” I slammed the door as I left and went to the bus stop.
I waited the remaining hour alone. The morning fog dissolved as the air heated into a mild, stale warmth that announced the sweltering afternoon to come. At 8:53, eight minutes late, the flat-faced bus drove up gurgling engine coughs and parked with an exhale. The bus driver, a scrawny man with thick-rimmed glasses, opened the door and examined my ticket as I stepped on. The bus reeked as if a dead animal were decomposing within it, and only about half the seats held passengers.
“Ah, yes,” he said, his voice submerged under a potent German accent. “We should get to Paynsetown on time. About eight hours.”
“Ah. That is where Miriam Lucia is from, yes?”
“Ah, yes. She is visiting her hometown, I hear.”
“Thanks, bud.” I walked to my seat.
In ninth grade, I flattened a kid to the floor with a single punch. After the punch, a girl cursed at me and then went and bent down next to the boy. She had braided her hair into two pigtails, and I recognized her face — plain and not quite attractive — as the cheerleader who always danced out of step with music at the football games. She wrapped her arm around him and lifted his weight, and then knelt, grabbed his glasses, and put them on his face with a strange timbre of intimacy.
I only learned the girl’s name, years later, when I saw her on television during my stay at the VGCF. She spoke to a news anchor about the effect of some African conflict upon Sudanese refugees. Sometime between high school and that interview, Miriam Lucia founded the International Organization for Supporting Displaced Peoples, which raised more money in one year for aiding refugee populations than the world had donated in the previous decade combined.
Six months before I left prison, Time Magazine declared Miriam Lucia the Person of the Year in the same month she received the Nobel Peace Prize. I saw the cover: She was standing in a Pakistani refugee camp, with refugees meandering amongst the tents in the background. She held a malnourished newborn and spoke to the mother, a small, bony woman in a missized t-shirt and baggy athletic shorts. The mother smiled candidly as she looked at Miriam Lucia, who gazed back with an expression that blended compassion and grief. She was thirty-two in the photo, but looked much older, mature and austere. Not pretty, but venerable. I never cared that her hometown was the same as mine.
The bus rattled over the highway, and several hours after our departure, the German accent boomed and crackled over the speaker, the volume misadjusted. “Attention, passengers. We’re going to take our mandatory stop a little earlier. Ah, everything is fine, and you have no need to worry. We’ll be stopping at the next gas station, and you may stretch your legs.”
The bus pulled off the next exit, which brought us into a modest town with its gas station perched on a hill, overlooking the highway.
“Alright passengers, we’ll be stopping here for a half hour. Be back on the bus at 12:35.”
I bought two hot dogs, a pack of cigarettes, and a lighter, and when I walked outside of the station, the bus driver had popped the hood of the bus and was telling onlooking passengers, “Ah yes, everything is okay. Engine just needs to cool a little.”
I walked to patch of grass, protected from the mumbling that inevitably arises when public transit reminds passengers of its fickleness. Benevolent clouds blocked the sun while a flickering breeze tempered the heat.
I went through my hot dogs and two smokes, stomping the dead stubs into the dirt as I watched the interstate rush below. A bus passenger, with a black biker jacket and a thick moustache curving up into handlebars, approached and wanted a cigarette.
“Got a dollar?” I asked. He paid me and started smoking beside me, watching the freeway flow beneath us.
“What stop you getting off?” he asked. I told him a town east of Lansing, and he said would be getting off around Fort Wayne. “Family up there?”
“I'm going back to my hometown. Just got out of prison.”
The man didn’t react. “Village Gardens? I spent a few years locked up there a decade or so ago and rode this same bus. Same driver too.”
I told him it was the Village Gardens.
“Sammy Glenn still the warden there?”
“Still thin as a stick? Ugly black hair?”
“Still thin. He’s bald now.”
The biker told me that his name was Jeremy, and I told him mine was Jonah. He paid for a second smoke.
“How long were you with Sammy Stick?” he asked.
“Six years.” I added that I was in for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
“You didn’t miss much. Turn of the millennium. War in the Middle East. Tax cuts for rich people. That's about it.” He looked at his watch and noted that we should probably return to the bus.
After we sat down in our separate seats, the driver entered the bus, switched on the coughing engine, and proclaimed over the loudspeaker, “Ah yes, we are good to go. Everything with the bus is fine; the engine just needed to cool down.”
Around three and a half hours later, when the bus stopped at Fort Wayne, Jeremy exited. As he passed, he dropped a $50 bill onto my lap, along with a business card that said Jeremy Carlisle: Biker, pastor, friend. On the opposite side, Jeremy had written Thanks for the smoke. Transition back to life can be tough. Call if you need some help. I stuck the $50 in my pocket. I shredded the business card and it fluttered to the bus floor like dead butterfly wings.
At 6:32, twenty-six minutes late, the bus squealed into Paynestown. “Ah, Paynestown,” reported the driver. On my way out, I slapped him on the shoulder with a “thanks, bud” and stepped into my hometown.
On the north side of Paynestown, families hold cookouts and race in Mercedes and ride lawnmowers over pristine lawns. The south is straight poor. The areas are linked only by Turtle Road, which is lined with restaurants and offices and mechanics and schools, all of them growing imperceptibly in quality as one moves further north.
“It’s like a rainbow!” Emile had once announced. In retrospect, I think he meant the way that violet slides into red across the sky mimics the spectrum of wealth, but at the moment, I was so surprised that his sentence didn’t include “the system” that I didn’t process his attempt at an odd metaphor.
The bus stop was on the poor, violet side. Emile, his family, and my childhood home were in the far north, on the crisp edge of the red. The pavilion sat awkwardly behind a deserted grocery store, hidden from the view of the main street. Growing up, my parents drove me to the bus stop in Lolima thirty minutes away, rather than risk the stop in south Paynestown.
When I stepped off the bus to the bus stop, a repurposed park pavilion with a few splintered benches, the one person there started. The college kid wore a blue baseball cap and a pristine orange backpack, and he began tapping his foot and bouncing in eagerness for his bus to arrive and carry him to safety.
“What’s your name, kid?” I asked.
“What?” the boy said.
“I asked what’s your name, kid?” I growled.
He stuttered out that his name was Elijah.
I strode up to him and stared him in the eyes. He looked down. The kid, lanky and with spaghetti arms, was visibly rattling with fear, frozen. His face only reached my chest. “You from the north side?”
“Now, I’m going to say this once, Elijah — hand me your wallet or phone, or so help me God, I will beat you up here on the spot.”
Elijah started crying as he reached into his pockets and handed me what I asked for.
“Don’t cry kid. I’m not going to hurt you if you just listen.” I thumbed through his wallet and stole his $218 dollars, returning the emptied wallet. I put his phone, a cheap gray flip phone, into my pocket. He was still crying. “Dude, suck it up.” As he was putting the wallet in his pocket, I shoved him so that he tumbled backward to the ground. I jogged away, turning a corner and vanishing from his site. I got a cab on Turtle Road with no concerns that traumatized Elijah would remember me well enough to track me down. The cabbie dropped me off at my childhood home in its suburb.
My old home is a federal colonial constructed of cobblestone, with splashes of western red cedar for color. The body is symmetrical — a square central body with two wings, one on each side. My parents, who made $341,000 collectively, took the west wing and allowed me to rule the east side like I owned it. All for myself, I had a bedroom with a vaulted ceiling; a video game room; a room with foosball, ping pong, and pool; and an “office” that became an extended closet for superfluous junk that didn't fit in my room.
I beheld the home and its sprawling yard, the sun arcing toward the close of day behind the building. Two women chatted in the driveway beside an Aston Martin and a toddler kicked a mini soccer ball in the yard. Eying me, one of the women called the child to her. I left.
It took four minutes to walk to Emile and his parent’s home. 2810 Roseville Court, Paynestown, Michigan.
The home was neoclassical, with a full portico over the front door, and a gazebo beside a Japanese maple in the front yard. Their fine dining room was tucked away on the fourth floor, with a glass dome opening to the sky like an observatory.
I stepped onto the lawn and said, under my breath, “Freedom.” My soul exhaled, as if it had held its breath since this morning and only believed in its liberation upon reaching the Liza-Boyettes. Sanctuary. Deliverance. Home.
I moved to the portico and knocked on the door as my eager heart raced. For the first minute, nobody came. I knocked once more and rang the bell. A moment passed and the door swung open. I smiled the widest I had in six years.
The blank face of Edward Liza-Boyette stared at me. His eyes were lifeless, empty, unfeeling.
“Hello, Jonah,” he said, in a numb tone of professionalism. He turned inside his home and said, “Honey, it’s Jonah Turner.”
He returned his gaze to me. His unfeeling face reminded me of a corpse. “Please come in. We’ve just finished dinner.” He spoke it as if he were reading off of a script.
I stepped in. I recognized the interior of the house, but an alien fog, like the one I had seen that morning outside the VGCF, hung upon everything like dust. Juliette, Emile’s mother, stopped her dishwashing and came to me, standing with the kitchen table between us. Her face was as dead as Edward’s. I looked around for Emile and his sister but saw neither.
“Please sit down,” she said, handing me a glass of water.
“Hard to believe it’s been six years,” I said, keeping my voice pleasant and floaty, trying to massage friendship into the conversation.
“Yes,” Edward deadpanned.
“Is Emile here? I’d love to see him.”
“Emile is dead,” Juliette answered. Her words were toneless, in the way someone might declare objective facts: Two plus two is four, the capital of Michigan is Lansing, Emile is dead, Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel.
“Oh.” I bowed my head. “What…what happened?”
“A car crash four months ago,” said Edward. He paused for fifteen seconds, then turned to Juliet and asked, “Should I tell him?” But Juliet shook her head.
“What? What should I know?”
“It’s no bother,” Juliet said. “We’re sorry for the loss of your friend.”
“Yes,” was all I could say. Edward and Juliet said nothing else, and after two minutes of sitting in desolate silence, I looked once more at them, at their hollow souls echoing with misery, and stood up to go. They remained sitting, saying nothing as I let myself out of their house and closed the door behind me.
I took labored breaths, like gasps. My soul choked and I lingered under the portico’s safety. Where to go? Back to the hospital? Ignore my parents’ note and find them, wherever they hid, and plead for their protection? I left 2810 Roseville Court, slogging from the promised security that had been torn from me.
Two minutes after departing, after beginning my meandering into nowhere, a voice called out from behind me. “Jonah!”
I turned. Emile’s sister, Rebecca, jogged up to me. She was five years younger than Emile, 23 years old, and was adopted from Iran as a newborn. Thick eyeliner masked her eyes, and her ebony hair stretched to a few inches above her waist. Her eyes flickered with a semblance of life, like a frail heart recently resuscitated, whispering.
“I was sitting on the stairs inside,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I should say anything.”
“I understand. I’m sorry for your loss.” Rebecca and I would flirt when we hung out with Emile together, but a friendship never grew beyond our mutual connection to her brother.
“I’m sorry about my parents, Jonah. They have changed. More than you can image.”
“His death hit them hard?”
“Harder than you can believe. Listen, four months ago, my parents would’ve offered you a room and a job. I know Emile promised that. But they really aren’t ready.”
Rebecca remained there for a moment, and then began whimpering, like a puppy deserted in the wickedness of night. She rubbed her eyes, then sobbed. I hugged her and she placed her head on my chest, crying for several minutes. I did not say anything. The woman from my childhood home walked by with her toddler in the stroller and watched us in confusion, beholding a grieving sister embracing a criminal who had assaulted his own cousin with a knife.
Rebecca sniffled, and as she wiped her eyes again, eyeliner spread down her face with the memory of tears, she thanked me.
I asked her, gently, what her parents had considered telling me.
“I shouldn’t say.”
“Please,” I begged.
“Are you sure?” She bit her lip again and looked to her feet.
Still she thought, as if the words were a heavy burden. “My parents — they are trying really hard not to blame you — but they can’t avoid it. Emile was driving to see you, a surprise visit, when he got in the crash.”
“Oh.” She and I stood there for another minute as I chewed her words.
“I hope you do well, Jonah.” She touched my arm as she said goodbye. She returned to her home, shrinking in the distance as the sun crossed the horizon behind a curtain of colorless clouds.
As twilight darkened, I purchased a pack of Budweiser, Emile’s favorite alcohol, from a gas station. I took the drinks to Paynestown Community Park.
The park held the basketball court where Emile had climbed the ladder, along with a jungle gym, swing set, and sand volleyball court. A track encircled the plot, and a woman’s silhouette traced around me. The park’s east side bordered a forest crowded with vegetation, and the west side opened to Turtle Road. A few lonesome crickets chirped.
I sat on a bench and drank a can of beer, then another, a third, and a forth. The alcohol did not shrink my grief. I shut my eyes and saw Emile in the nightclub, pounding his dictatorial fists. And I saw my cousin, his eyes bursting with terror as he wheezed, "Jonah...please...I didn't mean to...you don't know what you're doing...stop...please" as I held him down, blade in hand, and screamed that, inebriated or not, he should never have kissed my girlfriend.
The pain swelled into wrath as I understood why the second memory had floated to my mind. My cousin murdered Emile. Atonement for a stolen life is not cheap, and my cousin — who I guessed was still living with my parents — would reimburse me for my anguish. I could search him out.
I flipped open Elijah’s phone. 9:12. Unwilling to suffer the abasement of sleeping outside, I stood up to walk to the Paynestown Motel. My legs struggled to keep me upright. I moved across the park, shadowed in the blackening evening, and stepped into the road to cross. In the middle of the lane, I remembered the leftover alcohol remaining on the bench.
I turned to retrieve the drinks, and two headlights blazed into my eyes. My legs gave way and I collapsed like paper crumpling into itself, my body slamming the concrete. Two arms — thin and supple — heaved me off the road and shoved me onto grass. The air shattered with the noise of squealing tires and two thumps, the first thud far louder than the second.
I lifted my face from the grass. The pickup driver glimpsed me, and then rushed to attend to my savior, who lay on the road. I crossed the park on swaying legs, running off kilter like an animal that has lost a leg. I vanished into the forest. Sires whined in the distance as a I escaped deeper into the lightless wood, finally sliding down onto the trunk of a collapsed tree, exhausted.
That night was longer than my six years in prison. I did not sleep, but shivered in the abyss, swatting away the galaxy of mosquitoes that spun around me. Elijah’s phone vibrated in my pocket and I crushed it with a rock. Over and over I heard the sound of the car squealing and thudding into a mass of muscle, and I heard the lifeless words echo, “Emile is dead. Emile is dead. Emile is dead.” I did not cry. I stared out into the cloaked forest and prayed in groans to Jeremy’s God that I might blink my eyes and find myself back in my jail cell.
And a wrath smoldered. Because all that had happened in the past eighteen hours, the many stubborn threads weaving death and ache, all joined in one undisputable source: My cousin’s small act six years ago. I would serve justice.
NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER MIRIAM LUCIA DEAD AT 32, STRUCK BY CAR declared headlines.
The morning following her death, I left the forest. I did not emerge by the park, but a mile south, where the wood line touched the sidewalk off Turtle Road. I entered Paynestown Pink’s Coffee & Tea, a beanery painted bright pink on the inside and decorated with a myriad of lilies, lilacs, and orchids.
“Hello,” said the barista, a girl my age with two brown pigtails sticking out of a pink company hat. “What would you like, sir?”
I perused the menu of teas and pastries. My stomach craved nothing. The smell of roasting coffee mixing with flowers kindled the nausea already present in my belly.
“Sir? What would you like?” I had been standing there, blank-faced, for at least thirty seconds.
“Any size is fine.”
“What size?” she answered, thinking she had misheard me.
“Whatever you think,” I said as I threw a ten dollar bill onto the counter and lumbered away. I sat at a distant table in the empty bistro, slumping my head into my hands. How can a body hold so much agony and not explode? The two thuds resonated throughout the cavern of my soul. Emile was dead, and I was not. And no justice could change that.
“Here you go,” floated the barista’s voice as she laid the green tea mug lithely onto my table several minutes later. She put the $10 bill next to it. “It’s on the house. Your day will turn up.” I didn’t look up at her. The grace of the money scalded me, the pink optimism burning my eyes. I took one sip and gagged.
Two women walked in several minutes later.
“Medium mocha, please,” the first woman told the barista, paying with a credit card. She wore too much makeup, her lipstick a bit too red for her pale face. “Having a nice Sunday?”
“Only been up for an hour,” the barista chuckled, “But yeah, I am. Thanks for asking. You?”
“With this warm morning, how can’t you? Gloria, what are you getting?”
The second woman, who wore a wide-brimmed red hat, marched up and said “medium green tea” as if she were commanding a servant. The barista took the order without noticing the condescension, and went back to make the drinks.
Gloria and the polite woman took their seats across the coffee shop and sat down at a pink table.
“I don’t know why they put these plants here in the middle of the table,” Gloria said, sighing. “You can’t talk to one another, they just get in the way.” She moved the baby orchid so that it sat on the windowsill, bending its petals. The other woman faced away from me and was inaudible.
“Do you know how Derek is doing?” Gloria asked.
The other woman said something I couldn’t hear.
“That’s good. I’m glad he’s doing better. He always looks so unhealthy, like he’s just about to break apart. I don’t know how his parents don’t notice and take him to the doctor’s.”
A police car pulled into the parking lot. I sipped the tea again but it tasted no better than before.
“You heard what happened on Turtle Drive last night, right? No?” Gloria said. “You won’t believe it. I saw it this morning on the news. Laura, Miriam Lucia is dead. You know, the Peace Prize winner? Hit by a car on an evening walk.”
Gloria paused when Laura responded, then answered, “No, not the driver’s fault. Some drunk stepped into the street in front of car. She threw him off the street but got hit herself. Collapsed lung, broken ribs, internal bleeding. Died a few minutes before midnight.”
Glass shattered. Laura turned around to look at me, and the barista rushed out.
“Oh, don’t worry,” the barista said. “I’ll get this cleaned up now. Don’t worry about it. I’ll get you another. You must be having quite a day, right?”
I gazed at the fragmented corpse of the mug, absent-minded. After fifteen seconds, I registered that the barista had spoken, and that the mug had broken when I flinched upon hearing of Miriam Lucia. “Something like that,” I muttered. The barista silently cleaned up the mess as I stared out the window.
When two police officers walked in, she said she would take their orders and then clean up the rest of the mess.
Gloria and Laura were still talking.
“Yeah, the news anchor said that she had told her body guards she didn’t need security in her hometown. And you know what makes it worse, Laura? They couldn’t get a hold of her son. He learned about his mom’s death on the news, I think. Said he got robbed before getting on the bus to college. What a terrible coincidence.”
The two officers looked at me, but their gaze passed over me like prison yard spotlights that see nothing of interest. They had nothing on their minds but scones.
“Saving a drunk. Can you believe it? I hate to say it, but…but should she have done it? She must’ve known what a saint she was. She should’ve just let it happen. Is that bad to say?”
Laura spoke, saying something I couldn’t hear.
“No, I get it,” Gloria answered. “But a drunk? The sucker’s probably fishing in trash cans right now. Probably already forgot last night; doesn’t even realize what happened.” Gloria paused to listen to Laura, and then said, “Yeah, they brought that up. They said that Miriam Lucia always sent her son to the south for the bus to save money, and because she didn’t want her son to fear people who were different from her. It makes sense given her refugee experience, but I think it’s a poor parenting decision.”
Laura responded for a long time, and the barista began cleaning up my mess again. I wanted to apologize, but all words were frozen in my throat. The police officers sat at a far table and moved their plant to the windowsill.
“Right, sure,” Gloria said. “Every life is worth something. And I know it feels wrong. But she did so much good. Think of how many lives she could’ve saved. I just hope the loser who got her killed gets what they deserve.”
Laura talked again, and Gloria asked if the mocha was tasty. Their topic changed.
“You okay?” the barista asked as she wiped the final amounts of glass into a dustpan and began drying the floor with paper towel. I nodded without speaking.
“Well, it’s not my business, but you’ve just been sighing and hanging your head. I don’t like seeing unhappy people.” I nodded again, and she gave me a sorrowful, understanding smile, and left.
I stood to leave. The color drained out of the world, bright pink sliding to deep gray, my vision narrowing as my legs lost strength. I slipped and fell to the ground, vomiting beer and tea onto the floor of the coffee shop. When my eyes opened, the two police officers were looking down at me.
“Are you okay, sir?” the first one, a woman with short blonde hair, asked.
I couldn’t move my body and vomited a second time, though the nausea and torture within me did not ease with the regurgitations. Instead, the sickness ballooned greater and greater, until I was sure my stomach would burst open on the floor of that café. But the anguish knew only one way to exit, and I could bury the lie no longer.
“I…I….I am the drunk who killed Miriam Lucia. I…I killed Emile Liza-Boyette. I tried to murder my cousin and I only got six years in prison. I took $218 and a cell phone from Miriam Lucia’s son. I stayed longer than thirty minutes at a McDonald’s. I robbed six people before I went to prison and never got caught. I attacked four. I raced down Turtle Drive and hit a trash can into a shop window once. I drank alcohol ever since I was fourteen, I…”
The police officer looked down at me and grinned, and the other officer chuckled.
“You’ve got a lot on your mind there, don’t you? We can figure out what to do with all that,” she said. “But let’s get you cleaned up first.”