by Kyle Minor
My mother says he never babysat me, but once he did. His cousins from North Florida were at his house, visiting, and they half-skinned the cat and strung it from the tree. Later, he put on the mask that was half-human, half-devil. Flesh on one side, purple oozing tumors on the other. He chased me around the perimeter of the house, and when I dove into the bushes, I scratched my arms bloody, and he cleaned them with iodine.
His punishment for trouble when he was sixteen was to help chaperone the church camping trip, and when I got lost in the dark in wetland woods known to harbor alligators and water moccasins, he tracked me like his daddy taught him, and carried me toward the fire on his shoulders. When we got near the ring of trees that circled the tents, he put me down. “Be real quiet,” he said. “We’ll sneak in and scare them and they’ll piss their pants like babies.”
Leaves carpeted the ground, and I tiptoed so I wouldn’t crunch them and give us away. “Are you a girl?” he said. “Stop ballet dancing.”
There were rumors that some of the older boys at church had been cruising the streets at nights. They woke the homeless and beat on them. A little harmless fun.
New Year’s Eve we gathered in the Fellowship Hall for potluck dinner and a 16mm film about the end of the world. All the righteous were raptured invisibly by a returning Christ on a white horse, and those who weren’t quite righteous but wanted to be saved from eternal death were chased through the mountains by helicopters, and when they were caught, their heads were placed beneath a guillotine, and the film’s final frame froze as the blade was an inch from the heroine’s neck. Her scream rang out for another thirty seconds.
My father never saw the film, and neither did the babysitter. They were out back, beside the canal. The men shot bottle rockets and lit Roman candles, and the older boys threw M-80’s into the canal and watched the dead fish float to the surface.
Four boys. One afternoon they went to the farmers’ market and bought blackjacks—strips of leather with a lead ball embedded in the business end. In the trunk they had baseball bats. One of them had a sawed-off shovel handle.
There were two homeless men sitting under the I-95 overpass. One was a Haitian drifter. The other was an Ojibwe Indian. Two of the boys beat on the Haitian, and two of the boys beat on the Ojibwe, the same way they’d beat on so many homeless before.
What went wrong? There was a sickly crack. They all heard it. The worst of the boys took the shovel handle to the Ojibwe’s head. The blood ran down the concrete incline of the overpass, toward the strip of grass that ran parallel to the street.
They went to a hotel. They bragged to some girls.
My best friend’s mother was quoted in the newspaper. She said he was such a nice boy, he’d never caused any trouble before. These things are always an aberration in an otherwise virtuous life.
The boy’s father was a state trooper. His older brother was in jail for cocaine. There were negotiations. Could the younger brother get into the cell with the older brother, for reasons of safety?
I was playing on the floor with a set of Smurfs, toys my parents had bought me when my little brother was born. We were at the boy’s house. I was under the kitchen table.
His mother said, “Nobody’s going to want to be friends with us anymore.”
My mother said, “That’s not true. We’ll always be your friends.”
We never went back to that house again. We moved away and never went to that church again. My parents found a new church, new friends. We never talked much about the murder again.
One of the paramedics who arrived to take the body was the mother of one of the boys.
Most of the boys had parents who were paramedics, police officers, something like that.
Nobody served more than eighteen months in jail, although most of them were in and out of jail the rest of their lives after that.
Not long after the killing, before the rain had washed the blood away, somebody took an orange can of spray paint to the concrete incline beneath the interstate overpass. They wrote the words: LEST WE NOT FORGET.
One of the boys returned to the site of the killing with a couple of cans of paint and painted over the words.
Probably all he wanted was to forget.
Twenty-seven years later, it’s hard to do anything but remember.
Kyle Minor’s second collection of short fiction,Praying Drunk, will be published by Sarabande Books in February 2014.