by Amy Kate O'Halloran
They found him in the woods down by the old train tracks. A handgun on the ground beside him. Its black neck just past his hand. Hands warm from the sun shining dimly. It was mid-July. The first time he was ever in the paper. His face. Cheeks like plums, a tower above the rest of us. He always had a smile. He wore it like you’d wear one of those gold chains with the cross on it. He never took it off. I can't imagine him the way they described him. I keep hearing his laugh. When it’s quiet, it’s like the hum of air conditioning or the buzz of a refrigerator, slight but there. He rang me the day he died. He started talking to me like I was his mother. She’s mad now. That’s what grief does to you. Her only son dead in the woods. Everyone’s lips. He tried to OD on sleeping pills but no one really took any notice. He came back to school and that was that. We spoke about it but not with him. Just among ourselves when we’d get high in the burning white air. He got his stomach pumped. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. How he rang me. It was quiet at first, the quickness of someone breathing and the sound of walking, feet soft on the worn dirt path.
“Mam. I love you. I'm sorry. Ah I have to…. to do it again, finish it now. I’m…Scared… Please…” The hot wet heaves collapsed into a silence, artificial in its immediacy.
His death demanded the casket to be closed. I imagine him inside, a stretched-out cherub with fleshy, red lips and his curls hanging down over his face, like a shroud. Gold ringlets. But he blew his brains out. A bullet pierced his shoulder, near his heart. He had fucked up. He was trying to bury me with him. Everyone had only one thing to say. Where did he get a gun from? I could see his mother. Sat front row. Hysterical. Crazed. Crying into her hands. The drugs weren’t doing anything to dumb her. After that I’d see her on occasion. She didn’t walk. She glided the pavements with empty eyes. I looked up to the sky, grey like dishwater. Windmills in the far distance stirred it. Wind blew me back. Don’t worry Chris boy. She’ll be up after you. Don’t you worry.
In a windowless room, I lied. I nearly denied knowing him. We went to school together, had some of the same friends. They ask about my nickname. The girls gave it to me. I don’t last long. I dump them, they’d get mad and it would be a thing among them. Nothing to do with guns, no. They sip their coffee through a smirk. I drink water until it pushes at the back of my eyes. When I come back they say I’m free to go.
I haven’t been free since mid-July and won't be again. I finished school. And retreat back into my glory days, day drinking, stumbling through the red strobes. I try to sink girl’s souls by burrowing into them. I'd crash every time. I don’t have the effect I once did. I’ll be like my brother. I’ll pick one, the best I can get and I'll knock her up. Then my kid can do everything right and not be like me. That’ll make my mam happy, a woman devout in her religion, a widow who had the cancer burnt out of her. God did it. I wonder if Chris knows God. Have you meet him yet? Was he with you when you were in the trees?