The first one she saw, really saw, was at the corner of Marshall and River St. A slab of poster board on a rickety metal stand bearing the image of a smiling man in a plaid shirt with a bushy mustache. His features slightly blurred by photo enlargement, surrounded by a wreath of paper flowers. Killed in a hit and run three days ago. She’d seen it on the news. They said the driver was going three times the speed limit. The impact drew spiderwebs across the windshield. Looking at his picture she imagined his head making contact, jellied beads of safety glass embedding in his skin, a million hairline cracks spreading across his skull in the millisecond before total structural failure, dead and leaking before he hit the pavement. The sudden nausea nearly made her vomit. She dug into her purse and threw some old mints at the feet of the stand, five individually wrapped red and white discs among a scatter of candles and cards. It wasn’t until she was two blocks away that she even realized she’d done it.
A couple months later she saw another one. This time on Main and Fulton. Another wreath, real this time. A small white cross. A headshot of a boy wearing a tuxedo, a confident smile bounded by large, puffy cheeks. A school photo, maybe from prom. Shot in the spine three times last week. He had lingered in a coma for two days before they pulled the plug. No known motive. Her neighbor had stopped her outside their building the other day. “The cops aren’t investigating like they should be because they don’t want us knowing about the drug presence here,” spitting the words out like rotted milk. “I heard they found pot in his blood.” She imagined the adulterated blood soaking through his shirt, mixing with spinal fluid, pooling on the sidewalk around him. She felt the same nausea welling up. She saw a storefront on the other side of the street, cheap toys and low-end electronics displayed in the window. She staggered towards it and in the next blink was pressing five dollars into a concerned cashier’s hand, clumsily nestling a small plush moose between a dripping candle and a letter written in crayon, addressed “Too My Big Bro.”
It wasn’t long before the next one, only about three weeks. It was on the Allen Bridge. A woman this time. Curly black hair, young but with a worn face, like she’d been left outside in the rain too long. It was a larger memorial than the others she’d seen, a garden of flowers and candles huddled around the picture. She must have had a lot of friends. She’d thrown herself in the river. Didn’t leave a note. It had happened before. She was missing for three days before they fished her body out, ten miles downstream. The obituary said it was going to be a closed casket funeral. The nausea came again. She dug around under her seat and found a birthday candle, lost several years ago, shaped like a zero. She held the wick to one of the few candles that hadn’t burned out and shoved it into some melted wax. She got back in the car and drove the rest of the way across the bridge in the wrong lane.
She started carrying supplies in her purse after that. “Supplies,” like she was going on an expedition every time she left the house. She didn’t really think about it, she just did it. The next time she saw one, a week later, the nausea wasn’t as bad. Another hit and run. A stray bit of caution tape still clinging to a tree nearby. She fished out a candle and a lighter before the face had soaked in. Flicked once, twice. Her hands shaking. The lighter sparked the third time. She lit the candle and set it down, started walking. She felt decades older afterwards.
The next month she saw eight. A shooting. A stabbing. A car crash that killed a little girl. Another shooting. Two more suicides on the bridge. A woman beaten to death in an alley. An overdose. All the flower shops seemed understocked. She was spending too much on supplies. Clerks recognized her when she came in. She found new strands of gray in her hair brush each morning. She watched the news and read the obituaries compulsively now, trying to prepare herself for the next encounter. She kept expecting a story about what was happening, but it never came. It was like only she noticed it.
Soon she was finding one every day, sometimes more than one. The nausea was getting worse. She felt like she was walking around in a haze of dying. The causes of death were changing, too. A man succumbed on the street to “aggressive necrosis,” she heard. A thirteen-year-old hanged himself from a streetlight. A woman combusted, scorching the corner of River and Dews an ashen black. Her flowers were dusted with soot. She was almost relieved to see a simple car accident or botched mugging. She felt like something, somewhere, had become detached, and now everything was floating farther and farther away.
She stopped leaving her apartment. There were too many, she couldn’t take it. A man choked to death on something (the police wouldn’t say what) in front of her building, and every time she went out she had to stare into his wide, dark eyes, flat and dead on a sheet of laminated paper, and drop a petal on the ground. Just to get to the corner meant using four more for the four different women who had slit their throats on four consecutive days. They hadn’t known each other.
One morning she turned on the news and one of the normal anchors was missing. They said he’d been “skinned by wild dogs” last night. She looked out her window and couldn’t see the sidewalk anymore. It had been swallowed up in remembrances. She sat against the sill and felt her face. She felt deep lines where it had been smooth a few months ago. She leaned back, feeling very tired, and the glass gave way like paper. As she fell the five stories, a bouquet of flowers rose from the sidewalk beneath her.
David C. Porter was born with a healthy distrust of words but is still too weak to renounce them. Case materials for any future indictments can also be found on Twitter or his blog.