The boy in the bookstore

March 29, 2014

I was working as a cop reporter,
not fully resigned to the adult world
and all its incumbencies and obligations
when a girl I knew a little
was strangled in her apartment
off Highland Avenue
near Centenary College.

It was a room over a garage
with student furniture
and paperbacks
and silk scarves draped
poetically
over lampshades
and incense holders with black stained sockets.

The detective said
when the neighbor found her
the record player was still spinning
its needle bumping
at the end of — guess what? —
Eddy Grant’s Killer on the Rampage.

This was great stuff for my story.
What we call
a “significant detail.”

She worked in the B. Dalton bookstoreUnknown
in the Pierre Saint Vincent Mall.
I saw her there sometimes
a glasses-wearing girl,
who chewed on pencils,
and tucked her light hair behind her ears,
and smiled at the backs of customers
browsing in the literature section.

Later I would go
and see the boy
who the cops had (off the record)
identified as a suspect.
He was a manager there
and a graduate student,
a nervous knotty boy
with thin ginger hair
that flared and fizzed
like a sparkler
dropped by a freckled ten-year-old girl
in the dry dust
of a Missouri dirt road
on a Fourth of July night.

I saw him reading Vico’s Scienza Nuova
behind the counter,
his lip trembling.

I knew that it was him.
And he was the same as me.
We never spoke three words between us.
We just nodded
as he counted out my change.

It’s always the boyfriend,
the detectives told me.
It’s always who you think it was
and that makes it sadder.
Because you know
some of them
aren’t so evil really,
it’s just the moment,
the really bad moment,
that we all have to get through,
that they can’t get through.

When the time comes to prove you are a man
you have to walk away from it
if you can.

Women will kill
but only for a reason;
not for a look
or the lack of one.
Or because they thought
they were
or could be
someone different.

Male fragility is dangerous
and difficult to track
sometimes.
Unless the killer is standing there —
like he usually is,
confessing,
crying,
complaining,
about how the body done him wrong —
we hardly ever can make a case.

Once they get themselves
away,
and composed,
they can see
how it truly was.
And that
they only did
what they were made to.

The boy in the bookstore
was never arrested
or publicly identified,
and after a while he moved away
and even I stopped thinking
about the case.

Except
sometimes
when I drove by the apartment
and I wondered who
had rented it
and if she knew
what had happened there
and if
there was a ghost
sitting on the edge of the bed
watching
as she tied ribbons
in her hair
and misted perfume
in the air
to dew upon
her yet unblemished breasts.


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