March 24, 2015
Lisa is a really pretty girl and Gina and I aren’t, but still, she’s our friend. So when Lisa comes up to us in the Santa Monica High parking lot after school on Tuesday and asks us for a ride, we say yeah. And when I get in the driver’s seat and Gina sits down next to me, and Lisa opens the back door to get in right behind me, Gina turns to me with this wild, mean look in her eye and she whispers, “Let’s just go!”
So I put my foot hard on the gas pedal and take off. You know? A little prank.
At the stop sign I glance in the rearview mirror and see the trail of blood.
“I just got my license a week ago,” I say.
“Is she dead?” Gina asks.
“Of course not.”
We stare at each other.
“I’ll get out.” I unclench my hands from the wheel, undo my seatbelt, and take my keys from the ignition. It is a cold October day but I am sweating. I open the door and walk around to the back of the car. I feel like I am watching myself walk around my car, and I wonder if it is normal to feel so unsure of what to think about in a situation like this.
“I’m here,” Gina says out the passenger window. Her voice is shaking, but there is something decided in it, and I know she will not be leaving the car. “Is she all right?”
There it is. Her, it. This big tangled thing. Legs barely attached, arms on her back, palms up. But the head. That’s stuck to the back wheel, wrapped around the axel by her long blonde hair, anchoring her body to the car. A blood-head with no face to speak of, fragile bits of skin lost in the rubber. A mangled marble. Smells like old coins.
We didn’t mean to. She was our friend. Not like best friends the way Gina and I are, but still.
And now I am screaming something. Or I am just screaming. Whatever I am doing I keep doing, on, and on, standing over the blood-head.
Paramedics are here and I am sitting down with a heavy blanket. Police. My dad and my stepmother. Gina sits with her mom and dad. She has this stony pale look on her face and a deep, nearly wrinkled not-smile.
This is what we figured out had happened: the door slammed shut when the car started moving, and Lisa was wearing this flowy yellow skirt that got caught inside the car. And she got knocked out before she could scream. She was dragged for two blocks.
I didn’t know Lisa had opened the door yet. I had no idea her hand was even on the handle. It was all a mistake. The policemen nod and say we have been through a hell of a thing.
My dad drives my stepmother and me home in his yellow Mustang. I squint out the window at the streetlights, trying to turn them into a pretty blur. I cry a little. It feels better than not crying. My dad doesn’t speak and turns on the radio. Commentary on an earlier sports game. My dad doesn’t care for sports.
Was Lisa dead? No one really talked to the blood-head. No one bothered. What if she is alive, in pain, alone in silence? Paralyzed and ugly. What if they bury her that way because I had never bothered to find out if she was really dead?
Back home, everything is so quiet I can hear seconds ticking from the wall clock. I make a game of seeing how still I can be, sitting on the couch in the living room. Leather couch and wooden walls, a fireplace. Maybe I can be invisible.
My dad says, “Alright, well listen, this is just one of those horrible things where there is nothing to do but forgive yourself.”
What are the horrible things he has forgiven himself for? I don’t ask. He walks out of the room with his hand on the back of his neck.
I think of Gina. Gina in the passenger seat, with her arm lazy out the window, fingers tapping against the side panel of the door.
I wake up Wednesday morning and know I killed Lisa. It’s obvious and I don’t want to think about it. I wish I could just not feel anything.
I don’t go to school. No one mentions it. My real mom comes over for lunch in a dark blue dress and she looks like she has been crying. I have never seen my real mom cry. She says I should stay with her for a while, a change of scenery across town, a breath of fresh air. She says reporters may find me here. Or creepy kids. She is wearing too much perfume. My stepmother begins packing my things into a red rolling suitcase as me and mom and dad eat grilled cheese.
“This will always be your home,” my dad says.
My stepmother wheels the suitcase to me. She wipes tears from her face and seems surprised when I hug her goodbye. My father hugs me to him for a long time, a little weird in front of my real mom, and he presses his hands to the back of my head and rocks me back and forth and says he will miss me.
Next Tuesday. A full week. The most boring week of my life. Watching movies alone underneath the big blue blanket on the couch in the living room at my real mom’s house. My dad says it will be better to start over in a new school. I don’t like my mom’s house. Everything is shiny. Marble, silk… I don’t like any of it. My bedroom is the smallest bedroom. It has the prettiest view of the mountains. I can see them when the fog disappears in the afternoon. I don’t cry anymore. There isn’t any point in feeling sorry for myself.
My mom says I really impress her. The way I keep plugging along. She says I’m a trooper. Maybe like her, like how she is a trooper, always serious and on the move. Except she doesn’t say I’m like her. I wish she did.
Lisa’s funeral is in church, on a Sunday. Twelve days since the thing that happened happened. My mom and I sit together in black dresses. I feel itchy all over. Lisa’s parents sit in the front of the church, slumped forward, not touching one another. Lisa’s younger brother isn’t even here. Gina and her family sit across the aisle from us, in the back. Gina sits between her parents, I can see her head bob in and out of sight. She is rocking. Maybe crying. Who does she think she is?
Gina and I. Murderers. No one has said the word, but I know what we are.
I start my new school on a Monday, but I can’t start over. They all know I am a murderer. The main photo going around of the accident is a real gory one. Perfect shot of it. It, she. Lisa. That mangled marble with soaked rope hair wrapped into the wheel. Old blood-head. I don’t ever wear black to school. I don’t want to look like I like what I am. No one talks to me and I don’t talk to them.
Afternoon on another Tuesday. I hate Tuesdays. I don’t sleep well and my eyes are heavy and I am ugly. I am doodling in my notebook in health class. The school is a tall fat building and I am on one of the top floors. Sometimes, on a clear day, I can see the ocean out the windows, but it isn’t a clear day, and it’s all grey and I am cold. Boring, boring, boring. I doodle all the time. The experience of being young, being carefree, goes on around me. I can feel it, but it isn’t me. They go fast and I go slow. Everything goes slow now.
I think about my dad, what he said about forgiving yourself.
Mom leaves early in the morning and comes back very late at night. She has deep wrinkles in the corners of her mouth from her signature smile, closed-lips and clenched-jaw. She makes me so nervous. Tall and tan with long, dark hair. Angular and dignified. Not like me. Prime of my life and just puffy, awkward. Sandy blonde hair matching my pale skin too well. Invisible eyebrows. Awful.
Another Tuesday. And another Tuesday. And another Tuesday.
Oh God oh God oh God! I am lonely and I don’t know how to make friends anymore. Gina doesn’t call and I am too scared to try. No one asks about her. Not my mom or anyone at school. Like no one knows there was someone else in the car. I killed someone. I was driving and it was my car. That’s all anyone cares about.
Everything is boring now. Nothing happens anymore. What does it matter? When I graduate next year, no one will know I am a murderer. But I will know. It will always be something to tell people. Every Tuesday will always be the day of the blood-head.
On a Friday, a little over one month after the thing happened, I go visit my dad and stepmother. My mom drops me off at the curb and drives away. The walls in the living room of my dad’s house are now light pink. There are speckles of pink paint on the wood floor and I am sure my stepmother has been painting. My dad gives me a tight hug and my stepmother offers me some water.
We walk to the Chinese restaurant we like and I eat soup and they ask how the new school is and I say fine. My dad talks about our dogs, and I tell him how mom says we don’t have time for pets. I can come by and see the dogs anytime, he says.
I spend the night in my bedroom. It’s already my old bedroom. From an old life. I text Gina, I’m at my dad’s house. She doesn’t respond.
Doodling in class again. Another Tuesday. I hate Tuesdays. I wonder if Gina thinks of me on Tuesdays. I imagine her at the old school. Talking about the accident. About me, like I am a monster. About how scared she was and how awful it was. I hate her.
At home, a Thursday afternoon, my mother is on the phone. She hasn’t taken her heels off yet, and I can hear them pacing across the floor as her voice goes up and down. I sit in my room and look out at the mountains. I feel like I could deal with how bored I am if it all wasn’t going so fucking slowly. There is nothing else to say. I’ll keep going to high school and then I’ll apply to college and that will be that. I’ll just be miserable and there is nothing to do about it because of what I did. It doesn’t matter what will happen to me.
My old high school is putting up a memorial at the front entrance for Lisa this Saturday. My mom wants to go with me. She says it’s important.
Early Saturday morning, my mom and I go to the mall. She makes me drive. I hate driving. I wrap my arms around myself as we walk to her favorite shops. We stand in a warm boutique and she lets my thin hair fall through her tan fingers and she says with such a light color, you look so nice in blues.
Blue-green like my eyes, she says. She buys me a dress that’s the same color as my eyes.
Later that day, I wear the blue-green dress to the unveiling of the memorial. A small tree, a plaque. I don’t read it; I don’t get close enough. Lisa’s parents aren’t there. I wonder if they don’t want to see the place she was murdered anymore. Gina is standing nearby with her mom, skinny arms and a long jaw, in an old T-shirt I remember. She looks at me and I smile. I don’t mean to smile, it just happens. She smiles. Some of the other kids from school cry. No one talks to either of us.
I walk up to Gina; her mother holds her hand tight. My mom stands behind and waits. I can see some of our old classmates looking at us.
“Hi,” she says.
I give her a hug. I can feel her heart racing against my chest. My stomach has butterflies. She smells so good, her hair, her old perfume. I want to tell her I miss her but I don’t say anything.
“We’ll be in touch, sweetheart,” her mother says, and they turn away.
I walk back to my mom and she takes my hand and we walk to the car.
“This summer,” she says, “maybe you want to go abroad.”
I shrug. My stomach is in knots and I feel nauseous. Lisa, the blood-head. We drive back to our part of town and hit heavy traffic. Next to us is a car of boys, my age. Strangers. None of them know I am a murderer.
I smile at them, in my new dress, green-blue like my eyes. Good with my light hair. I smile at them all, trying to catch the eyes of one, or the other. Any of them. One by one, they all glance over. Blank, just a little curious, they wonder if they know me, then look away and don’t talk about me with each other. None of them look back over. My mom turns the radio on. She sings softly to an old song. Eventually, so do I.
TANYA KNOX is a clinical psychologist and writer living with her husband and daughter in Santa Monica. Her stories have appeared in Pearl, Raleigh Review, Red Wheelbarrow, Temenos, and Red Ochre. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.