New Year’s Eve, a man and a woman went for a walk near the road named for luck.
They ambled through corn cockle and duck-lettuce, the thick woods a blindspot to the west. The man spoke of their plans, a quick drink before attending the woman’s friend’s party, where they’d be up late dancing, how they’d sleep in the next morning, bowed across the mattress. The woman listened to the hum of the man, his words shuffling past dented soda cans, his thoughts disseminating along the dirt road. The man and the woman followed a line, not looking, woolgathering. The woman was aware of man’s boots, galumphing like dogs on the winter ground.
A man and a woman went for a walk this New Year’s Eve, near the road named for luck, and found the skull of a boy. They would miss the woman’s friend’s party to tell the story of their discovery to the police, blood warming their faces as they stood in a patch of witchweed. They wouldn’t be able to sleep late the next morning, or at all.
Skull of Local Man Found in Woods.
In death, the man was held in abeyance. When the newspapers weren’t calling him “local man,” they called him “Mr. W.” In fourth grade, he was “Danny.”
Danny had long since vanished from my memory, a child at the edge of a photograph, his hair like the bangs of a horse. A skinny brown belt holding up his uniform pants.
Danny disappeared in 2000, a man at twenty-two, no note, no wallet, no cell phone. Ten years missing, ten years his mother looking for him, marking his birthdays. Yet Danny had never really gone. He had been there all along, his skull blooming in the ditch like a mushroom.
Investigators with both the sheriff’s office and the coroner’s office will try to determine the cause of Mr. W’s death.
Dental records, cadaver dog teams, forensic anthropologists. He was depressed, his mother said. He had not gone in to work. Tests will tell us if Mr. W was intentionally killed, struck by a car, or died of natural causes. Ovals you fill in with lead, A, B, C or none of the above.
Danny had never seemed depressed. He could count his innumerable ambitions on his fingertips. He ran every recess; he was short but quick. He was average and unremarkable, elfin and sturdy. He lived under a halo of dust and blood. A collection of minor injuries, sick days on the office couch, skinned knees and threadbare socks. He was a little boy, so he was all of those things. He was a promise.
1988, St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School, we climbed on plastic chairs for the class photograph. Danny was instructed to stand directly in front of me, slightly to the left. Fourth grade, Mrs. Dunn’s class. The next year, Sr. Fintan arranged us for our class picture. We stood on the same chairs, in nearly the same position. 1989. Danny would change schools soon. We are eleven in this picture, and in a few months, I will never see him again. Not as Mr. W., at twenty-two. Not at thirty-three, the age I am now, the age we might both have been.
I think about his mother, waiting. Ten years for the wound to change shape. 2011, she was going to begin a new year, the mystery beginning to scab over. Another year of believing he was still alive. Was it better to have had the mystery?
“We knew this boy,” my friend said to me. We read the newspaper. A skull near lucky Shamrock Road.
I didn’t tell her I couldn’t remember anything about him. That when I thought of him, I thought about the boy from the photograph, my memories culled from a single image. A morning in 1988 spent standing on a plastic chair, the back of his head in front of me. I didn’t admit to her that I had forgotten his name.
“This was Danny,” she said. “He was there with us.”