c/w: suicide, sexual exploitation
Kyle Thibodeaux’s dad was a dispatcher for Biloxi PD, which is how he found out about the boy. When he told us, the whole bus went quiet all at once, only the engine roaring when Miss Dolores gave it gas. Only the groaning and rattling and shuddering when she hit the brakes or took a corner. Trey Edwards crossed himself, and a girl named Lexi started crying. When we pulled into the bus circle, the band was on the field practicing that Beyoncé song for the Mardi Gras parade. I looked over their heads, past the color guard and drumline, past the bleachers and uprights, off into the pines. I wanted to vanish in that deep shade, burrow down like a wild animal. Slide into the pond like a nutria rat.
But I went to homeroom, where the counselor was waiting to give us the news: Yesterday after school Zane Richards walked all the way to the Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge, climbed the guardrail and jumped before anybody could get to him. Her voice cracked. She spoke in a loud whisper that sounded like it must hurt her throat. It anybody had a situation at home, her door was always open. If you’re scared of the people at home, there’s ways to protect you.
She made us promise to tell if anybody did things that made us uncomfortable. That made us ashamed inside. I thought of the girl in eighth grade whose dad put her in dirty movies and sold them on the internet, and then my insides unclenched. It had nothing to do with me and Luke and Eli, after all. We were just messing with that boy, just talking shit.
When she left, Coach Kirk got up from his desk and stood there rubbing his palms together. He cleared his throat and looked like he had something to say, but he just turned on Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and we watched it until the bell rang.
The three of us ate lunch together that day, like always, then sat in the courtyard watching chip bags and candy wrappers blow around. A couple of gulls swooped in and fought over an off-brand Cheeto. We didn’t mention the boy. Luke said Lil Wayne was coming to the Superdome and it was gonna be lit and we should go, but you could tell his heart wasn’t in it. It was just something to say. Me and Eli shrugged.
My grandma tells these stories she heard from my great-grandpa, who came to Biloxi from a little island off the coast of Croatia. He worked in the canneries on Back Bay before Camille washed them all away and everything went to frozen because nobody wanted to eat shrimp from a can. In this story, a guy named Igor went crazy after his girlfriend married another man, and he threw a dead dog in the well. All these people in the village got sick and died. I kept thinking about it. Not that the dog stood for the boy, just because they’re both dead. It was more than that. I stared up at the ceiling that night, and the one after that, and the one after that.
I started going to St. Michael’s again with my grandma, for the first time in years. They have this prayer where you ask forgiveness for things you’ve done and for things you’ve left
undone. I pulled out the kneeler and got down next to her, so close we were touching, and I whispered the words. I even went to confession. But the priest wanted to talk about salvation and eternal life, and I didn’t want to be saved. That’s not what I was after.
Amelia Franz, she/her, is a Pushcart-nominated writer whose work has appeared in Image, Hippocampus, Eclectica, Peatsmoke Journal, and other literary magazines. She grew up in Mississippi and now lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and three children.
Twitter handle: @amelia_franz