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Ragdoll

The scene seemed strung up by a cosmic playwright in its banal twist of unfortunate underpinnings. For a moment, from the passenger seat of the missile-like Volvo, you could almost switch places with each of the characters in the forthcoming conflict. The ragged black man with his pistol arm extended towards the frightened couple on the sidewalk. The little boy who peeked from the restaurant window, over a too-tall bench to see what in the world was happening out there. And my husband, Darby, really Steve, but Darby was my youngest son’s interpretation of Daddy until speech therapy, hunched over ready to ram this dog into a thousand kibbles on the hot pavement.

Later at the hospital, Darby would look over at me and say he wished he’d thought about what he was doing. But what choice did he have? He couldn’t see any other outcome. He didn’t discuss the brains that met our Volvo’s bug stained windshield. Nor the fact the couple panicked and almost ran into oncoming traffic once their assailant had been subtracted from the equation.

But let’s imagine for a minute you are the assailant holding your pistol at a couple of wayward travelers. A couple, seemingly innocent of anything other than being too carefree with their wealth. The woman wore an elegant purse over her shoulder, the contents of which bulged, jingled, rang, begged for one thief or another to take it off her person. The man was no better. He held a smartphone in the slick palm of his hand, looking periodically at its screen, then allowing it to swing like a pendulum along with his gait. In the man’s back pocket the outline of a wallet so pronounced one could only assume he either carried a rolodex of credit cards or more than a dozen tightly packed green bills. Not even the thief would suspect just how many family photos this digital-aged man was carrying in that wallet.

Or imagine the boyfriend or husband — whatever he may be — and take it from their point-of-view. Honey, it’s a nice breezy day, the sun is shining high in the sky, so let’s take to the streets, walk up to the ice cream stand, share a malt, pretend the walk will be pleasant even among the exhaust and Saturday late-afternoon traffic. So you help your wife pull on a cream colored sweater that would contrast nicely with a bullet hole, the crimson red of the blood spilling into the threads, melding the outfit into a letter-sweater of death. Imagine then being pulled up, stopped by a crisp instruction from a hoodlum.

“Stop right there.” And they had stopped, waited until the capillaries in their eyes felt like they would burst from too much mental stress. How could this happen? To him? What had he heard? Don’t look them in the eye. No, that was a bear or panther. This was a murderer. He could see it in the eyes. They were as good as dead. It was then he’d felt the warmth of his own discharge gush down his leg, followed by heart pounding disbelief as he watched the ragdoll of a man crumple on the hood of a speeding car.

But from my perspective, the whole affair’s beginning, the man with his pistol arm extended may have only been trying to hand a dance club flyer to the couple, who in their sanguine daze dodged him like he was some sort of murderer aiming the tube-like flyer, with its drop shadows, aliasing, and kerning. And, only then, if Darby hadn’t been changing the channel, looking for his damned game, maybe the bug spattering on the windshield would have been its only decoration.

Black Triangle

Small waves lapped against the next contestant as she bobbed in the water. The game was called “Don’t shit a brick.” The goal was to see who could doggy paddle the longest while holding a brick. Juvenile, sure. Was it fun? You’re damn right it was.

Jennifer had cried out with glee when she first entered the water, then her face squished in like a sponge when she was handed the brick. She momentarily grimaced as the red, clay brick scraped against her inner thigh. But she managed to hold onto it surrounded by the vibrantly colored speedboats of her classmates.

Her red and blue bikini top was fastened tight around her neck, but the grasping texture of the brick threatened to expose her sun shaded breasts to the boys leaning off the sides of their boats, cheering wildly like she was crossing the finish line with each minor stroke.

The coldness of Lake Holshire had sucked my breath away earlier in the afternoon, when the first round of tubing had begun. ┬áThe coldness could be seen on Jennifer’s face, in the way she gasped for air and kept her eyes focused on one spot in the sky.

Maybe if we had brought more than one brick, the contestant would have felt better about dropping it to the mossy bottom below. As it were, Jennifer struggled with the weight and the beers she had drank earlier.

She managed to keep herself afloat as someone yelled, “She looks like she’s shitting a brick!”

The three speedboats all had their engines killed and their anchor points tethered, leaving a triangular opening in the water. As the ever buoyant Jennifer struggled with her clay hindrance, the boats sloshed and shimmied so that Jennifer was no longer in the center of the triangle, but closer to Davis’ boat, a shining red and black beast that could hit sixty miles an hour without blinking.

I yelled to Davis, “Get her out, man. She’s finished.”

He didn’t even look at me, but kept staring down at the top of her breasts that glistened just above the surface of the water.

In the afternoon sun, the water was a navy blue, like the oppressive folds of storm clouds about to spit rain.

Davis was now laying on the edge of his Mastiff, as he called the red and black racer, urging Jennifer to just give up and take her top off. She didn’t need to be weighted down by it. Her faux laugh filled her mouth with Lake water, which she spit out with squinting eyes.

“Shut up, Dave,” was all she managed to mouth before slipping under water.

Davis turned to Trev, “Did you hear what she said?” He didn’t see her submerge into the triangle of darkness, like a pole searching for the bottom of Lake Hols.

The water rippled outwards where the crown of her head had gone under, breaking symmetry on the side of the Mastiff. One, two, three seconds pass. No sign of her. She’s not coming up. I search the black water to see if I can find her, but cannot.

I glance at the others. There’s more than a dozen people and not one of them seems concerned that Jennifer has just taken the plunge to death. She’s a caught bobber and no one wants to reel her in.

Alcohol does dumb shit to people.

I dive in, momentarily wondering if I should have jumped in feet first rather than swan dive into the water. But I don’t hit her. I open my eyes and am amazed at how bright it is underwater. The boats cast long shadows down a corridor of the lake, but there’s wide expanses receiving bright sunlight now. I can see Jennifer with her eyes closed about ten feet below.

She drifting there like a person caught between a dream and waking. She’s let go of the brick but her hands still hold it near her chest. Something in the water brushes against my eyelids causing them to close momentarily. I fear she’ll be dead when I get her in my arms. Will she drift away when I’m back?

I reach her, grab her underneath her arms and start kicking for the surface. I can see the long angular shadows from the boats spread wider and wider, until I’m panting above the dark expanse of the black triangle.