Part 3

fist 1High school was a place of forgetting and of unbecoming. Stephen had attended five schools in eight years, and had managed not to make a single lasting friend. He blamed his parents, his life, his circumstance, but never himself. He was a young man comprised of parts; the places he lived, the men who’d hurt him, the women who hadn’t given him the ability to see their value, and the hopelessness that comes from being slow. He wasn’t slow, he told himself. It hadn’t been his fault that he’d repeated first grade. It was a matter of starting late. He’d started everything late.

He was the third child of a loveless home. His older brother Reggie had joined the Army before he’d finished high school, and became a hero in his absence. His sister Nikki had a way with men, barely a woman herself, and gave little appreciation to the image she was instilling in her younger brother. She’d had no regard for the restrictions of society and good grace, and instead had embarked upon nightly journeys through the taverns and truck stops of their small town, bringing home strays to make them beg for her. The noises through the wall from her room to his often sounded like a confrontation of dogs. When the parents were away, she’d lock in him his room, his only entertainment being the sounds of laughter, grunting, screaming, and then the drunken requests for him to do something funny, or painful for the sake of entertaining the unknown guests. Stephen observed all of this, and saw what a woman would do for a man’s attention. He learned the lessons she taught very well.

His father had broken him. His face had become numb to the fingers that after years had become fists, and he learned to retaliate by hating him. The more the man would strike him, the more he would wish the most horrific death upon him. Stephen didn’t know that a son was supposed to love his father, but he did know that a son should follow in a father’s footsteps. What hurt him more than his own abuse was watching his mother, as he peeked from behind a chair or a cracked door, while the old man would lay into her, pulling her hair so hard sometimes it made a tearing sound like a ripping burlap, and her cries sounded like they were coming from the lowest, deepest part of her. This, too, he observed, and learned that despite harsh treatment, a good woman took it and stayed.

In high school he had unbecome. He didn’t want to be the poor kid a grade behind. He had anger. He had retribution to bestow. He joined the football team and no one could hit harder than he could, run faster than he could, or play with such brutality. His violence made him a star.

But a girl had made him question once. She was pretty, and had smiled at him. He’d asked her name and that night had said it a thousand times to himself, wondering if she’d say yes if he asked her for a date. He felt vulnerable, weak, and he began to loath her. Loathing felt a lot like love, and somewhere the two got mixed up inside him until he couldn’t tell them apart.

There were things she did that made him feel like he was flying, and things she did that made him feel like he wanted to kill her.

And then there was Franklin.

Part 2

Part 22

Stories often begin with an ending. That’s how it started, with the funeral of Stephen Jacob Murphy on August 12, 1993. The obituary had given a quick overview of a life; born in 1973, son of Martha and Benjamin, twice selected state all-star in track and field, working toward a degree in communications at Boise State University. Dog-lover. Member of the church choir. Will be missed by all.

What was missing from the truncated report were the journalistic details. Those had been displayed on page 2 of the Statesman the week before. 20 year-old man found dead in a car in the Taste-e-Freeze drive-thru. Rumored to have been stalking one of the cashiers, several previous police reports. The bullet that passed through his head from the gun found in his hand had embedded itself in the house on the other side of the fence. Reason to believe that the individual was also involved in a July break-in at the cashier’s home where two small animals were killed and their innards strung across the front yard. The suicide brings an end to a troubled relationship.

Crystal didn’t read the story or the obituary. She’d pulled the curtains in the room she had grown up in, on the second floor of her parent’s house, and didn’t come out for three days. All she wanted to do was forget that Stephen ever lived, or that she had ever loved him.

She’d known him since high school, the smart, handsome athlete that had asked her to a movie one night that felt like a million years ago. She’d said yes without telling her parents, and had gone on the first of many dates that had seen her experience her first real kiss, and the loss of her virginity. But Stephen had an angry side, one that her friends had told her to be careful about. She didn’t think much of it, just a guy’s way of blowing off steam, until he’d first struck her.

She’d auditioned for the school play, and had been selected for a quite controversial role for a high school in a religious town. She was a burlesque dancer, whose lone scene had her draping her arm around an old-time cowboy and sitting on his lap. Stephen had come to watch a rehearsal and that had been that. She’d lied and said she’d fallen, when all she’d wanted was to hide the fact that she’d dropped out of the play because makeup didn’t hide the purple bruise on her cheek.

Stephen had said he’d loved her, that his feelings for her had driven him to do it to her. He didn’t want to feel that way, but he loved her so much that the idea of anyone else touching her drove him crazy. A part of her was flattered. Crystal had tried to explain that to her mother, as they both tried to blend away the mark from the “softball” accident so that people wouldn’t stare at her and get any wrong ideas. And there had been the flowers delivered to home room that let the world know Stephen was a man who took care of his girl.

Crystal tried to forgive, less because she felt he was her prince, more because of how important she felt being his princess. She stayed with him. That was the first step she took toward killing Franklin.

Part 1

He lumbered down the street, not noticing the cars speeding by him, not quite feeling the way his feet pressed into the asphalt, soft after a ninety degree morning. He didn’t notice the yellow dashes vanishing between his steps every so often until a mile had passed, then another. He didn’t see the traffic rushing so close to his body, or hear the drivers honking their horns or cursing out windows as they went by. All he saw was his hand, the one that had broken her, and where the ring used to fit on the second knuckle of his little finger. A gift she’d given him, and he’d lost it. Like a damn fool, he’d lost it.

Franklin didn’t think anyone was watching, really. Surprising, if only for the fact that he’d left his clothes scattered on the pavement behind him, leaving a trail that led to a lost soul, someone who didn’t matter anymore.

But they did see him, someone did. The trucker saw him as he looked up from the radio, a figure growing dangerously large between the bottom of his windshield and the crack in the glass about midway up. The driver saw this unknown, naked man as he tried to slow the vehicle, the screeching and tearing of rubber sounding like the combat of animals, until for a moment time stood still, and he was looking at a man with clear eyes, blue fading to green, holding his arms out at his sides. He’d stopped walking and just stood there as the truck collided into him and through him and stopped some distance beyond him. But the driver would always remember the words that mouth had formed right before it disappeared. He never told anyone. How could you have seen that, they’d ask. Be he knew what he saw. Right before the man in the road became a man no more, he’d looked right at him, and his mouth had formed words.

Thank you, he’d said.