(Author’s note: I only edited this once, all written since this morning, intending it to be unrefined, save for the odd typo. I’ve since done a few minor corrections, but no wholesale edit.)
Sleep was no refuge. While the active thoughts of day nipped at her consciousness like black flies at a deer, Coree stretched time until her eyelids refused to remain open, fearful of what nightmare might come in sleep, with her guard down.
Two months felt like ten years. Medication did nothing for her; she tossed out the prescribed anti-depressant after three days of ineffective use. Talking did less, because people kept throwing sympathy and optimism at her; easy enough to do when none of them was there, none of them bore witness, none of them felt what she felt.
What kind of life would she have, when she no longer wanted life? Why would she wish to continue existence when it could produce such a horrific occurrence? What kind of mother would do what Jo Alice Munson had done? The questions were not new, they had started with her first awakening after the fact and haunted her ever since, as if they were imprinted on her shadow, there, wherever she went, screaming at her to answer things only asked by her own mind.
Dr Savin claimed Coree carried too much anger to heal. The shrink knows nothing, Coree kept telling herself. She acknowledged and embraced her anger as her divine right, and carried the belligerence like others her age carried backpacks, a de rigueur accessory on any school day. She wished ill on any person who dare intrude upon it.
Unknown to Coree, everyone of consequence was in on a secret except her, despite Coree being the focal point of interest. People legitimately concerned, who loved Coree, who shivered when they saw her stumble and struggle, were the inner movers of the secret. A darker, larger side wanted in, the people who rode the coattails of celebrity, who wished for nothing more than bragging rights, or for significant column inch space above the fold featuring their words or images. Some walked a middle line between professional and personal interest. Others wished to ride the wave into legend, as either peripheral participant or facilitator of its metaphorical plasticisation into cultural immortality.
Coree sensed this burgeoning creation; she wished nothing to do with it. If she had her way, she would take a sky-sized eraser to the world’s infatuation with Jo Alice and her music, in the process eviscerating any stalk stirring ideas in the criminally deranged.
Already two books were on retailer shelves; both were on someone’s bestseller list. The record company rushed to release a compilation, one featuring ‘the last recorded song’ done by Jo Alice. “Coree, you are a minor,” she was told as the executrix of the estate signed off on the release on behalf of Coree. The word executrix felt like a shard of popcorn nestled in the tight space under her tongue, grating and annoying, something out of the dark ages. She screamed at the aging staid old attorney, ‘she’s a fucking executor’, to no avail. He just smiled and kept on with his legal bullshit. Damn her mother, Coree fumed that reading of the will day, for using such an asshole for her legal doings!
Coree believed her Aunt Jessie was no better, for she took advice from the attorney, even though she was the executor. She claimed they acted in my best interest, to feed the machine of inheritance, so Coree would have no financial worries. Hell, Coree hated her inheritance now. The last estimate she saw was a number in the first quarter of nine digits, a figure she could only relate to grains of sand and about as meaningful to her, although she understood it carried far more meaning to all those seeking to slide their paws in and scoop some out. To Coree, she would rather it go to those in need, to those with no voice, to the people her mum sang to and about. After all, Jo Alice, renowned performer and astute businessperson, had been unfailingly generous with her earnings, diverting upwards of seventy percent into her charitable foundation.
This was her one hope, young Coree. Take the foundation and pour more into it. Coree couldn’t bear to see anyone hurt as she hurt now, even if the reasons and circumstances were wholly different. And animals… someone has to care for the animals.
If only. The memory of the October day played like an IMAX 3D film in Coree’s mind. She tried to escape playback by trying school again, public school, as she and her mom had always agreed was appropriate, but Aunt Jessie wanted to move Coree to some fancy private. Despite enrolment in the private, Coree refused to go, and went each day to her public school, finally forcing Aunt Jessie to acquiesce.
She was on lunch break, out under her favourite tree, using its protective canopy to screen her eyes, enabling unsquinting sight of the distant mountains she and her mum so loved to hike on.
The tree provided ample support for her back, doubling as a craggy scratching post when for two seconds she writhed up against it. Friends had learned not to bother Coree, and today, the tree space was her private open-air fiefdom, by will of her fellow students.
Coree had no framework of belief, no preference for where her thoughts placed her mum. She knew enough about religion and spirituality; she just never felt a pull in any direction. According to some, to many, her mum was somewhere around or above Coree, watching, protecting. Whatever.
Maybe she should have done a bit more of it while we walked in Amethyst Park, Coree judged, not for the first time. The incident unfolded so fast; maybe her mum just did not have time to evaluate things. Maybe no matter what she and her mum did, the outcome would have been the same, although… maybe she would be dead too, a better result than the current split screen with Coree the one left to deal with the consequences.
The air felt seasonable, kept fresh by a moderate northwest wind carrying a supply of Canadian air. In the process, it painted the overhead sky with a deep blue untinted by the milky white visible towards the horizon. A couple of small puffy clouds floated along, looking like handfuls of tufted cotton tossed to the wind, neither threatening to obscure the free shining sun. She wished she could ride one; wished she could give herself over to the cloud, trust it to take her to some other place less painful.
Her mum had remarked on a cloud, right before the man approached and asked for her autograph. Like her mum and unlike Coree, born in the United States, he too was British. All smiles and with a photograph and pen ready, he asked her to sign for him even as he imposed the implements on Jo Alice.
When she smiled back, when she took the photo and the pen and began to write the big arcing curves of her signature, the man serioused up, reached in the pouch of his sweatshirt, and extracted a snub-nosed 38, at once brandishing it towards Jo Alice and Coree.
Coree felt her muscles tighten, as they did every time the image visited her, one of several such replays each day – and night. Her mother hated guns, in fact she advocated for effective controls and education, along with her many other causes. Jo Alice hated injustice, and, at odds with her creative tendency to paint portraits of drama and conflict in her music, she was an idealist. She was also an out dyke.
So many tines to this story, Coree thought. Her father, she met him twice, too busy producing documentaries to be a part of her life. Her mum liked that just fine, because she wanted her partner to be Coree’s second parent, except the partner walked out on Jo Alice and in the process made it difficult for her to open her heart all the way. Coree was too young to remember much of Sonya; she picked up on the story over the years of her childhood.
Mum, she was out long before any other major star revealed his or her sexuality, and she paid a price in some ways, but persevered. There was her Oscar for the soundtrack to Float My Way, when she gave the great speech on inequality, but blew past the recommended speech time, and the pissed off producer shut down her mike and had the orchestra strike up. In the days following, rather than hold his silence about the action, producer Noel Calhoun came out looking like a spoiled homophobe.
Her mother made poor decisions at times, notably in her advocacy for gay rights. She took on the more vocal of the Christian right, and in the process made her their poster villain for pushing back against gay rights. Coree felt particularly ill at ease with this one now, and not just because a few crass idiots among the Christian right claimed God’s vengeance as the reason for Jo Alice’s death.
When the fan pulled the gun, he recited Leviticus 18:22. Jo Alice reacted with defiance, first by writing ‘Sin no more, followers of God. Love thy neighbours as you would love yourself’ on the back of the fan’s proffered image, enraging the gunman. Coree could see the words her mum wrote, all of them stamped indelibly in her mind.
Here it comes, Coree thought, knowing the whole incident was now on autoplay in her head. “Repent, and I will let you go,” the man told her mum, adding, “You too,” as he waved the gun towards Coree. “On your knees, give yourself to your Saviour!” Coree had nothing against Christians, and truth was, neither did her mum. Most were nice; only a few, as with any group, were extremists. It wasn’t the religion, Jo Alice would tell Coree, only the weird intolerances of some who used a particular religion as their excuse for abhorrent conduct, in the process giving a bad reputation to those who are nothing at all like the few extremists.
When the gunman ordered Coree down on her knees, her mum countermanded. “Coree, you will do nothing of the kind. If you fucking wish to kill me asshole, kill me, but like you, there are things we believe in, and they tell me never to give in to injustice and intolerance. I would rather die standing up defying you, than on my knees begging for mercy and lying through my teeth about what I believe.”
Her defiance shook the man; clearly, he anticipated gaining easy sway over Jo Alice. As has surfaced in the investigation, he hoped to discredit her by showing the rock star begging for God’s mercy.
“I said get down on your knees!”
“Mum, let’s just get down-”
“Coree, I said no! You stay on your feet. This guy is a chicken shit, feeding some need to impose his will on others.”
Despite her mum’s order, Coree dropped to her knees, screaming for the man to leave them alone. He didn’t.
“Get down on your knees like your daughter!”
“How many fucking times am I going to tell you, no! Now, go away before you do something you regret. And after, learn what Jesus’ message really is. Hint, it wasn’t to go around threatening queers!”
Time slows down for Coree, as it ever does in her mental replays of the incident. “G-e-t d-o-w-n!”
“F-u-c-k y-o-u! I-f y-o-u intend to kill me, fucking pull the trigger, or give me the gun before you hurt s-o-m-e-o-n-e!” Jo Alice reached out for the gun pointed at her, not quite within reach of her fingertips. “Y-o-u are like all the other mouthy ones who misjudge. If you think this earns you points with your God, you are in for a rude a-w-a-k-e-n-i-n-g!”
“O-n your knees and praise J-e-s-u-s!”
“P-u-l-l the trigger you fucking p-u-k-e-h-e-a-d! P-u-l-l i-t!”
“M-u-m!” Coree hears her own voice in the mix, sounding so small, so ignored. “M-u-m, stop! Do as he s-a-y-s!”
“N-o, C-o-r-e-e. S-o-m-e t-h-i-n-g-s a-r-e w-o-r-t-h d-y-i-n-g f-o-r.”
The pistol retort made Coree jump, then, now. She hated herself, for being weak, for not making her mum get down, for not standing with her mum. Damn but Coree hated her mother, hated her for leaving her with all this unusable love, for leaving her all alone, for leaving her the memories, the consequences, and the legacy.