Near a circle of statues honouring the local lost in four different conflicts, a young woman dropped onto one of the provisioned wrought iron and oak benches, ready to make her own war. She attacked at once, clawing at her arm with short but sharp nails, digging deep and drawing blood. She welcomed the hurt. She cried as she looked at the tracks on her arm, cried until her depleted eyes ached for want of moisture, but not from the physical pain. She retched over the backrest. She pulled at her long black hair. Her heart, of it nothing remained.
What have I done?
Her spirit screamed the four serrated words eviscerating her being, but her spent larynx managed only a feeble wail. Trapped in the consequences of an action undoable, with time, the plagued woman surrendered to emotional overload. She stretched across the bench and drifted into unconsciousness, leaving her long, bare legs peaked at the knee, inviting targets for emerging mosquitoes.
Hours later, voices of the party class roamed near, young men in search of their Friday night wild. Their playful bellows awakened the bench dweller, returning her to the same private hell. Her back ached from hours on the bench, her abdominal muscles from the earlier vomiting. The foul taste of bile soured her mouth. Worst, memory of the accident three streets south devoured her soul like some fast-spreading emotional gangrene.
What have I done? Torment drove the unshakable question, one she made no effort to block.
Despite a reluctance to move, angry muscles compelled her to unkink. She flipped to sitting just as the four-pack of boisterous good-times warriors passed close enough for her to hear their conversation. They looked right at her.
“She looks like shit.”
“Whoa dude, she looks hurt.” The young man who said it broke from his friends and approached Corcoran with caution. In Derryfield, in all of New England really, Cassie Asako Corcoran didn’t fear strangers. With her, none existed. Fans tried to give her all manner of things from meals to a fancy apartment, all of which she rejected due to stringent college rules.
“Cassie? Cassie Corcoran?” he asked.
Cassie said nothing.
“Hey, are you okay?”
His voice jumped in strength. “I asked if you’re all right. Do you need help?”
“I-I don’t need help.”
“Too much to drink?”
Cassie shrugged. She never touched her drink before Wendy ran.
The anonymous man, not much younger than Cassie, swung around to his comrades, with intent. “We need to get her home. If you want to go, fine. I’ll catch up with you. I’m going to help her.”
Cassie readied another objection, but lost it to an ambivalence neutralising her trademark feistiness. Absent its strong keel as a guide, she wallowed in indecision and indifference, and slid again toward emotional implosion. Her wish in truth, and for it she needed solitude, to shoo these would-be helpers away.
“We’ll get you home. Where do you live? On campus?”
“I moved off campus three years ago.” She left to live with Wendy, struck by truck, dead Wendy.
“What’ve I done?”
“What?” her helper asked.
“It’s all my fault.”
“What’s your fault?” he asked, helping Cassie stand.
“I killed her.” Heads turned and locked on Cassie. All knew her history.
“You killed someone? How? Why? Where—”
“O-over there, on Mainway.”
He saw the news bulletin. A pickup killed a woman outside a bar in what everybody knew as the gay district. The accident started a riot. A shitload of cops and a fire truck rushed there to stop it and put out an ambulance set on fire. The rioters inflicted non-life threatening injuries on the two paramedics.
“You drove the pickup?”
“Look, I don’t want to talk about it, all right? I’m okay. I can walk to my car from here on my own.”
His mind dug for more facts from the news report, if only he paid more attention. The driver.
“I heard on the news a man from Shefford struck a woman on Mainway a few hours ago. They didn’t say a thing about any other accidents. You didn’t do it.”
A burst of old Cassie snipped at him. “Knock off the inquisition. I appreciate your concern, but it’s none of your fucking business.”
“I’m just trying to help, is all. You didn’t kill anyone. Is that why you look like shit, you think you killed someone? If you did, the whole damn world would know. Channel 14 would be all over it. So would CPSN.”
Cassie didn’t rebut him. He didn’t know what happened just before the accident, of a drink she left untouched, of two consumed in minutes by the person across from her, of their candid conversation, upset, and a hurried runaway.
Her gut clenched.
“Thank you for checking. I’m okay, really. Go. Have fun.” Cassie dismissed him with a quick wave away.
Although sceptical, the four left the enigmatic hoop star to her misery and headed west toward downtown nightlife.
Cassie drudged away, as if the three-block walk to her car elongated by miles. She dragged her feet, scuffing her sneakers on the sidewalk. One foot caught on a patch of concrete uplifted by a serpentine tree root escaping the park, and she stumbled. She didn’t care.
She found her car trapped within the section of street closed for the investigation. After a quick conversation with an officer, he permitted her entry into the area to retrieve the vehicle. The walk took her past the remnant metal of the ambulance carcass. She forced her eyes away from where she last saw lifeless Wendy, but in the end, she stopped and looked. The body no longer lay there, but even in the lower light of a streetlamp, Cassie saw the dark unwashed spots of blood.
“Keep moving. Get your car and leave, please.”
The order came from the officer who let her re-enter the area. Zombified, Cassie walked toward Derryfield Ave and slid into her ten-year-old Camry, started its engine, and jumped from a sharp rap against the door window.
An open bifold displayed a Derryfield Police Department badge. Cassie looked beyond and upward to a face familiar, one she couldn’t quite place. She lowered the window.
“May I have a word with you, Miss—”
“It’s Ms, hard S, and before you say it, not hard ass.”
The detective smiled. Cassie could care less. Let him toss her in jail, a fate she believed justified.
“I know you. Well, I don’t know you, but I’ve watched you play many times. Our family – my wife, our daughters, and me – has season tickets to TSC games. We watch all the road games on TV, too. Tricia and Jaz both play high school ball. They hope to play college, because of you.
“By the way, I’m Detective Jeremy Blais, Derryfield PD. Did you see what happened this afternoon?” He didn’t bother to ask why she parked on Mainway. The whole world knew her proclivities.
Cassie tangled with the question. She thrashed at it, kicked and punched and smashed until it shattered, leaving a pulverised mental pile of still radioactive-to-her dust.
“Wendy Kingston and I lived together.”
This he knew, but he wished to let her run with her version of details before he asked the big question.
His face reformed, swapped for pensive from differential. “Cassie, can you step out of the car? I’d like to talk with you without stooping.”
Once outside, Cassie slid her backside onto the Civic hood, its metal crunching from her weight. She took stock of the officer about to question her. Burly build, four inches shorter than her at six feet, shaved head, boyish looks helped by his snub of a nose, five o’clock shadow, nudging forty, the details assembled and filtered through her memory. TSC games. He sat across the court from the team bench, three rows in. Cute family, ardent fans that often waved royal blue and sunflower yellow towels, TSC team colours.
Blais noted her scrutiny, so atypical amongst those he interviewed. Detective inquiry put people on edge. They tended to avoid prolonged eye contact. Instead, people evaluated their exit possibilities, looking for the first opportunity to leave. Her physical stature notwithstanding, with her bloodshot eyes, face in a default frowning state, and resigned demeanour, Cassie projected a vibe of a person wobbling on a precipice, her spirit crushed and seeking an end.
“Officer, I’ll save you some time. I’m responsible for Wendy’s death.”
“It’s Detective, and we already know who drove the vehicle. It wasn’t you, and it wasn’t the driver’s fault.”
“Wendy ran to get away from me.”
“Still not your fault. What else happened, Cassie?”
“You mean the ambulance?”
“Yeah, that and the paramedics.”
She told him. Every detail without mentioning names, from the moment the assholes arrived, to the hard punch she threw into Laurel’s gut.
“They let her die. Throw me in jail. I don’t give a shit. I’m guilty of punching the asswipe. If I saw him now, I’d do it again.”