My writing teacher calls this a guilty elegy. Without further explanation, here is
I had a few days' warning before the hurricane hit--but I am perennially ill-prepared. I woke up that Sunday and thought to myself, "I heard something about a storm. I should probably look into that." I flipped to the weather channel, where a demented man attempted to stand on a beach in spite of the rising waves; he talked about how nobody should be anywhere near where he was. A category five hurricane was heading directly at me.
I called my boss, asked him if I should be worried.
There was a pregnant pause on the line.
"Yeah, man. You need to get the fuck out of there."
"Is there a shelter on base?"
"I think so, yeah."
I waited out the storm in a stout brick building used to store construction vehicles. I set up my cot against a wall, behind a grader. Nobody could find me.
When the storm ended, most of the coast had been swept into the gulf. Nothing stood between the water and a line about a mile inland, marked by mud and the remains of houses.
Wednesday, I went to my friend Brian's house. He lived a few miles to the north and therefore his home still stood. Brian had a generator, which we were trying to get started in the early evening. He had entered the most crucial stage of this operation, that of profanity, when a young man I didn't know walked into Brian's front yard. Brian didn't seem to know him, either.
"Something I can help you with?" Brian asked, as the man approached us.
"Yeah," he said. "I'm taking your generator." He put a hand on the machine.
"No, you're not," Brian said, and pulled a .45 caliber pistol out of the back of his jeans, pointed it at the man's face. I looked at him first--he was more surprised than scared, hands just beginning to twitch upward, like they could do something. His eyes were wide, but one of them had just started to squint. His mouth was pursed, trying to say something that might make this play out differently. I tried to look at Brian, but only got as far as the pistol: the slide moved back, and then forward.
I didn't see the action, only the aftermath. He was no longer recognizable.
Police came, eventually, and took our statements.
Yes, I would say that there was a threat of implied violence.
No, I did not see a weapon on him.
No, I did no know Brian was armed.
No, I am not armed.
No, I did not know him.
Brian was not arrested. The body was collected, wrapped in a blanket and placed in the back of a pickup truck.
Later, I watched crows pick at bits of bone and blood in the grass.
I try to avoid telling that story. People tend to react with disgust, not at the content, but at me. One friend wouldn't let it go:
"Are you defending him?" she accused.
"No. Just pointing out that what he did wasn't illegal."
"And that makes it okay? Slavery was legal!"
"Please don't be hysterical at me."
"I don't understand how you can be so blasé about this."
I shrugged. "I guess I'm just broken."
What I do not tell them is that most of it is a fabrication. I was in a hurricane, a bad one. But I never saw anyone murdered. I wrote the story after hearing a rumor about an event that happened more or less as I've described above. I've no idea if it's true or not. We heard a lot of rumors like that after the storm hit.
Here's a true story: A woman carrying an infant is walking along a road about a quarter mile from the gulf. I'm with my friend Cody. We're taking water to refugees. We stop and offer her some. We notice that her infant is dead, and she looks like she's crying, only she's not, because she can't anymore. This story is also a rumor.
Another true story: A young man joins the Navy, gets sent to Mississippi right before a storm wipes out half the city he's stationed in. He winds up getting tasked with cleaning a few hundred cubic feet of muck out of city hall. Shortly before the task is complete he accidentally buries a spade in the neck of a corpse. Black mud floods out of its mouth. He vomits. This is not a rumor.
That's all for now.