Outside Old Education we walked across the ellipse, a cold blustery day, a few flakes of snow falling but not many, a few students scuttling from class to class, but not many.
“That was stupid but you were great,” Lynnie said.
“I went with what I had,” I said. “I only read two pieces, right? That’s because I only had two! The rest of the kids all wrote shit how Devon was in hell because she was a feminist and a suicide.”
The two pieces I’d read were the only ones that even had names on them—the other eight students were apparently ashamed of what they wrote, and they should have been. They said that Devon was a loser and a weakling and a coward. That she’d run out on her responsibilities. That she couldn’t take it. That she couldn’t handle Life. Suicides went to hell, of course. One anonymous student was nice enough to say that said she would pray for Devon. Another was sure that Devon was in hell because she was a feminist who believed in abortion, plus the suicide thing showed what happened to feminists because they were weaklings.
And, you know, attitudes like that weren’t uncommon at Southeast Kansas State. Bad water, funny-looking people, racism, misogyny, intolerance, weirdness. Rednecks. There were at least three KKK Klaverns operating in the region, and it was an everyday sight to see cars and pickups driving around with confederate flag decals. A few months earlier, the African American Student Center had a few windows busted out. Over in Joplin, the local mosque had been attacked and burned down, and rebuilt and burned again, and rebuilt again, and burned one last time. At the corner of one of the big cemeteries in Weirton that flanked the SEKSU campus there was a tall black cenotaph honoring the Unknown Fetus, and on some Sundays I’d drive by to find a dozen or so creepy people kneeling around it, praying.
What a fucking place.
“Oh, that’s all bullshit,” Lynnie said. “Jesus is very sympathetic to feminists and suicides.”
I started. “What?”
“Jesus could’ve gotten down from the cross if he’d wanted to,” Lynnie said. “Right? But he didn’t—and that’s suicide, in my book.”
“Okay,” I said. “Yeah, I guess.”
I took a King James Bible as Literature course when I was an undergraduate. I didn’t remember much of the class, so it was easy to assume Lynnie was right.
“And I bet Jesus welcomes feminists and suicides into heaven personally. Heck, I bet he welcomed Devon into heaven personally.”
“I hope so,” I said.
“I know I’m right,” Lynnie said. “I’m just about always right.”
We were crossing the street in front of Reeb Hall, about halfway across, when the door banged open and Frankie came stumbling out, half running toward us, wrapped in a fluffy parka and listing under the weight of her giant backpack. She stopped in front of us, breathless.
“I’m not late, am I?”
“I think the band’s still playing,” I said. “There’s people over there—there’s a reception.”
“Oh, gosh—I hope I’m not late.” Frankie took off half-running across the ellipse.
“That girl needs to get out of here,” Lynnie said. “She’s on the verge of being funny-looking.”
“We all need to get out of here,” I said. I thought of my job application to Midwestern State.
What if I got it? I’d have to say goodbye to Lynnie. Which would suck. Though staying here would suck, too. I felt like anything that happened to me was going to suck, period. Life in Weirton was tainted.
Lynnie got in her car, parked like mine in the lot behind Reeb, and she drove off to the Tri-State. I stood by my car for a moment in the damp chill air. The campus was quiet in the late afternoon. I looked up at Reeb—such an ugly building, all that leprous red brick and pasty pale concrete—and I saw the stairwell window I often looked out of, the classroom windows, Tee’s window, the windows of the senior faculty offices. Such a dreadful, depressing place.
But—I thought, I sighed. Yeah. So I hate it here.
So I hate Reeb Hall, so I hate Weirton, so I hate Southeast Kansas State—so fucking what?
I wasn’t doing anything about it—about it, about my hate, about anything—I wasn't doing anything except being hateful.
I got in my car, feeling heavy. Burdened. Bothered. Guilty, too—about Devon. That I’d ignored and talked over Devon that last time we talked. I never asked her about the bad shit—what the hell was wrong with me? Everything, really. At one point in my life I know I’d been curious—I liked knowing about shit of all kinds, good and bad. That’s why I became an academic—I wanted to know lots of interesting shit, and talk about it. But now I was just…whatever. Numb. After a moment I started the car and drove out of the parking lot and headed north on Sycamore Street, past the dorms on one side and crappy off-campus housing on the other.
I thought about that last time I’d talked to Devon. The Friday afternoon before she died, just after she’d apparently dropped her resignation into the sluggish campus mail. Devon ducked into my office and plopped down onto one of the straight-backed chairs that faced my desk.
“This fucking place…” Devon said.
I said, “Yeah….”
I was—bored. Yeah. This fucking place. What else was there to say?
Tell me something new.
Devon looked—tired. It was of course that time of the academic year, the season of exhaustion, but Devon looked more than exhausted. She sat there thin and drawn, wisps of gray maybe coming in at her temples.
“No—really,” Devon said. She looked quickly over her shoulder, out the open door, to see if there was anyone in the hall listening, and then she eased the door shut. “This fucking place, you know? This fucking Courtney. This fucking Nancy—”
“What now?” I asked.
“I don’t know, Holt—I guess I’ve heard about some bad things, you know? Actually—a lot of bad things. I think there’s just some bad shit going on with Courtney and Nancy.”
“Fuck,” I said. I shrugged. Still bored. “I don’t know—those bitches aren’t even human.”
“That’s what you always say,” Devon said. “You’re no help.”
I really wasn’t any help.
I suddenly yanked the car to the right and pulled over in the rubble next to the old dog food warehouse and stopped. Caught my breath. The fading puppy grinning at me, my heart thumping.
Something happened to Devon.
Those four wine glasses. Right?
I was so goddamn stupid. Devon wasn’t celebrating, drunk and confused.
The writers were over there that night.
Four wine glasses—four writers. Devon—and Courtney and Nancy and Ted.
I think there’s just some bad shit going on with Courtney and Nancy.
And Courtney’s stupid poem—it was printed on the memorial service flier. I pulled it out of my jacket pocket and uncrumpled it.
you want to run
It was a threat poem—a post-threat poem, a threat poem after the fact.
I put the car in drive and drove on up to 6th Street, and the Tri-Sate. Lynnie was sitting at the bar with pint glasses of beer and shots of something. Jägermeister, probably. She looked up and saw me and grinned.
“You took long enough—you get lost?”
Kenny the bartender was at the far end of the bar, talking to a couple of old FLP drunks. The TV was on NFL Live with the volume turned off. The jukebox playing old Allman Brothers. I took a breath and went over to Lynnie and bent down close to her ear.
“I figured it all out,” I said. “You know? It was the writers—they killed Devon.”