Fiction from Brennan Burnside
I’VE HEARD KIDS in the school saying, “Watch out for the new kid.” Like it’s a Western. They’re parting seas of people to look for her. A celebrity with scant details to identify her. Rumor had it she had a brace—but that was over a year ago and it’s probably off by now.
They say that her car crashed last year after the after-prom party at Adrian’s beach house. That began the whole ban on underage students staying alone in beach houses. They pointed to that event and said “They’re children and NOT to be trusted.”
She’s a friend of Adrian. Or, was. She was at the party. A friend from another school. No one knew her then. At the beach house, they all thought that she was his girlfriend. A few months later she was the forgotten indirect object of a statement muttered in the hospital waiting room.
“Who was she?”
“Kellie or Kaylee. Or something.”
“What’d she look like?”
“Blonde or brown hair. I don’t remember. The house was dark and it could’ve been different in the day time.”
She would’ve been forgotten.
That’s amazing. That phrase, “would’ve been forgotten”. If not for what? What laws run beneath these sorts of things?
Now, she’s come to school and they know exactly who she is the moment they see her. Her image precedes her. They’ve all imagined her silhouette approaching the double doors.
See her limp.
See her dour eyes.
See her black hair.
The hair most likely colored to disguise her. The eyes have lost their color because they no longer look at the sky. Despite their best efforts, everybody looks at the limp. They draw attention to the leg. Without even bothering, they can see a scar shaped like the spinal cord of Idaho. The shape is a myth. No one’s ever really seen the scar, but once you’ve heard something you can’t help but see it. It’s radioactive. It glows through her clothes.
No one speaks to her and no one understands why she’s there, but word passed around that she was coming that morning. Does she come as a messenger of good will? Is she proving to all of those backbiters and trash-talkers in the school that she’s lost some flesh after all?
The pictures were passed around on Facebook. They were in some macabre photo album titled “Adrian”. A photo log of hospital photos and wound close-ups. Adrian’s unconscious in most of them. Some anonymous user named “Justice Mustice” (most likely someone from his high school) posted them. The threads therein are pretty sickening. Some of the more PG sections go,
“He’ll never walk again.”
“whose dat bitch? whats her name”
“he dated that girl on the lacrosse team”
“I hope she fucking reads this and fears for her life. I hope she understands what she took from him”
The comments go on and on. They will continue ad infinitum. The internet will create this tragic memorial as a non sequitur, as an object of ephemera. A website you must visit before you die. Adrian will become a forgotten indirect object of a subset of internet lore. A new generation will embrace the lore in a more meta way. They’ll follow the link on Snopes.com and they’ll no longer discuss the crash—but the online response instead.
- Look at the girl crucified on this page.
- She posted a suicide note on her Tumblr. The shame was too much.
- Have you read the comments? They’re brutal.
These types of things occur all the time. No one knows the truth of such matters.
Does it matter if Adrian and her were lovers or just friends or even family? Does it matter that she wasn’t driving? Does it matter that she was asleep in the backseat with no seatbelt on? Does it matter that her survival is actually the most incredible thing about the crash? Adrian was buckled in. And yes, he was drunk but he was secure. She was thrown from the car. Through the fucking windshield. The broken glass sliced her leg and the blood loss nearly killed her. (There’s your Idaho spine…)
Does it matter?
If you go by the Facebook album, then the end result was far worse for Adrian. Less so for her.
But he’s still alive. In good spirits. Not bed-ridden. A year after the accident, he walks with a cane. But he gets around quite easily. People still send him messages of congratulations.
Has he ever seen the comments? Does he know?
Possibly. Does he care? Possibly. But it’s too big a thing now. He’s getting too much heat. He’s the victim. He’s the golden boy. Despite being the driver, he was completely innocent.
He homeschools now. His mother’s a professor at Tech and she doesn’t want him troubling himself with trying to rush to class on a cane. Doesn’t want him to be burdened by all the pity.
Besides, he doesn’t need to go back. In fact, he shouldn’t go back. It would ruin everything anyway. He has an aura, after all. A mythos that would collapse if everyone saw how well he actually is, how fragile this electronic castle stands, how he is no longer the photo album posted over a year ago.
So, it’s the new kid that carries it, that keeps it for him. Whatever her name is. Kayleigh or Karen or something. The transubstantiated object of accumulated internet scorn and ridicule. The result of a determined focus on an abstract object, the wish and need to take something apart that had once been together.
Why did she come here?
Was she kicked out of her old school?
Rumor had it that her dad is a sex offender and that her mom had to move her or that she was a drug dealer and the cops cut her a deal or that she feels incredibly bad that she ruined Adrian’s life and she wants to do penance through the social isolation and ridicule that surely awaits her at his alma mater.
She’s somewhere around the school building. When they find her, it’ll all begin again. They’ll treat time like a coda. They’ll return everything to the beginning and when they finish they’ll repeat.
It’s early yet. And when she’s found, it’ll start slow because this is a gradual process. They’re looking at the unraveling of a human soul and that takes time.
It’s a coordinated effort.
It’s emotional and cognitive dissonance fueled by malicious glee.
Brennan Burnside is an urban gardener living outside of Philadelphia. His work appears or is forthcoming in Word Riot, Maudlin House and Monday Night Lit. He posts photography and writing on his blog, burnsideonburnside.tumblr.com.