Rose Thorn Walls
I filmed my first death in Kira's kitchen.
It was a Wednesday night, not that the day of the week really mattered in Kira's house, when it was full of junkies. Every night brought with it another destructive party and my turn to tape it happened to fall on a Wednesday. Someone had to tape those parties because the guests represented the small segment of the population that could be classified as lost causes. My audience, they told me, would come years later because all the guests would be dead by then and interest mixed with apathy would be understandable. I had no idea that my footage would be evidence in a homicide case when I set up the expensive camera on a borrowed tripod in the kitchen. Usually, things were tamer in the kitchen.
I caught the death on film on the left side of a wide-angle shot. The events that lead up to it weren't anything out of the ordinary for that kitchen. One guest snorted cocaine, said "Shit, man" and fell on the floor. I thought, although I never said it, that he'd passed out. The junkies knew better. Someone got Kira, who took his pulse and got on the phone.
"Hi," Kira said casually. "Yep. Another death…Overdose… Pretty sure…Brad Russell…No-out of state…Connecticut, I think…Twenty-three."
Brad Russell. I stepped out from behind the tripod to look at his corpse on the kitchen floor, permanently immobile and still dressed to party.
Kira stayed on the phone for another five minutes. In the meantime, Ashland sauntered in. He stayed mute until she got off the phone.
"What happened?" he asked, once Kira had arranged for proper disposal of the corpse.
"Brad's dead. Overdose. Someone had it out for him."
"What'd he take?"
"Cocaine. Got it from Thompkins. The dealer confirmed."
Thompkins was a blanket term for the side of town that started out as subdivisions and evolved into a marketplace for illicit drugs so rough it was frequently compared to hell.
"Not my turf," Ashland said, sounding relieved.
Ashland described himself as a recovering child prodigy. He was so good at painting that Dad paid tens of thousands of dollars for one of his paintings at an auction. He thought he was helping him pay for college, when really every cent he paid went into drugs. Ashland saw rapid success in the art world, then rapid success in the trading of illicit drugs. With his money, he went straight to the source, becoming a drug supplier virtually overnight. Ashland was a walking corpse with no friends and no permanent address.
I was still staring, shocked, at Brad Russell when one of the guests walked up to me.
"You look sort of pale," he said. His voice was high-pitched and he was exceptionally skinny. My friends at prep school would have labeled him as a fag without much hesitation. "Maybe you should sit down."
"Tired," I mumbled.
"Let's just go upstairs."
He beckoned and I followed, leaving the expensive camera equipment in a room of junkies too gone to realize someone had just died.
"Did someone really die in your parents' kitchen?" I asked.
Kira was sitting at her usual place on the couch, wearing a loose violet shirt with the portrait of a smiling tranquil woman on the front. "Which death did you hear about?" she asked.
I looked at her pupils. They weren't dilated. She was sober, like she had been for four years. The real question was what had happened back when she still was an alcoholic.
Kira nodded. "Brad Russell. He wanted to go."
"You were friends?"
"Not exactly. He was just passing through and we met."
"He may have told you he wanted to go. It didn't look like suicide."
Kira shook her head. "His crack got laced with something. Four years ago. Why is this coming up now?"
My escort lead me to one of the guest bedrooms, putting his hand against the back of my neck when he discovered how unsteady I was from exhaustion and shock. Although I could have found it on my own, I had never been so grateful to feel someone else's steady hands against the nape of my neck. His hands only left their position to get the trashcan as I threw up. When I reached for the trashcan to put it back into its rightful place he put it back in its corner before I got the chance.
"No problem," he whispered, rubbing my shoulder blades. "No problem."
"What's your name?" I asked.
"How unusual! We both share names with rocks."
Jasper helped me into the bed. My eyes shut the moment my head hit the pillow. I realized I was even more exhausted than I'd thought. Still, I couldn't sleep. Something was keeping me awake. Something forced my eyes back open.
"From around here?" Jasper asked, sensing my discomfort.
"Yeah. Born and raised."
"A native Californian. They're endangered."
I smirked, taking comfort in a line I'd heard so many times before.
Jasper ran his hands through my hair. No one had done that in years, despite all my girlfriends. "You have such gorgeous eyes," Jasper told me.
"Such a deep blue. And so emotive."
I looked up at his brown eyes. "Brown's not so bad."
"They're unremarkable. I'm not anyone's first pick. I was the biggest nerd at my high school."
"I'm a jock. Popularity's overrated."
"You're still in school?"
"Yep. I'm seventeen."
"Poor baby. This world just sucked you in, huh?"
"Don't ask me how, but I saw the footage," I confessed to Kira. "From your kitchen. Micah shot it. At least, that's what they told me."
I wasn't willing to believe them because I liked to think my son would have told me if he'd seen a death. I rationalized that they'd shot the tape in her kitchen, getting a friend I hadn't met to play dead. I imagined Kira confirming that story, which would never happen.
"Yep. Micah taped it then freaked out. I was drinking, so I didn't help. Not my best moment."
"The death didn't bother you?"
"He really looked like he was sleeping. No blood. He said he'd failed, somehow and nothing he could do would redeem it. He spent the last few years of his life just doing drugs. He knew death was coming, plain and simple."
"Yep," I replied. "I'm trapped."
"I've been trapped since I was about your age. I keep trying, but I never get out."
"You'll find a way out."
"Sure." There was an awkward pause. "Death."
I reached out and put my hand on his shoulder. I knew I looked like the fags my friends made fun of in the bedroom, where men were supposed to dominate. At the same time, it was what I needed. I felt emasculated.
"How is death your only option?" I asked Jasper.
"I screwed up."
"It can't have been that bad."
"Really it was." Jasper retreated by curling up to the side of the bed where I couldn't reach him. "When we were kids, this guy molested my sister. I was the only other one who knew about it and I didn't tell. I'd just lie in bed, awake, hoping he wouldn't come after me. He didn't. He left. My sister broke. She hanged herself a few years back. She was fifteen."
What could I say to that?
More than most people would suspect. My step-father molested me when I was nine. My mother knew and I actively kept us from having any kind of relationship because she showed no remorse. We never talked about it. She kept getting married and I stayed with Dad, on the opposite coast. I never told anyone. Not even Jasper. I just fell asleep and woke up, disoriented, begging Jasper to keep his mouth shut about our night together. I assumed I'd thank him later, when I had more energy.
I never got my chance. Jasper died three weeks later.
Kaye Branch lives in Oregon and Massachusetts. She has been published in Della Donna, The Legendary and http://scars.tv.