Wednesday, May 29, 2013


This is from a prompt from my writing group last night.

Blueberry Hill, which I was sure the famous song had been written about, could be accessed just down the street from our house. I’d head up the little winding trail with my brother or my best friend, clutching empty yellow plastic margarine containers in my hands.

I turned the berries over with the pads of my fingers to quickly ensure the berries were whole; round, unblemished, wormless. I knew my mom would soak them in a big bowl of water and salt, evacuating the worms and leaving the rotten fruit to rise to the top of the bowl.

It was the summer I was freshly nine. The summer Cynthia Elrod was murdered. Everyone was talking about it; the murderer had not been caught, and we all knew that since you could only escape Juneau by boat or airplane, the killer had either hopped the next plane to Seattle, or he was still roaming amidst us and would soon erupt and kill someone else.

I didn’t know Cynthia, but her mom ran the store in the valley where we shopped for jeans. I’d skimmed enough in the newspaper to know that whoever had done this to her had cut her up. The pieces that had made her Cynthia—I can still see the small, grainy black and white newspaper picture with her short hair and plain, young face—those pieces were left in the bathtub of her mobile home. I remember the words “partially clad” in the article on her death, which was, and still is, unsolved. How foreign and clipped the word ‘clad’ seemed.

I don’t know why, but one rainy day playing in my bedroom, I told my best friend Jill that I had killed Cynthia. She didn’t believe me and so I got more and more insistent, until my friend finally yelled, “I’m going to tell my dad!”  
“Oh, I was totally kidding. Please don’t tell your dad!” Her dad was my godfather, but he had once told me, “I’m going to pound you into the ground,” and the words had made my heart pound. Jill went home early that day.

I can still feel the seed of shame I felt after telling her the grisly lie. I still wonder what gripped me to say something so terrible about that poor killed girl.

That same summer, Dr. Moss’ daughter had been killed by her boyfriend, who then turned his gun on himself in a driveway. I didn’t know his daughter either, but he gave me stinging allergy shots in my right bicep every week. A few times a year he would listen to my heart while I watched his serious face, waiting to hear if the murmur in my heart was still there. I kept watching his face after that summer, trying to gauge if it had gotten more serious now that he had a dead daughter.

I was picking blueberries on Blueberry Hill late that summer. I was plopping the first layer of berries into the cup when I heard sirens. They were far away; maybe across Gastineau channel, downtown, or maybe out near the hospital. But I heard them. I absorbed them. It felt like they were inside me—roaring and pulsing, buzzing and zapping and I stopped mid-pick, my hands stained purple from the berries, my eyes, wide and scared. What had happened now, in this tiny town that was everything I knew? Who had been killed now? I ran home, the yellow bottom of the cup still visible.



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