It’s the last thing I expected, to find myself here again. I’m swilling chewy coffee and watching the clock, one of those noisy wall clocks that ticks off each jerky forward movement of the second hand.
They let me go months ago, after having each one interrogate me in turn. They finally concluded, correctly, that I knew nothing, could explain nothing. They gave me bus fare and shoved me out the door.
I’m thinking about the day in my twelfth year that Buster died and how I couldn’t explain later what happened, even though I was there. I had no excuses like, too young, lacking in mental faculties, or alien from another planet. I should’ve understood, must have remembered, but there’s nothing in that cubby hole in my brain. My internal processor crashed and left me with a blank black screen.
I still do that. Lose whole chunks of experience, or at least remember them incompletely.
I can’t decide: blessing or curse, this checking out, this abdication? Look, no guilt, no reprisals, no endless replays through the long nights, trying out different scenarios, playing choose-your-own-adventure. My soul bears no stains. For all intents and purposes, I wasn’t there. The ultimate alibi.
The others protected me, about Buster, I mean. No one told me what happened, forced that unwanted knowledge on me. They let me off too easy, I think. Was I so odd, so fragile? Did I deserve protected-class status? Maybe I do lack mental faculties and I just don’t know it.
The men and women who interrogated me about another empty cubby 30 years later showed no signs of impatience. They didn’t yell, or shine bright lights on me. They brought me coffee, cup after cup. They poked around in my brain and walked away, satisfied that I really didn’t know.
Were they glad? Perhaps they didn’t seek information so much as the assurance that I didn’t have it. Did they in fact already know the answers? Were they assessing the threat I posed by my potential store of damning facts?
Did they know how the fear can consume you, how it can own you, how it can chase you, how you can never outrun it? Didn’t they see how the parts don’t matter when you hold them up against the unwieldy massive writhing whole?
I hold out my coffee cup and the hard-eyed waitress refills it. It takes three thimble-sized creamers to change the color from black to dark brown. The clock ticks toward the hour and I swivel back and forth in a red vinyl counter chair at Lenoir’s, fingering the letter in my pocket and waiting for the train.