Detective Samuel Perrault ducked under the caution tape, notepad in hand. “2012 Honda Civic, four doors. Silver”, like a bullet.
The dawn sky blushed upon the scene of the accident, her cheeks blistered by the cold as if she was embarrassed by the stain of smoldered metal that crumpled at the edge of the woods. A few birds gossiped from the shelter of the trees, shadows cloaked by the rosy light of morning. The collision must have startled them from their sleep.
Perrault tucked the notepad under his elbow and reached for the DSLB of a passing officer. He raised the camera up to his eye. It didn’t make the picture any less real, as he had hoped.
Gasoline and metal stole the air in their sharp waltz of stench. The new officers would be cupping their palms across their noses as soon as the doors of the police cars swung open and regurgitated them on to the crime scene. The sight of them huddled over their hands like teenage boys used to make Perrault laugh. Now, five years later and he can’t go to sleep without the tang of death stinging his nostrils or lurking at the cold street corner where his life had changed forever.
Police reports didn’t want any business with your heart. They didn’t care for the crippling knot in your stomach, for your quivering lip, or for the blanket of goosebumps that the sky wrapped over your shoulders. Police reports scoffed at the symptoms of trauma that followed you to every tragedy you were forced to investigate. Memory and tragedy didn’t exist in the police world. There was nothing but procedure.
The camera lens seemed to blur over each spatter of silver paint dotting the trees like blood and each shard of glass glittering over the ground as if the soil had been crying. Perrault snapped the picture, not checking whether the camera was focused or not, and handed it to a uniform on the other side of the tape.
Perrault stepped up to the back door of the Civic, the ground crunching under his boots. The hood of the car curled back in to the front row of seats, cackling at him as he approached. It could’ve been that night from five years ago- the tears of paint, the sprinkled glass. Perrault saw it whenever he closed his eyes, that Jeep wrapped around the trees like aluminum. Four kids inside.
Heat hung in the air around the car like a wet towel, dripping with the sparks of collision. Perrault snapped on a pair of latex gloves, the last in his box. He dragged his fingers over the warm trunk, rising and falling with its cratered metal. There was a bumper sticker, singed at the corners: “Adults on board. We want to live too.” Perrault turned away.
The back door groaned open after a small battle with its impacted metal. He had practiced popping open these doors so that he wouldn’t ever again have to waste time wrestling with a wrench. That way, victims had a better chance of surviving.
Perrault crinkled his nose against the burning of iron and ash unfurling from the car as if they were gasses which had been eagerly pressed up against the windows. Death, creeping from the darkness of her cave. She had visited him before.
Perrault leaned into the car, scanning. He squinted around the log protruding from the windshield and flipped up his notepad:
- book: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- a CD case: Ingrid Michaelson “Slow the Rain”; empty
- a Las Vegas tumbler, pink and purple gems spilling into the back seat
Glass dusted the back row like frosting, delicately flowering over the places where chunks of cushion had been punched out. Ingrid Michaelson nodded to Perrault from her pastels, tucked away in the seat pocket. Track 6, “Empty Bottle”, had been circled in red sharpie.
“Try not to peer through plastic eyes
through plastic eyes
peel back the rind
and you’ll find something kind
you’re still you, remember you
rosy child, strong and wild
with apple lungs
you, you breathing with ease
floating on the breeze
floating on the breeze.”
Perrault set the notepad on the ground behind him and reached under the log for a muted pink lump smothered under the passenger seat. He plucked the mass free from under the lopsided cushion and held it out in front of him.
Smiling up through tattered button eyes was a stuffed animal bunny. Beads trickled from its behind next to the cotton ball of a tail that looked as if it may have been electrocuted. The bunny’s sideways grin cocked slightly to the right, offering up a constant, adventurous curiosity. The bunny was familiar; Samuel’s son treasured one just like it when he was little. Even at eighteen, he squeezed it under the thin blankets of a hospital bed on nights he was especially lonely. The bunny would comfort him when Samuel and his wife weren’t allowed to. Doctors separated Mila from his parents when he needed them most- when his head felt like it was caving in on itself, or his stitches had opened up, or he had to be sedated again. Eventually, everything stopped hurting at all and Samuel and his wife could visit Mila every day, huddled against the harsh breeze that swept through the tombstones.
Mila was at a party the night it happened. Mila went to a lot of parties, homecoming king that he was. It was the summer before they went away to college. All the final celebrations and farewells coaxed the kids from their homes and instead around bonfires and cameras, rushing in their last memories before that’s all they were left with of childhood.
Samuel knew there would be drinking. He had been an officer for ten years and would be rather surprised if there wasn’t. He trusted Mila though, who would return unscathed ten minutes before curfew every night prior. Yet when the call came in at 1 AM, somehow Perrault knew.
He and his partner rushed to the end of Trinity Lane where dispatch directed them. It was the street where Samuel and his wife settled after he proposed, and it was there that they raised their first child. Mila became their everything. Through Mila, Samuel discovered pride and love of which he never appreciated the strength. Through Mila, Samuel learned how to live. Through Mila, Samuel learned that most questions about humanity could never be answered.
The turn at Trinity was a tight one, tedious to navigate even when the sun speckled the pavement through the trees. Perrault and his partner spun into it that night, nearly crashing themselves and screeching to a tilting stop at the curb.
The remains of an olive-green Jeep Wrangler were scattered across the grass like bones. Its skeleton was split between the trees at the edge of the wood, the back-passenger doors jutting up to the windshield. There was hardly anything left.
Perrault, like any good police officer, refused to let himself think. Focus, focus. He and his partner sprinted to the crumpled hood of the car, which hugged the trunk of the nearest tree. Dusty engine smoke welcomed the officers in a mocking embrace, creeping from somewhere inside the mess of mottled metal. Perrault squinted through the haze, holding up his hand as if to protect himself from the smoke and the reality it brought.
Perrault’s partner reappeared at his side with a wrench in tow; Perrault didn’t even notice he had stepped away. They pushed forward and batted at the frosted glass that clung to the windshield like dead petals and beamed their flashlights inside.
Four boys, heads drooping against their chests. Mila, his soft brown hair sweeping over his forehead, shielding his eyes. Blood blossomed on the seat behind him.
Samuel and his partner called to the boys as they forced their way into the car. They encouraged them to breathe, keep breathing, keep breathing. Remember why you’re alive.
There wasn’t any response.
Perrault’s partner pushed at the frame of the car with specialized tools he had pulled from the trunk of their vehicle, gradually opening a space big enough for people to slide through. Perrault draped his jacket across the smoldering metal of the hood and climbed up through the windshield, reaching for the boys one by one. He pulled Mila’s friends from between chunks of car, tree bark, and seat cushion, blood coating his arms in sleeves. The boys in the front row had reaped the worst of the damage and their pulses were dangerously low. Procedure said rescue them first. Perrault kept his son at the corner of his eye, monitoring the occasional rising and falling of his chest.
The officers rushed from boy to boy when they were finally sprawled across the dew-tongued grass of the wood. Perrault was dizzied by relief with Mila’s every shaking breath, only to feel faint with anxiety until his chest rose again.
He tied tourniquets for the other boys, checked their pulses, tried gently shaking them awake. He had his partner take care of Mila. Police reports didn’t want any business with your heart.
Three of the boys survived. It was Samuel’s boy who didn’t.
Perrault was applauded for his heroics that day. Despite his trauma, he managed to compartmentalize his emotions and save who needed to be saved. That’s what his lieutenant told him anyways. The lieutenant also made sure to tell new officers that death stopped fazing you after you worked enough murder scenes. Apparently every time you ducked under that caution tape, it was supposed to feel like you were greeting an old friend.
Birds tested their morning tunes under the soft blues and pinks of spring morning, a warmup for their choruses of noon. The voices of other investigators buzzed in the background, numb and gray. Samuel clutched the stuffed bunny against his chest, his eyes closed.
“Alpha, Beta, Charlie. Doctors were able to remove the child. The parents…well that’s a 10-5 now, boys!”
An infant’s whine as static.
“Perrault, finish cleanup over there. See you back at the station in two hours.”
Samuel held out the bunny, regarded its tattered button eyes. Adventurous curiosity. “10-4, Senn.” Samuel strode back to his vehicle, dropping his gloves into the waste bin that bowed him out of the scene. He climbed into the car, dropping the stuffed bunny into the passenger seat. The song of birds his engine, Samuel pulled away from the curb. The hospital was only a mile away. Only a mile of road separating the baby from the buttoned, smiling face that would offer her comfort when her parents no longer could. All she would need is someone who cared enough to bring them together.
The sun finally winked over the trees, the silent police car pulling it into the morning from its slumber.
“You’re still you, remember you
rosy child, strong and wild
with apple lungs
you, you breathe with ease
floating on the breeze,
floating on the breeze.”
© 2018, Annalie Buscarino. All rights reserved.
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