Authors: Caroline Bock
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To Mark, Susan, and David
Monday, Labor Day, 9:58
Mark the date. Labor Day. Monday. Nine fifty-eight in the morning. Today I am a lens, a pen, a gun.
Less than a half hour ago, my mother attempted to block my exit. Said I couldn't have the car keys. She had made a doctor's appointment for tomorrow for me and used that as an excuse for why I must stay in my bedroom. I am twenty-one years old and will not listen to her any longer.
I cannot get many places without a car on Long Island, but I could get here.
At the Lakeshore Community Park, one mile from my house, my fingers are slick inside my sweatshirt. Flowers crumple along the sidewalk leading into the park. The grass runs brown and rough under my sneakers. Water restriction signs are posted on trees.
No lake exists in Lakeshore. It never did.
A crowd forms outside a white tent. The flaps of the tent are secured, the space enclosed. Beyond the tent are playgrounds in bright, primary colors: Red. Yellow. Blue. Bleary in the heat are empty tennis and basketball courts. At the far end are baseball and soccer fields, equipped with sprinklers, lights, and electronic scoreboards. It has been a hot, dry, long summer. I am sure I am not the only one pleased this season is coming to an end.
Yet I move up to the tent with a light step. I slept last night for the first time since Aprilâfrom midnight on, a dead, dreamless sleep.
My eyes dart left and right. I must focus. Straight ahead. Concentrateâand act. I must wait no longer for an answer from the state senator to my letter, my e-mails, and my texts.
Tilting my head, I listen and am met with a ferocious silence. The smell of ozone burns in the air. Rain must be on the way.
I cannot do this alone. I listen, harder. Hear: the whir of insects. My fingers twitch. My skin crawls. I need a cigarette. A cigarette. Coffee. Claire.
I inch behind an old couple, short, withered, gnome-like. They each hold the hand of a girl, five or six years old, with shimmering blond hair, dressed in pink, a tank top with beads and sparkles. This pink is a sign. She is more than a girl. She is a living warning that I am being watched.
Nevertheless, without the voice, I am lost.
In front of me, the old man trips over a tree root. Before he stumbles headlong into the tent, my left hand flies out and catches him. I help him upright. I am nodding at him, the grandma, and the girl. I must breathe. Fix my sunglasses. Push up the sleeves of my sweatshirt. Jam both hands back into the pockets.
I latch onto the voice. The voice is with me, faint but nevertheless here. My heart races.
Your deeds will be blameless and wise.
I grin until the edges of my face hurt. The taste of metal singes the back of my throat. I strain to hear. Dig my nails into my palms, cut through the skin, lock the grin in place. I am here to act. To make State Senator Glenn Cooper understand the crucial need for immediate action.
Only you can do this. Be neither of proud heart nor shameful lies.
Out of the corner of my eye: Long legs edge the parking lot. Waist-long brown hair is in focus. She is more woman than girl. She looks lovely. I spin that word around in my head: lovely. But she is not Claire.
Sweat beads along the back of my head, down my neck.
“You must be baking in that sweatshirt,” says the grandmother. “Going to be hot, hot, hot again today.”
“I'm going to the beach after this,” says the girl. She tugs up her shirt, revealing a bathing suit, pink with sparkles as well. “I'm going to the beach. To the beach.” A singsong voice. “I can see myself in your sunglasses.” The grandparents beam, nudge her forward.
I know it is a sign. I must be here. The future is here. Violence is both a noun and a philosophical construct. I embody the nounâand the constructâand if I am violence, and I am good (which I must be), then violence must be good or in the purpose of the greater good since my only purpose is to do good. I am wrapped in goodness, an invincible light. My cape. My shield. No one can hurt me. This is my day.
Lakeshore Community Park. Present day. Morning.
The voice sifts through the white noise and directs my vision. I am the lens. The pen.
A flyer taped to the front of a white tent reads “Annual Labor Day Community Fair, ten to two o'clock. Meet State Senator Glenn Cooper.”
Across the parking lot, the volunteer fire department arrives with a display of lights and horns. Minivans and SUVs filter in through the haze and circle like fish in a pond. On the grass, next to the tent, energetic elderly ladies scoot around tables for the League of Women Voters and for the Lakeshore Public Library. The Boy Scouts of North Lakeshore and South Lakeshore roughhouse behind opposing tables. A police car rumbles in and stops alongside the boys. The police officer, freckle-faced, slumping sleepy-eyed at the wheel, finishes his coffee and salutes the scouts.
On the seat next to the officer a gift with a big bow around it. Pink.
Survey the crowd like a kingpin, like the top dog. Beam with confidence in the lazy morning light. Own the present and the futureâand
I blink and squint. Before me, a neon-pink suit strides out of the white tent unexpectedly. “Hi, I'm Debbi Cooper. Hi! I'm Debbi Cooper. Hi! I'm Debbi.” She charges at the crowd, shaking hands, saying that her husband, the state senator, and her son are making a few last-minute preparations. “It only should be a minute or so until we are all inside.” She is so glad that we have all come out on this Labor Day. She calls a few people by name, says her own again. Offers hugs. Mentions the weather. The lack of rain. The wish for rain. “But aren't we all so, so glad that it isn't raining right now?”
I thrust my hands even deeper into my pockets. I can smell my odor, life-affirming. No water has touched me in weeks, since I was suspended from school in April. Water burns.
Debbi Cooper rushes on to the old couple and the girl, embracing all three. Pink flashes. After a few seconds or moreâtime has slowed, the sun is beating down on my shaved headâshe is asking us all to stand on a special line, if we would like a photograph with the state senator. Only in New York do you stand “on line.” I do not approve. Quick enough, she click-clacks back into the white of the tent.
The top of the tent drifts with a vagrant wind. Next to me, a plastic bottle of water is raised to eager lips. I am thirsty, too. Nevertheless, I will not violate myself with plastic.
Bodies shuffle forward. These people do not understand the need for order. The smell of ozone intensifies. I itch. I need a cigarette. A cigarette. Coffee. Claire. I am lost. I want to go back to my bedroom.
Careful. Walk in a perfect way. Smile. Good. All is good.
Finally, the voice is clear and bright and willful. My right hand circles the Glock in my pocket. I stand straighter. Grin harder.
Monday, Labor Day, 9:59
The tent in the community park grabs the scent of summer, overripe, wilting, a waiting-for-the-end smell, and I've been waiting all summer for summer to end.
Not that I want school to start. I want senior year to be over, too. I want it all to be over, and something else, something new, to start. I feel like I'm walking through a dream, a muggy, muddied one that will never end. But it has to end. School starts in two days, senior year, soccer season.
My mother strides back into the tent, closing the flap behind her. “Tuck your shirt in, Max. Focus. We have a big morning. You look so handsome in that shirt.” I hate the shirt I'm wearing, a polo that she bought for me, a pink polo, boy-pink, she argued. I don't tuck it in.
I kneel down and pet King. He's jittery. He sniffs my hand, licks my fingers. I bury my face in his dog smell.
“Hey, how's it going, Max?” My dad struts through the tent opening like he owns the place, and he does. He owns it. He paid for the tent; the red, white, and blue balloons with his name inked on their sides; and the number-two pencils with his slogan slashed across them:
Glenn Cooper. Vote for your neighbor.
Send the regular guy back to the state senate. The decent father and husband. The neighbor who sends his kid off to a summer job, washes his own car (or makes his son, me, do it).
“Can I have your help here, Max,” he says. It isn't a question. He expects my help. I'm the permanent, live-in volunteer for Glenn Cooper. He waves pencils at me.
“Max, I need your help,” says my mother.
I stand between them, even make a funny movement like I'm being pulled in opposite directions. Neither of them laughs. They train their “disappointed” looks on me. To be quickly followed with their “when is he going to grow up” shaking of the heads at me.
“We have a crowd outside,” my mother says instead. “A hot, thirsty one. I hope those bottles of water are staying cold.”
She's spent the entire summer working on my father's campaign, speaking at one event after another in her candy-colored suits and high heels. I spent the entire summer being asked, “Is that bottled water cold?” and dragging myself back to an empty house.
“Deb, please,” says my father. “What are you worried about? Let's look like we're enjoying ourselves, okay?” My father is a tall, trim man, over six feet, and he's wearing dark blue khakis and a light blue shirt with rolled-up, I'm-getting-to-work sleeves. He swings his arm around her, jostling her, teasing her. “If you can't make it, fake it, isn't that what you always say?”
“You don't take anything seriously, Glenn.”
Now he's laying out the pencils with his name in view in row after row. My mind chatters over this nameâ
Glenn Cooper, Glenn Cooper, Glenn Cooper,
like it belongs to a carnival barkerâuntil my mother turns to me and asks, “What do you think, Max?”
“What? Water's cold enough.”
“This is not about the bottled waters,” she says.
I shrug. I try not to think too much these days about anything.
“See, your son's not worried, either,” says my father. “You're the only one worried about those crazy e-mails.”