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Authors: M. O. Walsh

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My Sunshine Away

BOOK: My Sunshine Away
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AMY EINHORN BOOKS

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

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Copyright © 2015 by M. O. Walsh

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to reprint lyrics from the following:

“Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Words and music by W. Axl Rose, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan, Steven Adler. Copyright © 1987 Guns N Roses Music (ASCAP). International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

“You Are My Sunshine” by Jimmie Davis. Copyright © 1940 by Peer International Corporation. Copyright renewed. International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

“Amy Einhorn Books” and the “ae” logo are registered trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Walsh, M. O. (Milton O’Neal)

My sunshine away / M. O. Walsh.

p. cm

ISBN 978-0-698-15602-9

1. Family life—Louisiana—Fiction. 2. Dysfunctional families—Fiction. 3. First loves—Fiction. 4. Domestic fiction. I. Title.

PS3623.A4464M93 2014 2014003818

813'.6—dc23

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

For Kathy, who called me Bird

CONTENTS

TITLE PAGE

COPYRIGHT

DEDICATION

EPIGRAPH

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

You are my sunshine

My only sunshine.

You make me happy

When skies are gray.

You’ll never know, dear,

How much I love you.

Please don’t take my sunshine away.

—Jimmie Davis, Governor of Louisiana

(1944–1948 and 1960–1964)

1.

T
here were four suspects in the rape of Lindy Simpson, a crime that occurred directly on top of the sidewalk of Piney Creek Road, the same sidewalk our parents had once hopefully carved their initials into, years before, as residents of the first street in the Woodland Hills subdivision to have houses on each lot. It was a crime impossible during the daylight, when we neighborhood kids would have been tearing around in go-karts, coloring chalk figures on our driveways, or chasing snakes down into storm gutters. But, at night, the streets of Woodland Hills sat empty and quiet, except for the pleasure of frogs greeting the mosquitoes that rose in squadrons from the swamps behind our properties.

On this particular evening, however, in the dark turn beneath the first busted streetlight in the history of Piney Creek Road, a man, or perhaps a boy, stood holding a long piece of rope. He tied one end of this rope to the broken light pole next to the street and wrapped the other around his own hand. Thinking himself unseen, he then crawled into the azalea bushes beside Old Man Casemore’s house, the rope lagging in shadow behind him like a tail, where he perhaps
practiced, once or twice, pulling the rope taut and high across the sidewalk. And then this man, or this boy, knowing the routine of the Simpson girl, waited to hear the rattle of her banana-seated Schwinn coming around the curve.

You should know:

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a hot place.

Even the fall of night offers no comfort. There are no breezes sweeping off the dark servitudes and marshes, no cooling rains. Instead, the rain that falls here survives only to boil on the pavement, to steam up your glasses, to burden you. So this man, or this boy, was undoubtedly sweating as he crouched in the bushes, undoubtedly eaten alive by insects. They gnash you here. They cover you. And so it is not a mistake to wonder if he might have been dissuaded from this violence had he lived in a more merciful place. It is important, I believe, when you think back about a man or a boy in the bushes, to wonder if maybe one soothing breeze would have calmed him, would have softened his mood, would have changed his mind.

But it did not.

So the act took place in darkness, in near silence, in heat, and Lindy Simpson remembered little other than the sudden appearance of a rope in front of her bicycle, the sharp pull of its braid across her chest. Months later, and after much therapy, she would also recall how the bicycle rode on without her after she fell. She would remember how she never even saw it tip over before a sock was stuffed into her mouth and her face was pushed into the lawn. The crush of weight on her back. The scrape of asphalt against her knees. She would remember these, too. Then a voice in her ear that she did not recognize. Then a blow to the back of her head.

She was fifteen years old.

This was the summer of 1989 and no arrests were made. Don’t
believe what you see on the crime shows today. No single hairs were tweezed out of Old Man Casemore’s lawn. No length of rope was sent off to a lab. No DNA was salvaged off the pebbles of our concrete. And although the people of Woodland Hills answered earnestly every question the police initially asked of them, although they tried their best to be helpful, there was no immediate evidence to speak of.

All four of these primary suspects therefore remained unofficial and uncharged, as the rape had occurred so quickly and without apparent witness that the crime scene itself began to fade the moment Lindy Simpson regained consciousness and pushed her bicycle back home that night, a place only four doors away, to lay it down in its usual spot. It faded even further as she walked through the back door of her house and climbed upstairs to her bathroom, where she showered in water of an unknown temperature.

There are times in my life when I imagine this water scalding. Other times, frozen.

Regardless, Lindy never came down for dinner.

She was likely thought by her parents to be yapping with friends on the telephone, twirling the cord around her young fingers, until her mother, a woman named Peggy, made her evening rounds with the laundry basket. It was then she saw a pair of underpants in the bathroom, dotted with bright red blood, lying next to a single running shoe. The other shoe, a blue Reebok, was missing.

By this time, her daughter Lindy was curled in her bed and concussed.

A bed that just that morning had been a child’s.

I should tell you now that I was one of the suspects.

Hear me out.

Let me explain.

2.

O
ne and a half miles from the Woodland Hills subdivision sat the Perkins School, grades 4–12. It was a private and well-funded place. Great white columns stood in front of the main school building, and the rolling lawn was shaded by oaks. Brick walkways scrolled throughout the open quadrangle, each embedded with copper plaques to memorialize past accolades. It was a prideful place, and deservedly. Behind the main campus, adjacent to the parking lot, was the football field and track that Lindy Simpson traveled to at precisely five o’clock every summer evening, where she would train with friends as the sun went down—stretching, jogging, sprinting, laughing—until returning home for supper in the growing darkness of half past eight.

So, at roughly four fifty-five each summer afternoon of the late 1980s, I’d lie on my stomach in the family room of my home and watch from beneath the blinds of our floor-to-ceiling windows as Lindy’s piano lesson ended and mine got set to begin. Across the street and two doors down from me, the dowdy figure of Mrs.
Morrison would appear first from the Simpson house. She was a teacher at the Perkins School, my school, who taught private lessons during the summer, a lady so polite it is hard to imagine her even having a cameo in a story that begins this way. She wore bright floral blouses with shoulder pads. She carried folders crammed with photocopied scales and sheet music. She often wore hats. She is the innocent stuff in the background of time. Pin her up in the sky of this place. And though I often complained to my neighborhood friends that I hated these lessons, that I hated her, this was a lie.

Before Mrs. Morrison could reach the sidewalk at four fifty-nine, Lindy Simpson would hustle up the driveway with the bike at her hip. Children, and we were all children then, never wore helmets in those days. So, Lindy would stop at the edge of the lawn to pull back her hair. She would knot a loose ponytail, tuck a few wayward strands behind her ears, and be off.

Due to the bend in our street, and the fact that my house sat right on the corner, right in the crook of the elbow, I could watch Lindy Simpson pedal toward me beneath the blinds. And then, after coming up with a host of scenarios in which she might dismount from her bike and trek more permanently into my life, I’d watch her pedal away. Each day at five. This ritual was my pleasure.

She wore tank tops and thin cotton shorts, and she was a track star.

In one of many such memories about Lindy, I can recall a race at my school conjured up by your typical eighth-grade boys during lunch hour. We all wore uniforms at Perkins, white oxford shirts and blue slacks, and the boys who wanted to race were often those who pulled up the collars on their shirts, rolled their pants legs in a fashionable way. These were boys who already had girlfriends, boys
who played in summer sports leagues and had straight blond hair. Our school was small and, for this reason alone, I often found myself among them, pencil-thin and curly-headed.

The goal on this day was to get to the central oak tree, standing some fifty yards away in the common area. The unspoken prize was a half hour of glory, maybe the bud of some reputation, and this was everything. Kids tightened up their laces and stretched out their hamstrings. I remember taking a pair of pens out of my pocket and setting them in the grass while, behind us, Lindy Simpson stepped out of the red-brick library. She was fifteen, like I’ve said, one year older than me, and therefore in high school. This was in the school year before it all happened, before we all knew, so I was undoubtedly not alone in wondering about every inch of her. She wore the same plaid jumper that all the high school girls wore, baring their golden collarbones and slender calves, but Lindy wore it with her blue Reebok running shoes while the other girls donned sandals and Keds. Yet she was no goddess. There were other girls whose names were more hotly bandied, other more beautiful girls my friends and I evoked in the dark. But as Lindy was a female, and as she was older, and as the small of her hairless ankles peeked above her white cotton socks, she held dominion over us all on the playground.

“I want in,” she told us, and so I picked up my pens off the grass.

I would never race Lindy. I had seen her run my entire life, outpacing even the older boys in my neighborhood, and this was a privilege not shared by the other dolts on the lawn. I watched them take off toward the tree, the lot of them, and the sight of Lindy’s jumper flitting around her legs as she ran, the flash of the pink boxer shorts she wore beneath it, the flex of her thighs, it still comes to me in dreams, the youthful vision of it, in surprise moments alone in my car.

And although Lindy was never a tomboy, not thick-waisted or dusty like they often are, she used to romp through the woods with us behind our neighborhood. She played football with us in the street. She was fast. She was nimble. We didn’t know if she was tough because she never got caught. So when she beat my schoolmates to the tree that day and placed her ringless fingers on top of her head to tease them, I looked around the playground for someone to say “I told you so” to, to prove that Lindy and I were connected in some small way, but I was the only one who hadn’t run after her. I then watched Lindy wave at me from the tree, as if we were back on Piney Creek Road, and jog toward the high school building. I don’t remember waving back. I only remember staring at the building she entered, the high school building, and feeling one year away from some brand of paradise.

I tell you all this because I was not there yet, not in high school, when I used to lie on the living room floor and watch her pedal. I was young, just a boy, and yet I didn’t mind Mrs. Morrison waddling up my driveway at five o’clock each summer afternoon. I was ready to play scales if she wanted me to, to smell the coffee on her breath, to feel her cold hands on top of mine. I was prepared to follow instruction for hours if need be. What did it matter? When Lindy rode by, my thoughts scuttled after her. I was mindless to all else in my crush.

With Mrs. Morrison, I was only fingers.

So it is true that I thought of possessing Lindy Simpson as furiously and as constantly as any fourteen-year-old boy could that hot summer of 1989. The summer of her rape. It is true that I cast us no separate futures.

I opened the door for Mrs. Morrison.

“Look at you,” she said. “Every day. The front of your shirt is so wrinkled.”

BOOK: My Sunshine Away
10.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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