Viola knew what she knew at nine. Drug dealers had bad eyesight and nubby yellow teeth. They didn't keep their hair right. They fell asleep in chairs. Because Viola had drug dealers for parents, and then foster parents, because the last one hit her in the head with a hammer on a Wednesday in May, she knew what she knew at nine.
At first Viola was just two neighbors talking over a splintering pine fence, clothesline to clothesline. Then she went 9-1-1. Then the 400 block of Mountain. Then 9-1-1 again, and so on. Papers got typed on and faxed and filed. So much filing went on. Two fat women who gave up on their weight were needed. Two skinny men in navy polyester who work for the government were necessary too. The death of a girl requires a bureaucracy is what I'm saying: a certain square footage of aqua linoleum.
It takes a corniced courthouse after all, a metal detector, those shiny silver badges. It takes a career in law enforcement, student loans, night school, a couple of tough days at the office, at least four shaky marriages to pull something like this off. The marriages have to have been wrong from the start, kids marrying kids, and so on. An affair in a Motel 6 helps, and then everything can accidental after that. Too much beer and not enough condoms, and so on. Personal histories hitting the fan.
I meant History with a capital "H" too, sorry. I meant to point out that History waits for Viola when nothing else will. History is the track on which her train runs.
It's hard to pay attention to the details of the dead girl, isn't it? After I told you she got hit in the head with a hammer on a Wednesday, you had to turn away. But that's the point of this story: do not turn away.
When the hammer hit the head of the girl that Wednesday, everything left land and went Internet. People stood behind microphones and in front of police stations. "Not in our wildest dreams," someone said. "Not in our wildest dreams," someone else repeated.
The death of a girl is primarily the result of a failure of the imagination.
It was a clear warm Wednesday in May, I remember. Grenades of yellow daises exploded across the face of that green apartment building in Santa Ana. Flowers, flowers, shock and awe. Pink oleanders ran along the fence too, I think. I saw a small peach tree in bloom at the start of the driveway. The day I heard the news of the dead girl Viola, I saw yellow daisy grenades exploding against a blue, blue sky.
(This short story was first published in Lake Effect.)