Alison was a cheerleader, and the second-prettiest girl in our class. These qualities seemed extremely important to us at the time, at least until she accidentally killed one of the football players with her car.
It was a BMW, a red convertible. Her father, who did something mysterious but clearly important, had given it to her on her sixteenth birthday, one of the many gifts given to her throughout her life.
She had also been given glossy, shampoo-commercial chestnut hair, and resplendent sugar-white teeth. She had been given trim buttocks, and the type of breasts for which the cheerleader sweater was designed. She had been given her parents’ divorce, which applied a thin but gratifying veneer of tragedy to her life. She had been given a mother who had the good taste to relocate three states away, sparing Alison the humiliation of seeing her debasing herself with men possessing only a fraction of her father’s net worth. She had been given a faux-Georgian mansion with many large, echoey rooms, and a bedroom filled with flouncy, cartoonish princess touches, like an overstuffed pink chaise that nobody ever lounged upon, and a luxuriant bed with enough layers of canopy to repel every anopheles mosquito and tsetse fly in the Congo, should they have ever been called upon for so prosaic a purpose. Which they were not. And before she killed him, she was briefly blessed with Anthony, who was about as mean a motherfucker as had ever attended our school.
Anthony was a towering, brooding boy from whom things had mostly been taken away: his father by the police when he was ten years old, his mother by social services two years later, his capacity for kindness and empathy by the world at large, whose main lesson to him was that things had to be taken or they would never be had at all.
We were perplexed by this unlikely pairing. The football player/cheerleader nexus was a well-trod path, of course, but Anthony wasn’t particularly handsome, or particularly talented, or particularly clever or amusing. Junior college washout was his ceiling, we all thought with some satisfaction as he was banging our anonymous heads against walls or kidney punching us in the hallway for no apparent reason.
Even now, years after high school, we still wonder at their relationship. Why, of all people, would a girl like Alison choose a boy like Anthony? Were they obeying some natural law, the attraction of opposite forces, the positive to the negative, the damned to the divine? Was she testing her admittedly fabulous luck, an adolescent Icarus winging her blithe way toward the event horizon of Anthony’s black hole? Or perhaps she simply made that most common mistake—mistaking ferocity for confidence, viciousness for strength?
But now, years removed from the events in question, we have begun to think—to hope, really—that in their brief time together, they found something more. Is it too outlandish to believe that Alison, so thoroughly blessed with an easy life, saw something that we could not, the boy behind the pain, the man that he might have, under different circumstances, become? Or that someone like Anthony, a boy who had been given nothing, might be the only one among us who could pierce the surface Alison, to find his way through all of the dazzling unearned gifts to the sad, lonely girl beneath?
In the end, we suppose that it doesn’t matter. The details of Anthony’s death, obscured by layers of lascivious speculation and rumor-mill enhancement, were never completely clear. Some of the common threads seemed plausible enough: the red convertible, a turn taken too fast, Anthony perhaps standing up on the passenger seat, overcome with the exhilaration of youth, the joy of his association with the second-prettiest girl in our class, with the never-experienced sensation of having at long last gotten a break, of feeling that his luck had finally and irretrievably changed.
And Alison was, in turn, given that last moment with him, hands still clenched on the steering wheel, feeling as though she might never be able to let it go. The convulsive lights of the emergency vehicles strobing off the dashboard of her expensive car. The moonlit sheen of blood on the road, so much blood, a covered corpse on a gurney being shoved into the back of an ambulance, a brief glimpse of the infinite present, the moment in which the Anthonys of the world both exist and do not, where she is simultaneously the luckiest, second-prettiest girl in the whole school and something else entirely.
Alison disappeared soon after that, hustled off to one of those private schools devoted to hiding the shames of the rich. We made our anonymous way through graduation and into the world, discovering, via a cadre of federal prosecutors, that Alison’s father’s job was perhaps much more illegal than it was important. We begin to forget Alison entirely, dredging her out only occasionally as a cautionary tale.
And then, years later, we see her again. She is a phlebotomist at our HMO, the technician who extracts blood for laboratory tests. We’re not sure it’s her at first. Her posture is stooped, her skin grainy and tinged with fluorescent-light gray. We glance at her name tag—yes, it’s Alison, all right—and are filled with a momentary fear that she will recognize us. But of course, we needn’t have worried. She was far above our social sphere back in high school, and now it seems that she moves through the world seeing only veins—shy, hard to locate veins, assertive, throbbing, easy veins. She knots a blue latex band above our bicep and then inserts a needle into the crook of our arm. Blood spurts into the vial, and we sit together for a moment, watching it fill. We give it to her freely, this intimate part of ourselves, our lifeblood, the contents of our heart. Under the circumstances, it feels like the least we can do.
John Haggerty received an MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State University. His work has appeared in dozens of magazines, such as Carolina Quarterly, CRAFT, Fourteen Hills, Indiana Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Santa Monica Review. He has also received awards and honors from Bridport Prize, CRAFT Elements contest, Nimrod Literary Awards, No Contest, Pinch Literary Award in Fiction, and Wabash Prize in Fiction among others.
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