THE COFFIN HAD NO BODY in it. Instead, the Star Legacy 18-Gauge Platinum Rose casket, on loan from the local Walmart, had only a large American flag draped across its length. It rode down High Street on a flatbed trailer, tugged along by a Dodge RAM 2500 the color of an overripe cherry. A blast of early winter cold had invaded October, and a hard, erratic current of air tore across New Canaan with the unpredictability of a child’s tantrum. One second the breeze was calm, tolerable, and the next a frigid banshee shriek would rip across High Street, chilling the assembled, scattering leaves and loose litter, drowning out petty chatter, and carrying voices off to the sky. Before the truck and its cargo left the fire station, the staging ground for all of New Canaan’s parades from Thanksgiving to the Fourth of July, no one had bothered to secure the flag, and as the show casket reached downtown, a gust of wind finally took it. The Stars and Stripes flapped, undulated, parachuted through this mad breeze, as several sorrowful gasps issued from the crowd. Nothing could be done. Each time it began to drift back to earth, another gust would catch it, toss it, bear it aloft. The flag made its way to the square, where it finally snagged on the gnarled branches of an oak tree and shuddered there.
The procession for Corporal Richard Jared Brinklan had originally been scheduled for Memorial Day. KIA in Iraq in the final days of April, the timing made sense, but then an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death delayed the body’s return.
Once that wrapped up, the display of hometown pride was planned for the same July day as the funeral. Unfortunately, a monstrous summer thunderstorm overran that afternoon. A flash flood of the Cattawa River and a tornado warning kept all of New Canaan indoors. At that point Rick’s family did not much care whether there was a parade or not, but the mayor, sensing the electoral hazard of failing to honor the third son New Canaan had lost to the current conflicts, insisted on scheduling a parade for October. People tended to roll their eyes at this small-town politicking and then go out and vote based on it anyway.
The town was sleeved in red, white, and blue. Small flags spaced every fifteen feet in the grass-lined High Street for over a mile leading to the square. Flags in windows, as car decals, clutched in children’s pink hands and adults’ scummy gloved ones, even drawn with red, white, and blue frosting onto an enormous sheet cake being sold by the slice outside Vicky’s All-Night Diner. The road’s trees, rich with autumn reds and yellows, clashed brilliantly against the gunmetal sky. Meanwhile, the wind tried its goddamnedest to emancipate the leaves of these quaint elms, alders, and oaks. Two New Canaan Police Department cruisers led the way, lights silently flickering, an errant woot from the sirens every few hundred yards, followed by the sheriff’s cars, the SUVs, and every other vehicle the police department could spare for the son of one of its own: Chief Investigator Marty Brinklan’s youngest boy. Volunteers on motorcycles followed, some driven by vets, but really anyone in town who owned wheels was there. American flags and POW-MIA banners flapped from the backs of the bikes. Following this long hodgepodge of vehicles crawling slowly down the city’s main thoroughfare came the flatbed with its flagless coffin. Some stepped out of their homes that bordered the east side of town only to scramble inside after the casket passed. Some huddled in Ohio State jackets and New Canaan Jaguar sweatshirts. Some pulled bright blue
GORE-TEX hoods around their heads, tugged toboggan caps low, and many, misjudging the weather, let their ears turn bright red and painful to the touch. One questionable soul wore nothing but disintegrating jeans and a No Fear shirt with the sleeves cut off, exposing arms inked solid with tattoos. Some held toddlers or gently rocked bundled babies in strollers. Older children stood with their parents, twiddly and bored, shifting weight anxiously from one leg to the other. Unsupervised kids chased each other through the legs of the adults, oblivious to the sorrow around them. The teenagers, of course, treated the whole affair like a social function (as Rick himself might have once). The girls flirted with the boys, while those boys waited to be chosen. They talked too rapidly, they laughed too loudly, they carved their initials into trees with pocketknives. There was a man wearing a Desert Storm Veteran ball cap talking to the lone TV reporter who’d made the long trip from Columbus. There was a girl holding a piece of cardboard that said simply #25. Another held a poster board that read: We LOVE U Rick!!!
They worked at Owens Corning as engineers and data specialists, at the Jeld-Wen plant as general labor manufacturing doors and windows, in the antique and clothing shop on the square, using a doming block and hammer to mold Buffalo nickels into ornamental buttons for purses and shirts. They worked at Kroger and on road crews and at First-Knox National Bank and the local DMV, which ran with such brisk efficiency that wait times rarely exceeded five minutes. They worked at the county hospital, the town’s largest employer, as nurse practitioners, doctors, janitors, technicians, physical therapists, and physician’s assistants—as private practices found it harder to get by, the hospital bought them up until the entire county relied on this single entity for its medical care. Many worked in the vast network of old age homes, retirement communities, hospices, and of course a few worked in mortuary services and were not thrilled by Walmart’s intrusion into the casket business. The residents of New Canaan
owned the county’s lone liquor store, veterinary practices, a sporting goods store that made seventy percent of its sales on guns and ammunition. They were psychologists and podiatrists. They drove trucks for potato chip suppliers. They worked as health inspectors. They built porches, installed hot tubs, fixed sewer systems, and landscaped. Some had tried to flip houses. One of them, age twenty-three, had taken a loan from a bank, then another from his father, and was now looking up bankruptcy law online. Some worked for New Canaan’s only newspaper, hands going carpal tunnel today trying to collect quotes about Rick. One of them coached the high school football team and his praise for Rick was an indomitable waterfall (One of the finest young men I’ve ever coached selfless dedicated best teammate I’ve ever seen cared about every guy from the quarterback to the last guy off the bench), an Appalachian-accented wind. Those who’d lost children thought of the ways they’d been taken: leukemia and hunting accidents, suicides and car wrecks, liver tumors and drowning, cars that overheated in the summer sun with rescue just a few feet away, standing in line at the dry cleaners. Some had terrible dreams and woke frequently to sweat and confusion. Others shot up, showered, and went to work.
Their children went to one of the six elementary schools, the middle school, and New Canaan High. Many of the adults had known one another since that first awkward day when they were dropped off at preschool, and in tears, clung to their mother’s skirt or jeans or overalls. Some grew up and became teachers at these very same schools. One remembered Rick as a funny little loudmouth always rubbing zitty cheeks. Another recalled the card Rick had given her on the last day of seventh-grade pre-algebra. On the front: Teachers Deserve A+s Too! Inside, a coupon for a free Little Caesars cheesy bread. Another thought of a paper Rick had written for Honors History, which this teacher still, on the day of the parade, was convinced the star football player had plagiarized.
There were former cheerleaders and volleyball players and stars of the girls’ basketball team. One still held the record for points and assists, for three years using her ample rear end to back defenders down all the way to the basket. Some were loaded from a breakfast of Stoli and orange juice, a few kept watch for estranged children they saw only at public gatherings, and one twisted a cheek-shredding ring on his finger: it depicted the archangel Michael, commander of the Army of God, blowing his horn and leading a battalion of angels into battle, all crammed into the hard gray metal of this one enormous ring. Some dreamed of making a home in California or vanishing down southern highways or pointing a finger at a map and lighting out for wherever the digit landed, while others lived on the beneficence of an SSDI check. Many were at the cellar floor of the country’s economic ladder.
A few, who’d grown up playing among the wreckage of salvage cars on a family property known as Fallen Farms, cooked methamphetamines and sold pills at a markup. They shot at bottles and old engine blocks and the kick of the weapons would dispel ancient anxieties for seconds at a time. Some made money hocking stolen merch on craigslist, laptops practically attached to their hips. Others posted to Internet message boards about the coming invasion of babies from lesser civilizations and white people’s last chance to turn the tide.
Many came home to find an orange Sherriff’s Notice on their door. These were the days of foreclosures and evictions from one end of the county to the other. Some of the homes the banks took had the usual roaches and water stains but many had skylights and plasma TVs. They left value behind: gas grills, furniture, jewelry, vinyl albums, Beanie Babies, plaques with framed prayers, frozen steaks, the entire Bible on a set of CDs, bikes, and one eccentric left thirty-odd ducks penned in beside a small backyard pond. Some people just vanished, whole families blinked out of existence like
the Rapture. Some moved in with parents, siblings, or friends, some into motel rooms and cars. Others had to be chased out of the city park or the Walmart lot. Marty Brinklan would tell you why serving an eviction was his most hated responsibility: how hurt and angry and truly terrified a man or woman who lost a home could be. One old man, widowed, well past his working years, had fallen into Marty’s arms in tears, no dignity left, begging him not to do this because he had nowhere to go. Marty would see that guy everywhere now, trucking around his worldly possessions in a shopping bag that said BIG SALE on the side.
A few in attendance saw something gravely wrong with the whole scene, while others twirled those small flags in cold, chapped hands and felt paroxysms of pride and ownership and faith. A ceremony for a fallen soldier was an opportunity to decorate and reinvent the town as its residents wished it to be. Cradled in the state’s northeast quadrant, equidistant from the cities of Cleveland and Columbus, one could envision her home as an imaginative space, a specific notion of a white-picket-fenced (and let’s face it, white-skinned) Ohio. Far from the redlined black neighborhoods in Akron or Toledo or Cincinnati or Dayton, distant from the backwoods vein of Appalachia running along the borderlands of Kentucky and West Virginia, most of the parade’s attendees clung to a notion of what their town was, what values it embodied, what hopes it carved out, though by 2007 its once-largest employers, a steel tube plant and two plate glass manufacturers, were over twenty years gone and most of the county’s small farms had been gobbled up by Smithfield, Syngenta, Tyson, and Archer Daniels Midland. Many of those residents who had not been born in this country but who’d made their way from Kuala Lumpur or Jordan or Delhi or Honduras waved those flags the hardest when the casket went by.
Nothing spoke to this imagined homeland quite like the 2001 football team. Led by Rick’s fearsome running game, a reliable
quarterback, and the merciless hits of one particular linebacker who everyone thought would make it to the NFL, it was New Canaan’s first team ever ranked in the state. In a community of roughly fifteen thousand, the high school always held on to its D-1 designation by a thread, but as Coach often pointed out to boosters, no one moved there. The athletes all came from the same pool of peewee football kiddos, and if a couple weak years went by where the teens were more into skateboarding, you were screwed.
Most of the famed team was there that day, except the reliable quarterback, who’d died of a heroin overdose half a year earlier. He simply cooked up too much, shot it into his knee pit on the stoop of his stepfather’s trailer, and that was the ball game. One minute he was admiring icicle-mimicking strings of Christmas lights, the next, he slumped into a puddle, face smacking its mirror image. As the casket passed them by, many remembered how Rick and the quarterback used to wrestle in the locker room before games to get hyped. Pure horseplay, but they would slam each other violently into lockers. Slick with anxious sweat, wearing nothing but a jockstrap, his ass like two flower bulbs spilling out of white elastic, Rick would grapple with the QB until their skin was pink from meat slapping meat, the cheers and hoots of their teammates egging them on. Then they’d all strap their pads tight, punch lockers, smack helmets, and storm across the parking lot to the field. They’d fought as brothers to earn the enormous plaque that still graced the glass display case at the entrance of the high school, yet few of them had the skill or the grades to make it to the next level. Eighteen years old and no more Friday nights under stadium lights, pep rallies, bonfires, or freshman girlfriends. No more dances, forum shows, homecomings, or raucous trips to Vicky’s Diner, slinging fries at each other across the booths. Now they worked at Cattawa Construction, at Jiffy Lube, as line cooks at Taco Bell, as real estate brokers. They spent paychecks quickly, smacked pool balls
or blew raspberries on their babies’ bellies. They recounted long-ago football games, which seemed to produce hard evidence that they’d once been something. Many suffered from lovely high-gloss dreams where they were back on the field. A few lived with constant sub-audible guilt about what they’d gotten up to with the girl they called Nasty Tina.
Rick’s short life had intersected with a great many people in this place, partly due to his father’s status in the police department and the salon his mother owned, but his family went back generations in New Canaan. His mother could trace her ancestry all the way back to the first settlers who’d come to farm land grants after the Revolutionary War. One great-grandfather had emigrated from Bavaria, and he and his people brought with them glass-cutting skills that would eventually become Chattanooga Glass. Another great-grandfather made a living as a canal worker in Coshocton County, moving timber through the locks. Rick had farmers and bankers in his lineage, factory workers at Cooper-Bessemer, which eventually became Rolls-Royce. The parade-goers knew Rick from when he and his friends were just little ones, hellions around town, always running off to play with grape jelly still smeared on their faces. They’d watched him grow up. They’d watched him crash through defensive lines. They’d watched him play a sexy Amish farmer in the senior skit. Five young women could call Rick their first kiss. One had been paired with him for Seven Minutes in Heaven, and in the closet he’d drooled all over her chin and grabbed a handful of everything there was to grab. Another got so keyed up after kissing him beneath the bleachers at an eighth-grade basketball game that it was all she thought about for the next month.
Many were hungover from toasting Rick in the Lincoln Lounge the night before. Over cheap beer and well drinks, they shared classic stories, brave recollections, and dark musings. The rumors, the gossip, the urban legends ran wild. New Canaan had a curse, their
peers decided. Their generation, the classes of the first five years of the infant millennium, they were all stepping through life with a piano suspended above them and bull’s-eyes on the crowns of their skulls. This was different from (but probably a companion to) the garbled small-town myth known as “The Murder That Never Was.” Whoever came up with that particular phrase wasn’t much with grammar, but it stuck nevertheless, debated and ruminated in bars, salons, and diners, sometimes whispered, sometimes not—particularly that night when the speculation was belted out across the dim pall of the Lincoln. The Murder That Never Was held that there was someone who went missing or not, who died accidentally or not, who was gruesomely murdered or not, who faked his own death or not, who made off with a heist or not, who burned rubber out of town laughing like a demon or not. Now in the light of day, in the queasy suffocation and sluggish eternity of a hangover, how silly that all sounded.
The driver pulled his truck to a stop, bringing the flatbed in front of a stage that had been borrowed from the high school and erected beneath the square’s hundred-year oaks. On that stage, Rick’s parents and his brother, Lee, stood among a scrum of friends, family, the mayor, the sheriff. “Amazing Grace” played over a jury-rigged PA, and as the final chords reverberated, the pastor of the First Christian Church, where Rick and Lee had so frequently fidgeted, farted, and fought with each other every Sunday (two of the most disruptive kids to ever grace the pews, according to most), delivered the opening prayer. “Jesus, take your son Rick into your arms, and give his family and friends the strength to endure this loss,” he said. Boilerplate stuff.
Following that, four people were to speak that day.
One of them, Rick’s high school girlfriend, would never make it to the mic. Kaylyn Lynn was so stupefyingly high nothing seemed to matter at all. The wind whipped unwashed hair about her pretty
face and bit through Rick’s football jersey (#25), which he’d given to her after the team banquet his senior season. She hated that Rick’s parents had asked her to speak. There was no fairy tale here. They broke up the summer after senior year. She basically cut out Rick’s heart and ate it in front of him. Pawned the engagement ring he tried to give her. Fucked his friends. Told him how much she loved him only to make sure he’d never really leave her. The pastor’s prayer wound to a close, and she watched a crow pick apart a piece of the flag cake selling outside of Vicky’s. There was red and blue frosting all over the bird’s beak as it dug into this treat smeared across the asphalt. Ill with guilt, when her time came, Kaylyn simply kept her eyes lowered and gave Rick’s parents a panicked shake of her head. Hid her high with bereavement. She rattled and sucked on her inhaler, her eyes as vivid as Cassiopeia.
Marty Brinklan stepped to the microphone, stroking his bleach-white mustache, his face weary, good marble covered by bad clay. He looked to his wife sitting in a metal folding chair, squeezing a handkerchief the color of a wet plum and staring catatonically at the ground.
“Husband, Christian, patriot, public servant,” said Marty. His eyes flitted up from the piece of paper he gripped, peeked at his friends and neighbors. “But most importantly, once you’re a father . . . that’s what you learn about being a father: it becomes the first thing you are, and everything else had better make way for it. Once you’re a father,” he repeated.
Marty wanted to be done with the public part of this. He was good at quarantining his grief, saving it for appropriate moments when he could have it to himself, take it out to tenderly care for like an antique pistol. He wasn’t sleeping or eating well or taking care of himself. Hell, he’d even taken a couple of drinks. The first day of his workweek he’d gotten a call about a nineteen-year-old girl, dead of an overdose, found facedown in an overflowing toilet. A gruesome
scene. Then he’d served an eviction for one of Rick’s former teammates from the football team, a wide receiver who wept and cussed him out until Marty found himself putting a hand on the butt of his gun. The former wide receiver looked at him just before he tore out of the driveway and sneered, “Rick would be so proud, Marty. Too bad he couldn’t see this.” That jolly job had been just yesterday.
Jill Brinklan felt like she was on one of the cruelest reality TV shows ever dreamed up. She acknowledged Marty and his speech with a tight smile and nod, but she couldn’t meet his eye. She hadn’t been able to look at him since they got the news. She also found she couldn’t stand very well, hence her sitting in the metal folding chair. Lately, when on her feet, she sometimes lost her equilibrium. Squeezing her handkerchief, she stood, thanked everyone for coming, for being so kind, and sat right back down. She wondered if she’d ever forgive her husband for his pride. This was what pride got you. Anyone who’d read the Bible knew that. That morning, Marty had asked her which shirt he should wear, and she’d hissed at him like a cat and fled their bedroom. She went to the kitchen, obsessively running her hands over the stove because she was thinking of apple turnovers. Before Lee’s or Rick’s football games, she’d always made apple turnovers in the morning. When they first began the tradition, she let Lee handle the skillet, stirring the apple slices in butter, while Rick flattened the dough with a pizza roller. How funny little boys looked cooking, the way they got hyperventilatingly excited at each step. And later when they were ogre-like teenagers, total galoots, how amusing it was to watch them spread the apples daintily in the squares of dough and pinch them shut. The obscene exchanges she had to regulate—how did they even dream up such vulgarities? (Rick, wash your hands, we know your thumb was knuckle-deep in your ass last night; I’ll dip my scrotum in your eye, Lee.) That morning, stroking the stove, all of this came over her in one of those crippling waves that arrived as unpredictably as each freak gust of
wind. She went out to the backyard, staggering past her garden to the fire pit, which still had singed Bud Light cans resting in the ashes from when Rick was last home. She lost her balance and sat down in the grass. Wanting to dig down through layer after layer of dirt until she found her son, until he was safe, until she could no longer smell this long-gone scent of burning.
Of the four planned speakers, however, the one who truly broke the hearts of the assembled was Ben Harrington. Ben, a college dropout struggling to make it as a musician, hated coming home. To him, downtown New Canaan had this look, like a magazine after it’s tossed on a fire, the way the pages blacken and curl as they begin to burn but just before the flames take over. How vibrant and important and tough and exciting this place had seemed through the scrim of boyhood, back when he, Rick, and Bill Ashcraft rode their bikes all over kingdom come. They knew every spigot where you could fill up a water balloon and the best spot in the Cattawa River to go swimming and the best hill for sledding and the best wall to use for pushing on a guy’s chest until he passed out and had weird, twitchy, oxygen-deprivation dreams.
On that stage, Ben told a simple story from their boyhood. Once, on the banks of the Cattawa, wading around, feeling the mud between their toes, Rick had caught a frog. He held the squirming trophy in both amazed hands while Ben, blond locks whiplashing over his eyes, stumbled away.
“It’s just a friggin frog,” said Rick.
“Don’t get near me with that!”
“Just touch it.”
“Just touch it.”
“It’s not poison. That thing about it giving you warts idn’t true either.”
“Get away, Rick.”
Then Rick heaved the frog at Ben, who’d shrieked and fled, while the terrified frog ribbited the fuck away from these psychotic kids. Bill Ashcraft laughed deliriously. Ben cried, called them assholes, then sat down on the bank while they played in the water. After about five minutes, Rick came up to him, hands on his hips.
“C’mon, Harrington. Would it help if I ate a bug?”
“Huh? No. Wha—”
Before he could say anything else, Rick snatched up a grasshopper that had been hanging out on a leaf and popped it in his mouth. He gave it one hard crunch, swallowed, and then immediately choked, doubled over, and puked in the dirt. Ben had never laughed so hard in his young life. They were both in tears, Ben from cracking up and Rick from trying to hock up the grasshopper’s exoskeleton. After a while they ran back into the river as if nothing had happened and splashed around and spat water at the sun.
Laughter and a fresh round of sobs passed through the crowd. A father holding his teenage daughter’s shoulders suddenly gripped her, as if she might be borne away by this hard wind.
Of course, Ben didn’t share the story of the last time he saw Rick, in the spring of ’06. Home from his first tour, Rick had added even more layers of muscle to his beastly frame. He looked like he wore a full-body Kevlar vest. He got skunk-drunk, and Ben tried to broach the subject of Bill Ashcraft. Rick and Bill, friends from the crib, hadn’t spoken to each other in nearly three years. But Rick had only grisly stories of bravery, of the fun he was having in the Iraqi desert. “One time, thought I saw this rat carrying around a piece of beef jerky. So I thought, where’s your stash little buddy? Turns out it was a finger! Little cutey-tooty rat carrying around a finger!”
“Aw, don’t be a puss. It’s just war.”
Rick wouldn’t talk about Bill, and he wouldn’t talk about Kaylyn, but he did want to go out to Jericho Lake and smoke a joint.
“Don’t the Marines piss-test you?”
He barked a laugh. “Bullfrog, you little twat.” This was the thing about Rick: how his coarseness, his incivility, could never mask—and was in fact tied to—his great love for you.
And they did drive out to Jericho, too drunk, cruising up over the horizon of their snow-globe town. Ben wanted to write a song about Rick, this kind of guy you’d find teeming across the country’s swollen midsection: toggling Budweiser, Camels, and dip, leaning into the bar like he was peering over the edge of a chasm, capable of near philosophy when discussing college football or shotgun gauges, neck on a swivel for any pretty lady but always loyal to his true love, most of his drinking done within a mile or two of where he was born, calloused hands, one finger bent at an odd angle from a break that never healed right, a wildly foul mouth that could employ the word fuck as noun, verb, adjective, or gerund in a way you were sure had never existed before that moment (“Having us a fuckly good time,” he’d said, as they sat in the grass, staring out at the glistening midnight sheen of Jericho). Yet his friend was in no way standard. He was freewheeling, mule-stubborn, and cunning as a coyote trickster. He had whole oceans inside of him, the wilds of the country, fierce ghosts, and a couple hundred million stars.
“There’s nothing left, man. Nothing to go back to,” Rick cryptically declared that night. He freed his runty dick from his jeans and pissed so close to Ben that he had to scoot madly across the grass to avoid the splash. “Just you and me, buddy. Just you and me and this last lonesome night in each other’s arms.”
What was he talking about? Hard to say. Rick didn’t much understand himself, but something about what, in just three short years, had happened to him. To them. The places he’d seen, the things he’d done. On his last day home before his redeployment, he
got obliterated in his backyard at the fire pit, chucking cobalt-blue cans of Bud Light into the flames even though his mom always scolded him for this. He took a walk down the road, to the field where, like an idiot, he’d once tried to give his girlfriend an engagement ring. Dusk settled in, and it was that odd midwestern temperature where the remnants of winter kept stealing day after day of spring. Scabs of melting snow lingered in the brush of the field. Beyond it stretched the forest and the scotched, brush-wire look of the leafless trees. Aqueous daylight came slanting over the horizon. Like a filter, it rendered the color of things differently, so that the field’s distant cows looked maroon and yellow in this kaleidoscopic sunset. He stood, smacking a melted puddle with his foot, waiting on the crows. You had to have faith, he figured. Faith that whatever pain you had in your life, God made up for it later.
Crows had taken to roosting in the woods near the industrial park about a mile away. Foraging in the dumpsters and the hackberry bushes, multiple flocks teamed up to become a larger and larger horde. His dad called them the “mega-murder” because of what happened at dusk. Rick watched his image wobble in the puddle, and when it went still, he would smack it, and his features would get that horizontal interference all over again. He was drunk and got to thinking. Thinking about this cage he lived in, this prison where it felt like he’d spend the entirety of his life, cradle to grave, measuring the distance between his most modest hopes and all the cheap regret he actually ended up living. You passed your time in the cage, he figured, by clinging pointlessly and desperately to an endless series of unfinished sorrows.
Then the crows lit out, thousands of them, pouring across the sky’s last light. They seemed to swell with a violet hue, creatures somewhere between rats and angels, cawing, descending into the forest in an eerie blanket, covering every naked winter branch . . .
When all was said and done with the parade, the crowd converged
around the stage and those on it fell into their embraces and prayers. The wind sneaked up their sleeves, gouged at their eyes, and seemed to hustle them toward departure. Jill Brinklan dropped her plum handkerchief and never picked it up. Marty Brinklan turned to hug Lee, so he wouldn’t have to look at his wife. Kaylyn hopped off the stage quickly. Ben Harrington smeared tears across his cheek with the back of a cold hand. Vehicles from the procession began to peel off. A city maintenance truck arrived to fish the flag out of the branches of the oak tree. The casket was returned to Walmart. It was October 13, 2007.
In terms of our story, the parade was perhaps most notable not for the people who showed up but for those who were missing that day. Bill Ashcraft and Nasty Tina. Former volleyball star and First Christian Church attendee Stacey Moore. And a kid named Danny Eaton still doing his time in Iraq, a few years away from losing one of his pretty hazel eyes. Each of them missing for reasons of their own, all of them someday to return. It’s hard to say where any of this ends or how it ever began, because what you eventually learn is that there is no such thing as linear. There is only this wild, fucked-up flamethrower of a collective dream in which we were all born and traveled and died.
So we begin roughly six years after the parade thrown in honor of Corporal Rick Brinklan, on a fried fever of a summer night in 2013. We begin with history’s dogs howling, suffering in every last nerve and muscle. We begin with four vehicles and their occupants converging on this one Ohio town from the north, south, east, and west. Specifically, we begin on a dark country road with a small pickup truck, the frame shuddering, the gas tank empty, hurtling through the night from origins yet unknown.