by on August 11, 2020 :: 0 comments

photo "The Line We Don't Cross" by Tyler Malone

Shit. They called him Shit. Sometimes, while he ate alone at his lunch table, Karl Bennett and his two toadies would walk across the cafeteria and stop at his table. Karl would lean over, the tip of his nose almost touching Shit’s face. “Hey, Shit!” Karl would say, turning his head and flashing a white-toothed All-American smile at the girls giggling at a nearby table. “Do you have fifty cents I can borrow for the soda machine? Do you, Shit?”

Shit would reach into his pocket and hand Karl fifty cents.

But not on that day.

It was Halloween, and Shit wore a Michael Myers mask and an orange prison jumper his father—who was a correctional officer before he was forced to resign after everything—lifted from the county jail. Shit was ready when Karl walked across the cafeteria and asked for his fifty cents. He rubbed the grooves on the handle, the piece hanging heavy in the pocket of his orange prison jumper.

A football player, Karl was dressed as a cheerleader—a costume his classmates found goofy—and sat across from Shit, his toadies flanking him. Shit knew the toadies’ names, everyone knew the toadies’ names, but he chose not to think about their names. Thinking about their names made them real people with real parents and real siblings and real friends who loved them.

But Karl Bennett. Shit didn’t give a shit about Karl Bennett.

Karl leaned over the table. “Is that you in there, Shit? Are you trying to scare people with that mask, Shit?”

Shit’s father kept a 9 mm Smith & Wesson in his nightstand, loaded, and Shit brought it to school in his backpack. He stuck his hand in his pocket and flipped off the safety.

“Take the mask off, Shit? Let’s see your face, Shit,” Karl said.

With his free hand, Shit lifted the mask and looked Karl in the eyes.

The rest unfolded the way these things usually unfold. The headlines in every major news outlet read Terror strikes in N.H. high school and Profane nickname sparks school shooting. And for almost a month, crusaders marched through the small rustic town, the anti-gun lobbyists and the N.R.A. And every student in the cafeteria that day was interviewed for the television news stories, explaining how Shit shot Karl Bennett in the head then turned the gun under his own chin, how the incident was finished in ten seconds. Most of them described the blood, all of the blood, splattered and pooling on the cafeteria table and floor. But the story died down, and then it was over for everyone except Karl Bennett and Shit’s families, who will never forget that day.

Years later, two men in their early-twenties will go out for a beer at the bar where the locals watch their lives pass, round after round. The two young men will order draft beers and start chatting.

The first young man, who recently got engaged, will take a long sip of beer. “Remember our freshman year when that psycho kid shot Karl Bennett then shot himself?” His question, of course, is rhetorical. Of course they both remember, each of them dealing with their own nightmares. “I saw a documentary on it the other day.”

“Did they get it right?”

“No,” the first guy will say. “In the documentary, they called the kid Crap. Not Shit. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine someone calling you Shit.”

“No,” his friend will say. “I can’t imagine being Shit.”

editors note:

With every slur and word, can you taste the blood? Rarely do we see it. But too many have. And it all begins with a word. ~ Tyler Malone

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