Everyone around me seemed to love the park. For a long time, I didn't understand.
A pond dominated the landscape, the scum and algae reaching all the way from the parking lot to the old plantation at the far end. There was a path along the water, concrete, dotted by benches and campfire grills and metal barrel trashcans.
When I walked through, I could hear distant splashing, and I could see in my mind a gigantic waterfall, churning blue and green into foamy white. I could forget the real waterfall looked more like a staircase covered in a carpet of slippery microscopic garbage. When I was in the gazebo and I saw the reflections in the water – and not the water itself – I could almost pretend it was beautiful.
The others didn't have to pretend. They'd stop their strollers and hold their children and scatter loaves of half-molded bread for the overweight birds. They'd jog through in reflective jackets and stand fast against their dog's pull, and they'd remark how nice it was, how beautiful.
Once, when I was a child, I tried to walk out on the rocks, and I fell into the water. It was my birthday.
But you see all that if you open your eyes. What you don't see when you walk this path was the amphitheatre – or maybe you see it, but your memory skips over it like a rock over still water.
Nestled in the overhang of trees, you could easily pass it by. It was a circle dug into the ground, hardly ten paces across, with a dirt-packed floor and patchwork stone benches set into the edges. It looked ancient, like a scar across the face of the simplicity and organization of the park, molded on the simplicity and organization of the town.
How I hated going to that amphitheatre. I would sit there on the packed floor for hours, on my knees, or cross-legged, the soil loose and swollen from the shovel that lay expectant next to me. I wouldn't look at the shovel; I'd pretend not to see it. I'd pretend not to know how easily it would spring to my hand if I so much as moved.
Jamie was the first.
I remember pushing the strip of tape down on his mouth as his eyes screamed. I remember holding his nostrils closed until the screaming stopped, and I remember how beautiful it was when he stopped struggling.
He slept the farthest away from the entrance. I cared for him. Hands folded across his chest; jacket zipped and fastened. Couldn't do for him to get cold, unable to speak, unable to cry, unable to cry, unable to cry, unable to – no, no, no, stop.
The shovel made a swish when I dropped the first load of dirt onto his face. It fell into his ears and his mouth, and some caught on his eyelashes. It looked like he was crying.
It took months for the dirt to pack itself down. Months of anxiety and nerve-racking fear. Months of drunken college students and parents of curious three-year-olds and starving musicians walking my clearing. None of them knew what was under their feet. None of them suspected.
I was lucky, maybe.
Dorell was next. He was harder; he fought me and he hurt me and I spent a long time crying, the tears and rain dripping off the end of my nose and my chin while his life faded red into the mud behind the home side of the football stadium. When I calmed down, I looked into his blank eyes and pulled his eyelids down. I buried him next to Jamie, though he hardly deserved it.
I packed the dirt down myself. I stayed there all night, remembering the snap as his head and his spine came apart. I would shudder and tremble, so full of death that the crickets sang and the owls sobbed.
It was the third one when I knew I had gone too far.
I panicked; I burned the body in the darkness of the amphitheatre on Christmas night. A policeman asked me what I was doing, and when I told him, he laughed and tipped his hat, wishing me a Merry Christmas. He never made it out of the glade, and I burned him too, wishing the fire would warm me but afraid to get closer.
When the fire died, I already had the holes dug. The bodies crackled when I dragged them.
Four was too many, I knew. They would be after me, they'd catch me, they'd catch me theydcatchmetheydcatchmetheydcatchme stop.
I breathed deeply, packed in the dirt, and giggled. Merry Christmas.
For a while, the memories were enough for me – the sound of a skull caving in, of a neck snapping; the sight of eyes as the spirit fled from the flesh; the gentle breeze of their gasps and sighs. Sometimes I cursed them for bringing me back to that place, again and again, when the snow suffocated the grass and I froze and cried and kneeled until the morning came.
I left for college. A week, and I felt my hand closing around the handle of a shovel. I closed my eyes, breathed in, and came back to my amphitheatre under the moon.
When I arrived there, in the early morning, I saw a bright yellow bulldozer rumbling towards the glade.
My skin felt too thin and too tight, like it couldn't hold all of me in and it couldn't keep anything out. I pulled off my sweatshirt in the morning heat, and I saw a little boy on his way to elementary school.
I didn't know what to do with the body, so I abandoned him with his eyes looking up at the orbiting sun.
When I got back, I watched them dig up the bodies. I watched them look on in disgust and fury, and I watched the stone walls crumble and fall.
I went back to the little boy that afternoon, but they were there already.
I walked home. My father was on the phone. My mother shrieked something at me, in hideous harmony with my father's bellow to come, come over now and help us, please, but I didn't hear them. I heard something else. I looked down and saw a shovel in my hand. After all I'd done, it seemed easy to lift, just lift and swing.
That night I was euphoric and nauseated and I threw up and couldn't stop dancing and I could see the world in eight thousand colors but they were all black except for the red and I saw in two dimensions and four dimensions and then six dimensions, and it was beautiful.
A detective found me that morning in the broken amphitheatre. He was gentle when he lifted me up and put on the cuffs and slid me into his backseat.
Twenty years later, I left the sanitarium and the amphitheatre was gone.
I sat on a bench and I thought about blood stains and the snap of a neck and the needs and the pills and what the pills had taken away from me. I thought about Christmas and the way moonlight shines on a police badge, and about beauty.
I thought about the bond created when one human being takes the life of another; a bond stronger than any other, but made by breaking.
I thought about scars; the kind that heal, and the kind that are bulldozed into oblivion; and how maybe you can lose something and it doesn't hurt because you never needed it in the first place.
The moon was reflected deep inside the pond and I looked down at it. Now, I understood: it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen in my life.