II

Two months after Conor Williamson was killed by a bomb left on top of his mailbox on a beautiful beginning-of-Spring morning, people were just beginning to find it acceptable to make jokes about it. This dark humor was the topic of conversation on top of Eric's roof. He and his sister Lena were sitting on the rough, red shingles that sloped gently to the five-foot drop onto their backyard.

" . . . and he said, 'at least he got blown before he died.' Everyone laughed, even the teacher laughed." She said.

Lena had dated Conor for about a week, and never really gotten over him. Even though he was a Senior, and generally well-liked, nobody really knew too much about Conor, not even Lena, or his then-and-final-girlfriend Claire, who was still somewhere in the suburbs of Boston apparently.

"This is how people get over things, you know? They make jokes, even when they really are pretty shook up. Catch-22, 9-11, you know what I'm talking about."

Eric knew a little bit about Conor. He had a car, he went to parties (back when people had parties,) he was in a few of his classes. Lena, who dated Conor when she was a Freshman, had never really got over him.

"It's fucking immature is what it is. They never found the asshole who did it, and these pathetic news crews are still creeping around the school." She said this, choking up with anger and tears.

It was true. Nobody knew who did it, the police interviewed just about everybody they could find. They even took in Lena, thinking maybe she did it out of hysteria and rage and jealousy. The Monday after it happened, there were five news vans waiting in the high-school parking lot. Some of the camera men were lurking around the campus, getting scenery shots, waiting for kids to come in. The interviewers were prepping for their segments, drinking coffee and fixing their hair.

"Well, it's almost summer." Eric said, as if that should help.

Lena nodded, and put on her sunglasses, laying back on the baking tiles of the rugged red roof. Eric climbed back in through the window, to leave her alone to tan or smoke or mourn or whatever it is she did out there.

Lining the sidewalk were red ribbons tied to towering oak trees, in commemoration of Conor. Stapled onto the telephone poles were pleas for information about who planted the bomb, and a picture of a smiling Conor Williamson.

--

About a month before, the school held an assembly. They gathered the five-hundred-and-something students into an over-heated gymnasium, where the principal Mrs. Birdsong held a microphone and feigned a great sadness to the mumbling crowd.

"We all miss Conor dearly. It was truly a tragedy, what happened to him, and we are all in deep mourning. However, none of us should mourn in silence - we all need to express how this has made us feel. Does anyone wish to speak?"

Nobody. They all sat, sweaty palmed, wiping invisible grit from their pants, texting, whispering, looking out the windows and opened doors. Something this tragic and momentous hadn't occurred since five (or was it four?) years before when a Freshman attempted to slide down a banister, and slipped and broke his neck immediately. In the same week, Annie James lied about being raped by Henry Lawrence.

"Nobody?"

One girl, whose name Eric didn't know, and who was sitting near Lena, raised her hand. "Great. . ." Birdsong whispered into the mic. She handed the microphone to someone in the front row and it was slowly handed up to the nameless girl.

She stood up, and grasped it between her hands and stared down at it as if she were about to put it into her mouth, loudly breathing. "Go ahead," the principal urged her.

"I just . . ." she started, breathlessly stuttering "I just think that like . . . if it could happen to him, why not me?"

The crowd was silent, puzzled. "He's just about the same age as all of us. He's another face I'd see walking through the halls, hanging out on the weekends. I don't even know him. But when I heard about it, I just started crying. Like, I could die too. Going out to my mailbox, and then just . . . I didn't think people our age died."

Eric saw Lena blankly staring at the girl. Mrs. Birdsong opened her mouth to speak, but apparently couldn't think of anything. The girl sat down, and watched as Lena said something to her, virulently and bewilderedly. The girl silently got up and moved to another seat.

Once Birdsong had the microphone, she began to speak to the crowd: once again whispering, laughing, and texting. "Well, does anyone else wish to speak?"

Nobody. "Well, it's been a rough few weeks. I think we can call it a day."

Before she finished, a mass exodus of talking and laughter and backpacks went from the bleachers, streaming out into the hallways and parking lots full of waiting news crews, to ask the same questions they asked last week and the week before. A police cruiser was waiting to take a few prime suspects to the station to ask a few follow-up questions, and do a few searches for maybe wires or fuses or C-4 or general knowledge of explosives and hatred for poor Conor Williamson.