Before the echo of the last shot faded, the boys disappeared into the neighborhood.
Upon his knees in the snow, his back against the lamppost, Traci struggled to breathe. Still and small in front of him lay the boy he wanted to help. A few steps away was Al, flurries swirling over him like white flies, some falling into his wide-open eyes. Rolling down the side of Al’s nose onto his cheek, a tear of blood trickled from a small hole in his forehead, no wider than the yellow number 2 pencil the shooter would use tomorrow morning at school, just a few blocks away.
Eyelids heavy, trying to stay awake, Traci squinted into the lamplight. Where light diffused to darkness, he could see the boulder looming large and quiet over him. “Wait,” he said.
Twenty steps ahead, branches swayed in Owen’s wake as he wove through the trees. Reaching the wall of stone, he extended his arm to press his palm against it. “This marks the northeast corner of Haskey’s property,” he said. “We call it Homesick Rock.”
“Why is that?” Abelo asked, catching his breath.
“Four or five summers back, there was this counselor—typical college kid who studied geology. He spent a lot of free time climbing the boulder and rappelling down the side. One day he tells me the boulder ain’t from here—called it a homesick rock—that most likely was part of a cliff side up in Canada, near Hudson Bay. Probably was twice the size it is now when a glacier sheared it off some ten thousand years ago.” Owen looked up at the boulder, pressing his palm against it once more. “We’ve always brought our homesick kids here to talk because the place seems to calm ’em down, so the name stuck.”
“That so?” Abelo said, sketching on his notepad.
“That glacier rolled this huge rock along,” Owen continued, “year after year, for probably five hundred years or more, but it held together, never cracked, never got crushed to sand like others. Just got its edges smoothed and rounded a bit.” He paused, then quietly said, “By the hand of God.”
“Beg pardon?” Abelo said, squinting up at him.
“Nothing,” Owen said.
Owen watched the real estate agent draw a circle on the map where the boulder had stood for thousands of years.
Slowly, Abelo drew a dark line through it.
Last year, he figured to head to some other rocky land where teaching English could pay the way and he could climb and explore. Maybe Thailand. But then he met her and wanted to be nowhere else but by her side, a life solely in Japan, an end to venturing on. He’d lost his sense that he could do anything, go anywhere, and be alone, happy, and lost.
Today he formally let her know. As they sat in the park eating a lunch of rice cakes with umeboshi, sipping ocha poured from a thermos, he asked her to marry him. And he was so certain of her answer until she said sweetly, simply, quietly, “No.”
Today the teacher learned a stubborn fact: one of his sixth grade students was wanted by the police. Efficiently, coldly, the school’s youth relations deputy informed Terry that Fremont, an eleven-yearold nicknamed Free, was witnessed running from a gang related shooting.
The majority of Terry’s students lived with one parent while the other was away working, searching for work, in the gang, or incarcerated. Or dead. Some lived with a grandparent or another relative, both parents gone.
Slowly, effectively, they were recruited. Gang life found them: ever-present violence, using and selling of drugs, and subjugation of women. By the time Terry’s students reached high school, more than half would be involved in criminal activity on behalf of gangs. For most, their lives would end in jail or death before the age of twenty.
The few who somehow resisted the gangster life glorified in the music, movies, and video games saturating their lives were under constant threat of harm or death for not joining. There was no neutrality. Pick a side or be against them all.
He grabbed and she twisted away.
He grabbed again.
Tracey didn’t say a word as she brought her knee hard into his crotch. Controlling his arm as he doubled over, she flipped him onto his back. Straddling him, she pinned his arms to the floor with her knees.
“You like it on top?” he said, looking up at her, a drunken smile on his lips.
Reaching to her ankle, Tracey pulled a seven-inch fixed-blade hunting knife from her boot. She brought the blade to within an inch of the bridge of his nose. “Which one?” she said.
“What do you mean?” Irv said, staring at the blade.
“Left eye or right eye,” Tracey said.
One of the boys went to the far side of the boulder and found a nook where a smaller boulder leaned upon the larger. He tried to find a foothold to scramble up the side but slipped and fell backward, landing in snow and mud.
His friend laughed at him and Owen glared.
Looking from the ground at the face of the boulder, the boy saw something that had been hidden from sunlight for half a millennium. “Hey!” he called out. “Look at this!”
Etched into the boulder, seven feet off the ground, were images of a human hand between the figure of a man and a deer with large antlers of seven points each.
“I’ll be damned,” Owen said.