“Onward!” I lift a fist into the air, and we surge forward on the sidewalk. It’s only when you’re pushing a wheelchair, or hitching a ride in one, that you notice how shitty sidewalks actually are. We are gliding forward at a snail’s pace, but I hold on for dear life, afraid I’ll be thrown by one of the cracks or the general unevenness of the sidewalk. There is a couple sitting on lawn chairs outside the bad people house. They cheer and hold up their drinks as we scoot by. I am conscious of everything during our painfully slow ride up the street—the way his arm wraps around my waist, his head peering around my arm to see where we are going, the sun warming our skin. We stop when we reach the eating house. I feel self-conscious being this close to the house while sitting on Judah’s lap. Judah looks up at the sagging, decrepit house. His eyes linger on the newspaper that covers the hole in my bedroom window.
“It’s kind of scary looking,” he says. “It feels like it’s looking at me, instead of me looking at it.” He moves his chair back and forth in absent little jerks, while I stand beside him, admiring the monster house. I hate the eating house, but I feel somewhat unsettled by his comment, like I need to say something to defend it.
“It’s … not that bad.” But, even as I say it, I can smell the mold and feel the relentless chill that creeps through the walls at night. “It is that bad,” I admit. “At night I always get the feeling that someone is watching me. And the wood floors give me splinters and shit.”
“And shit,” Judah says. “All right! Hop on, we’re going back!”
Despite his offer, I walk beside him, the hum of his chair reminding me of distant helicopter blades. As we pass the bad people house, Judah points to a twenty-dollar bill on the pavement. I bend to pick it up, glancing at the house like someone is going to come charging out, demanding their money back.
“Finders keepers,” says Judah. The bill is slightly damp. Someone had drawn horns on Andrew Jackson’s head and written Fuck you America underneath his picture in red ink. Suddenly, the memory of the last time I saw Nevaeh comes rushing back to me.
Neveah went missing with her backpack. The Hello Kitty backpack with the teddy bear stuffed at the bottom, and her matching wallet with her ten one-dollar bills folded neatly into the bill flap. The ten dollars that she never got to spend because she didn’t live a week past getting them. I remember her pulling out a purple marker from her pencil case and drawing a heart in the corner of each of the dollars her grandmother had given her. I remember thinking that it was an odd and endearing thing to do. Before the bus reached her stop, she had straightened the dollars into a pile and carefully placed them back in her wallet. I left her at the bus stop that day wondering what she would buy with her ten dollars, and imagining what I would have bought when I was her age. How exciting was the prospect of ten dollars to a little girl.
Had she died the same day she disappeared? It was something I thought of almost every day. I hoped so. I hoped that whoever took her didn’t make her suffer. To think of Nevaeh suffering caused a tightness in my chest that wouldn’t go away. I hope she died quickly, and that she didn’t know it was happening. Sometimes I fantasized about finding her before the sick bastard killed her. In my daydream, I would strangle the perpetrator, then pick Nevaeh up from the floor and carry her to Judah’s. There we would devise a plan to get her out of the Bone, together. We’d go somewhere bright, where the sun never stopped shining. I’d come back to reality, lying on my mattress and staring up at the ceiling, convincing myself that it was too late, and that she was already dead.
There were suspects who the police were questioning. That’s all they told us: suspects. I saw them in my mind as dark, shadowy figures without faces. How the police were finding these suspects, and who they were questioning, nobody knew. But Nevaeh was still making national headlines, and everyone was looking at the Bone, so the news had to say something positive about the case. Leads … detectives were always following leads. There were even reporters wandering around the Bone, wearing pressed khakis and Oxford shirts, carrying fancy messenger bags. They always wore a look of careful determination, like they were going to be the ones to unearth Nevaeh’s killer. Sometimes I saw them talking to the locals, trying to extract little bits of story here and there. I avoided them. They didn’t have a look of despair on their faces. I couldn’t trust that.
A few days into January I pass a man reading the paper as I walk to work. The charred remnants of Nevaeh’s Hello Kitty backpack are on the front page. The picture is grainy, and I glance at it for just a moment before I quickly remove my eyes, my heart pounding. The last time I had seen her, she’d been wearing that backpack, shiny and clean, and now the plastic on the backpack was bubbled and black. I remember her braids, and I wonder if they were still in her hair when the police found her body. I’d touched her hair, and then she died.
A week later I watch Lyndee Anthony count out five one-dollar bills, and hand them to cashier at Wal-Mart, the gallon of milk she’s buying tucked under her arm. Each dollar has a purple heart in its corner. I reach up to touch the pink hair tie on my wrist. That’s when I know I’m going to kill her.
IT TAKES TIME TO PLAN SOMEONE’S MURDER. There are a lot of things to consider; for one: you have to ask yourself if you are trying to kill an innocent woman. Two: how do you want this potentially innocent woman to die, and should you establish absolute non-innocence before reviewing your options? Three: if she were innocent, how did she get those dollars?
Poison is my first choice—clean and easy. But poison can be traced. And I don’t know Lyndee well enough to offer her an arsenic-laced bon bon, and there is always the chance someone else could eat it, then I really would be responsible for an innocent death. That would make me just like her.
There is strangulation, which sounds more appealing than poison, but takes more work. The risk that something could go wrong is bigger—I could be overpowered, or even caught.
I can buy a gun; there are ways. But guns are messy and loud. There is no art in a bullet. No class in a knife. I want her to die in the right way. A way that serves the most justice to my little Nevaeh.
Lyndee Anthony told police that the last time she saw her daughter was on the morning she disappeared, when she sent her off to school with her backpack. Nevaeh got off the school bus that afternoon, walked the two blocks to the bus stop on Bishop Hill, where she caught the 712 with the intention of going to her grandmother’s house. And on that rainy day, I braided her hair—cuffing the braid with the pink hair tie I now wear around my wrist—and bid her farewell, reminding her to be careful in the briny Bone. Which means Nevaeh went missing with her backpack, her hair in the pigtails I braided, and her ten one-dollar bills tucked safely away in her wallet. There was, of course, the possibility that Nevaeh drew that same purple heart on her mother’s dollars. It might have been her trademark. That’s what concerned me the most. Deciding a woman was guilty of murdering her only daughter based on a purple heart.