I fixated on that hair, springy and stubborn, like the blackened steel wool my dad used in his workshop to clean greasy mechanisms of all sorts. He was a saver, nothing was throw-away. When I was little I would sit on a stool, itself a rescue, and marvel at the rows and rows of odd-shaped vessels, meticulously organized, holding things of value. The sun would stream sideways through the door carrying a solar system of dust particles and warmth. He would smile down at me and I knew I was of value. He taught me that people were never throw-away either, same as things.

Staring at that hair I wondered if she had felt discarded by me. Our five and a half year age difference had caught up with us, maybe. We had little to say to each other those last few years. Gone were the days of writing stories on the side yard, pages stained berry red, of solving mysteries and spying on the boys. I sat her down one day with all the seven-year-old fervor I could muster and asked her if she had Jesus in her heart. She was a bit squirmy about it but I pinned her down and she prayed the prayer. I wondered now if He had heard her prayers that night as she dragged her body up the neighboring porch, her life oozing from the stab wounds before she reached the door.

And that hair: it was sticking right up out of her coffin. I’d known it in my bones before but, sitting there, I knew - for the first time, really - the privilege I’d been born into. We grew up in a lower middle class neighborhood but my dad was climbing the proverbial ladder. She lived across the street in her dead grandfather’s house with her single mama, two siblings and transient uncles. They were on welfare and on drugs. I collected stickers - scratch ’n sniffs, sparkly ones, lots of kitty-cat ones - all splayed out in a book. She collected food stamps and walked them to the corner market to see what she might eat that week. I had all the shiny chances laid out for me like stepping stones. Did she ever even have a chance at more than selling her body and ending up dead on a stranger’s doorstep?

Leslie Jordan