“only the dead stay seventeen” by Anne Highley-Smith

Mary watched as her best friend hurtled herself off the top ramp of a parking garage. Her best friend’s small, doll-like limbs flailed in an erratic dance, only stopping to meet the grey concrete five stories below.

She had always thought when someone fell off a building it would be much slower, like in the movies. Mary then realized that life was not the movies, and began walking down the ramp toward her best friend’s limp and bloody body.

***

“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to kill someone?” Jane asked her best friend.
“Not really, have you?” Mary replied.
“Sometimes. I wonder if I would feel guilty afterward. I think I would.”
“Uh huh.” Mary twirled her spaghetti around her fork, never looking up from the soupy mess Jane had made for them. Cringing as she listened to Jane slurp her pasta, Mary tried to think about something other than death and Jane’s terrible table manners.
“We should kill someone,” Jane said with pasta still hanging out of her mouth, “I think it would be a rush.”
“What?”
“Yeah, why not? We could kill a homeless person or something.”
“What if we get caught?”
“That’s why we kill a homeless person, they die all the time.”
“Jane, that’s stupid.”
“No it’s not. Think about it. We could lure them in with promises of food and shelter, then when they get to the front door, hit over the head with something. Boom. Dead.” Jane was smiling now, pointing her fork in the air and using it to pop the invisible hobo over the head. The thought made Mary sick. She pushed her half-empty bowl away from herself.
“That’s just cruel,” Mary decided, “and stupid. Now you have a smelly, homeless body to deal with at your front door.”
“You’re right, maybe I could strangle him in an alleyway or something? Leave the body there, use gloves, the whole deal.”
“Don’t you think strangulation is a bit too personal? What if he overpowers you?”
“Okay, just because I’m not built like a juggernaut, doesn’t mean I couldn’t handle myself. I’ve handled my share of men.”

A shudder ripped through Mary’s body as she envisioned the very notion she had been suppressing for three months since its discovery. Then suddenly, an idea hit Mary that twisted her stomach with a malicious delight and interest. For a moment she was frightened at this prospect of being violently inclined, but the feeling cooed in her ear softly and soothed her.

“I know the perfect way to do it.” Mary said.

***

Silently, the two girls climbed the stairs up to the top floor of the parking lot roof. As Mary listened to Jane’s heavy breathing, her stomach tightened and heaved. She heard Jane ask if she was alright, and nodded.

After finally reaching the exposed roof, Mary stared up into the sky and past the stars and wondered what life after death was like. Mary concluded there was only nothingness and decided not to dwell on it further.

The roof was dark, with the only source of light being a lamp post in the middle, its light insufficient to fill the expanse of the lot. Mary had told Jane that they should scope out the scene for the perfect murder and Jane jumped at the chance and Mary’s enthusiasm for her new project. Mary felt apprehensive and almost giddy until Jane stepped into the light, the pink stripe in her hair looking faded and worn.

Mary could feel herself being dragged and sucked down deep into her own memories and saw from behind the door of her parent’s room that one day back in late July Jane’s strip of pink hair flashing its trademark brilliance and defiance. The thin wooden door was not enough to drown out the sounds of moans and breathing but Mary couldn’t look away and a twisted feeling in her stomach kept her rooted to the spot. She cringed as she watched the pink hair move in a time with him and nothing could mask the bouncing and the breathing and all the things that should happen between a man and his wife not a man and his daughter’s best friend. Mary knew that it was vile and wrong and sick and could feel that sickness in her stomach as she stumbled down the hallway and retched into the toilet. Poor Mother was so fragile but Mary told her anyway when she got home. Mary had expected her mother to explode with rage and show some sort of passion for something once in Mary’s life, but there wasn’t any fighting or yelling, instead her mother only sat there with that same vacant look and though her thoughts had abandoned her. Yet when she got home from school the next day Mary found her lying on the couch next to an empty bottle of pills wearing a mournful expression even in death.

Mary thought of this as she slowly walked towards her best friend.

Mary thought of this as she watched Jane’s expression shift into confusion then into fear.

Mary thought of this as she backed Jane into the ledge of the roof.

Mary thought of this as she hurtled her best friend off the top ramp of a parking garage. Her best friend’s small, doll-like limbs flailed in an erratic dance, only stopping to meet the grey concrete five stories below.

She had always thought when someone fell off a building it would be much slower, like in the movies. Mary then realized that life was not the movies, and began walking down the ramp away from her best friend’s limp and bloody body.


Profile: Anne Highley-Smith

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