A boy died over winter break. They found him among the cottonwood trees pushed off the trail that ran alongside the river, and now we don’t have recess anymore.
I knew the trail—ran it, biked it, haunted it on Halloween. We all had, even that break, my friends and I had taken a group of girls down there. Our jackets were dark blue. Theirs were sky blue and had clouds of fake white fur lining the edges. I tried to kiss June Davis because it was my definition of romantic—the snow, the river, the silence, the body. Well, we didn’t know about the body, but she refused me anyway. When she did know, when we both knew, I wanted only to find her and tell her I was sorry.
I had nothing to apologize for as far as the boy was concerned. Finding him would have only made a kiss less likely. Still, he was there, just off the path, covered by a half-inch of clean snow, no jacket.
The boy’s name was Alex. Every year in school he sat behind me, but not right behind me, somewhere in the shadows of the classroom, his small voice answering Here until he wasn’t. Even when names were alphabetical he sat back there. Zimmer, as if someone had always known.
We thought it was stupid to cancel recess just because of a murderer. It seemed unfair to teach us about mortality then not let us live. We would not have said that then. We would have said, Alex would have wanted us to go outside.
We would have been lying. Alex always sat alone at recess, up the hill near the school’s door, as if he couldn’t wait to get back inside. Maybe he had always known, too.
I only wanted to be outside so I could ask June Davis if she wanted to take shelter from the murderer inside one of the playground’s red tunnels. There I would try to kiss her again, even if it meant talking to her about death and how little time we all had, and how we were so lucky to be out here at recess on a break from all the psychiatrists who kept talking to us through puppets.
We’re still here, I’d say. You and I.
At night I’d think about these things until I was fighting off the murderer and saving June and it was summer and Alex was still dead and his body now buried by sun. I could sacrifice Alex to these fantasies and tell myself he would not have died in vain.
But there was no recess. We played board games or watched movies all through the spring and then when summer came we were released. We ran so fast we lost the girls by the time we came to the path. We did not wear jackets. We threw off our shoes. We reached the place where he died and we did not stop.