Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Beacon of Grief

“There’s always the dead kid.”

G. Lee grimaced, but only for an instant. After that he realized the producer was right. His repo-man friend wasn’t going to call back - not in time for him to shoot the tow truck in action and get it back by six. That’s what time the newscast he was assigned to started and if something interesting didn’t happen soon, it would feature 100 seconds of dead air. G, Lee couldn’t let that happen - even if it meant robbing the night crew of a perfectly good follow up. Besides, he was the one who’d rolled out of bed early that morning, who’d fought with a road map through most of Cornwell County ’til he found the low bridge with the underbrush all bent, who’d looked and looked for skid marks but found none, who’d settled for bits of windshield glistening at the bottom of a twenty foot drop.….Why shouldn’t he be he one to hang a face on it? G. Lee could think of a dozen reasons why not, but all told they didn’t add up to a hundred seconds. So he grabbed his keys and left the newsroom.

This time the bridge was easy to spot. No sooner had G. Lee crested the hill than a twinkle of light led his eye to the troubling abutment. There, a single Mylar balloon twisted in the afternoon breeze, catching sunlight and sending it skittering across the quiet valley. It hadn’t been there earlier, this beacon of grief, but he wasn’t the least bit surprised to see it now. Not with Cromwell High two short miles away. Not with one of its promising Juniors now lying on a city slab. G. Lee blew threw his teeth as he coasted past the little bridge. A tenth of a mile later he turned onto the same dirt road he parked on earlier, but this time he drove further down the path until the tree branches totally obscured his news unit’s garish logos.

Hopping out, he raised the back lid and fished around in back for what he needed. Camera, tripod, run-bag: he gathered them all together and closed the lid, leaving his feelings safely inside. A few minutes later, G. Lee settled into the shadows of the forest overlooking the bridge - far enough in to be missed at first glance, out in the open enough not to be accused of hiding. Overhead, a family of small brown birds looked down in judgment as he plucked at a few blades of grass, dickered with his cell phone and glanced at his watch. 3:05. Closing his eyes, he drifted and almost convinced himself he heard a bell ringing. G. Lee thought he knew what was about to happen. He only hoped they’d be on time.

They were. First a pick-up truck, then an old Volvo approached; their young drivers parking on the narrow shoulder of the road before abandoning them altogether. Then more cars rolled up until both sides of the asphalt were lined with vehicles sporting Cromwell High parking stickers. As the engines crackled and cooled the cars’ passengers disembarked. Cheerleaders, cross-country runners, Goth kids and teenagers of little description gathered around the little bridge. Some cursed, many cried, a few smoked. All grieved the inconceivable absence of their classmate, a young man of seventeen who’d managed to kill himself with little more than bravado and momentum. From his perch, G. Lee watched it all in tiny black and white, rolling on the makeshift memorial in the making. But the bosses would want more than distant distress. They’d want tears, up close and in focus. G. Lee knew what he had to do. He collapsed the tripod with a single latch release, slung his camera over an opposite shoulder and turned his wireless microphone on. Spotting a young girl sobbing over a opened yearbook, he began making his way down the hill, even before the competition’s news car pulled up and greatly quickened his descent.

It bothered him sometime, how it didn’t bother him anymore.


Anonymous said...

Sad really, but that's exactly how it is...you go to one of those, leave your soul at home.

Probably my least favorite are overnight house fires. These people lost everything, and here's this vulture with a camera.

Had a guy tell me that it was "nobody's business but his neighbors" and that I needed to go away-now.

I looked down the street at 6 fire engines (400k each) and a million dollar ladder, glanced at the 20 firefighters working to save her house, and explained to him that it wasn't about HER HOUSE. It was about the fire, and, more specifically, the three million dollars worth of county equipment being used to combat the fire by twenty guys risking life and limb while doing it.

"If they do it right, they deserve the credit and some recognition, and, by God, if they do it wrong, then people really, really need to know that, you agree?"

Luckily he was one of the semi-rational ones who actually listened, and didn't deck me before I could finish my explanation.

turdpolisher said...

Sounds like you've been there a time or two. We've had a rash of this stuff lately. Sucks.