Photo by Emily Savill
The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to names, places or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the writer or YFH.
When I was twelve I read To Kill a Mockingbird. And it blew my mind.
I don’t know that it was necessarily the actual story, it was simply the characters.
It was Atticus Finch.
I don’t agree with anyone who sees Atticus as some kind of formative figure in burgeoning masculinity. I think he is just a good person – and gender doesn’t shape anything about a person’s soul. I think we all equate Atticus to the person we love the most in our life – because we like to believe that the world is just and fair-minded. And inherently the love we give and receive should be equally as pure. But the more steps I take in this life, the more crevasses I notice in the pavement and the more I truly see why people as special and shiny as Atticus Finch are needed.
I was in a parking lot when I found out she died.
I don’t drive. I was just smoking. Smoking and observing – watching people arrive and leave in their cars. There was a simple monotony I liked about it. I was completely detached from their reality but for a couple of minutes they were part of mine. When my phone rang it kind of resonated around the entire concrete shithole I was sitting in. People looked at me as though a person’s ringtone was their entire personality (mine was De La Soul, Ring Ring).
Bea, I’m going to just say this straight. Valerie is dead.
Her old man found her this morning.
How do you think?
The line went dead. I felt something in me start to crumble – kind of like a landslide. But I continued to smoke. Landslides are inevitable. I didn’t want to prematurely be lost in the rubble.
I only met Valerie a handful of times. But there was something about her that made you feel as though you were old friends. She had a familiar hug and would always light your cigarette.
Valerie always wore the same shirt with tassels on the sleeves – the kind that managed to create motion and cover the scars on the under sides of her arms. So nobody spoke about it.
Just like nobody spoke about why she had moved out of home last year.
Precariously dangling an unlit cigarette between my lips I scrolled through my message history with Valerie. Technology is weird like that – the way it allows the dead to live on.
March 29, 2014, 9.52pm
Valerie Wood: hey, it was cool meeting you.
March 29, 2014, 9.58pm
Beatrice Moreton: You too. Thank-you for accepting my pretty random add.
March 29, 2014, 10.05pm
Valerie Wood: It wasn’t random. I think after you get drunk with someone they are a friend. With us it just happened very early on.
After that, Valerie had shared a few photos requesting my advice on a mini skirt. Which was very flattering, because no one considers my voice an authority on fashion. Or anything really.
But Valerie was good at that. Always making a person feel relevant and loved. Probably because at some stage, she had been left fighting the feeling of being redundant herself.
My favourite memory of Valerie is a pretty simple one. It is pretty standard as far as favourite memories come. It was night. There was music. Some good friends. A modest amount of alcohol and an empty street.
We were parked under a street light. Too drunk to drive, too drunk to think about getting home. Valerie had stolen a pair of fishnet stockings from Kitty De-amour. She told us she had left a note somewhere in the store stating that she would pay for them after she made her first million. I don’t know if any of us believed her. We believed her intention.
We had a car door open and the radio was playing.
Well sometimes I go out by myself.
And I look across the water.
And I think of all the things and in my head I paint a picture.
Valerie was kind of moving her hips but mainly trying to show of her legs in her stockings. Despite her broad shoulders and rather cumbersome movements, there was something so gracefully special about what was unfolding before us.
Amy Winehouse is my spirit animal.
I laughed until I hyperventilated. And Valerie kept touching her stockings – petting them fondly as though they were a lost puppy.
The funeral was a small and rather intimate family affair. A stout woman stood out the front audibly gossiping about teen suicide rates. Valerie didn’t deserve this. Her funeral deserved to be a real fucking celebration. Like a street parade but with even more confetti. Which is why as we walked to the church we all chain-smoked and crunched the pavement beneath us with our sensible footwear which matched our sensibly black attire.
Her father stood out the front of the church. He was almost completely bald and very animated when greeting people. I knew that Valerie and her father had not spoken in sometime and it seemed a shame because even from a distance I could tell he had the same vivacious way with people – like Valarie and her stockings.
As we approached him we were handed a small piece of paper. On the front was a picture of a young school boy. His hair was slick. But his eyes, Val’s eyes, were so fucking sad.
January 19th 1994 – June 1st 2014
Did you know my son?
There was a long pause.
Your son was a great friend.
Yes, well, it’s just a shame he was never a great man.
I’m glad I knew him.
If Valerie was like a man, she was like Atticus Finch. She was just and loving and knew how fucking unfair the world was. I suppose in the end, that was what drove her out of it. The unfairness of love.
I was nothing like Atticus Finch. I was just some asshole who drunkenly hyperventilated to her dancing.
Written by Kobi Blake-Craig