Latest Flash

Dead White Girls

Our media runs on two fuel sources: death and consumption. Can't have one without the other. Like PB and J. Hippies and stink. Teenage romance and heartache.

Paul J. Garth returns to the Gutter to discuss why what's always been will always be....

Dead White Girls by Paul J. Garth




There’s a dead girl on the news as I sit at the bar, her picture floating on top of the black captioning boxes, white words scrolling, police saying they’ve made an identification.

I take a pull of beer and study her face, wondering if she was one of the kids who tried pulling a fake to get a room from me last week. She looks to be the right age, and I wonder, maybe, if I shouldn’t have just given it to them.

The TV says her name was Jennifer Whinegarten. Jenny to her friends. Seventeen. She’d been found in the woods off the highway. They don’t say much more, other than she was a good student, and that police were considering her death a homicide. They’ve got what they’re calling a “vehicle of interest,” a black Cadillac, but they won’t say what it has to do with her.

A video of her friends plays, eyes bugged out red and wet, and I think, yeah, she was with that group.

Sarah comes over. “Horrible, isn’t it?”

I think about telling her how I’m pretty sure I saw her. How she was with a group. Girls too young to really look sexy but trying anyways. Nervous boys in letter jackets. I think about telling her how kids are always trying to get rooms at the hotel, how I chase them out, but I’m worried I’ll sound like some kind of law-and-order prick, so I just say, “Yeah. It’s fucking sad.”

“Get you another?” she asks, and I nod and watch her ass shake in those tight jeans as she walks away.

Next to me, some guy I’ve never seen starts up. “They’re making an awfully big deal out of one dead girl.”

I look at him. He’s dressed better than anyone else in the bar, wearing nice jeans and a collared shirt. His drink is whiskey and ice.

“You’re not from here, are you?”

He lights up a cigarette, apparently thinking he’s good enough to ignore the state ban—yeah, the rest of us ignore it too, but we live here. It pisses me off.

“Omaha,” he says, “But I travel a lot.”

I nod, like it makes all the sense in the world. Which is not like saying everyone from Omaha is a prick, but sort of.

Sarah brings the Coors and sets it down, then runs off to help someone else. I watch condensation grow on the bottle, colors from the TV twisting in the little drops. “This kinda mess doesn’t happen here,” I say, unsure why I’m keeping conversation with this asshole. “We’re not much more than five, six thousand. We stay quiet.”

“It’s cause she’s a white girl.”

“The news?”

“Yeah.”

I can’t think what to do for a minute. I pull my beer, but it tastes like copper and is actually a bit of work to swallow down. “Well, there aren’t tons of people who aren’t white living here.”

The man looks at the clock over the bar. “Ten-oh-five. That was the first story. The lead story. A dead pretty white girl in the middle of nowhere. But I bet there were maybe two or three dead brown kids between Omaha and Kansas City today. Think they’re coming up next?”
           
I look to the TV but it’s gone to a commercial for Stan Olsen’s Hyundai, and I know when it comes back, it’ll probably be a story about the Huskers and their game on Saturday. “Probably not,” I admit. “But shit, this channel is from Omaha. Why’re you complaining?”

“Exactly.”

The man smiles. 

I don’t like it. “How so?”

“We’re all gonna die. We know that. But these,” he flings his fingers at the TV, “these dead white girls. They’re treated special. Jenny there will be on the front page of the Omaha paper tomorrow, guaranteed. Maybe a photo of some of her friends laying a wreath. They’ll make her into the Virgin Mary, say she was a sweet girl. But she wasn’t, otherwise she wouldn’t have been there, right?”

He sneers into his whiskey. “Like it matters. Life out here doesn’t matter. Never has. You can tell that by looking at the sky during the day. All that blue above. You’re tiny under it. Massacres on the land. Under that sky. They didn’t matter. Blood flows in the dirt out here. Shit. People die and it comes to the same. Grief and faith. Convincing themselves there’s good out here, still. Until a dead white girl comes along, and then it’s all in their fucking faces.”

My beer is low and I think about raising my finger to Sarah and ordering another, but she’s a nice girl I don’t want her to hear what this guy is saying. Sarah probably wouldn’t know Jenny if she’d passed her inside Wal-Mart, but she’d say she was a sweet girl who didn’t deserve this.

“That’s bullshit,” I say, trying to convince myself.

The man nods, smushes his cigarette down and stands, throwing a twenty on the bar. “Fucking shit-kicker town.”         

I pick up my beer and swallow the last of it in a single gulp, glad he’s gone.

Sarah comes over, smiles her pretty smile, and asks, “What was that guy saying?” but I shrug and throw my own cash down, tell her I’ll see her tomorrow, and head out the door. 

Late summer heat swallows me, and I feel the humidity wring through my night-shift uniform. I light a cigarette and look up. The sky is absolute black, and I wonder if it’s what Jenny saw when she was dying, or if she saw stars.

In front of me, reverse lights snap the dark and I jump out of the way.

The man from inside the bar glares at me as he pulls out of the lot and into the night, and I try not to make much of his car, a Black Audi, which, I think, could look an awful lot like a Cadillac.


Paul J. Garth has had stories published in Shotgun Honey, the Flash Fiction Offensive, Thrills Kill ’n’ Chaos, and has other stories forthcoming, including one in “Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen.” Perpetually in transit between Nebraska and Texas, he can be found on Twitter by following @pauljgarth