5.04 / April 2010

Seven Items in Jason Reynolds’ Jacket Pocket, Two Days After His Suicide, As Found by his Eight-Year-Old Brother, Grady

1. Plastic compass, about the size of a quarter. On the morning Grady extracted it from the cereal box, he overheard his dad say it wasn’t worth its price in shit. But Grady had loved it. And since it had been Jason’s birthday that day — this being a year ago — he gave it to his big brother, because Jason was an explorer and needed a compass so he wouldn’t lose his way. And Jason, just coming in from helping their mom bring in the groceries, smiled at him and patted his head and told Grady it was the best gift he’d ever received. It was, too, the very best, and Grady had beamed all day. But it hadn’t helped his brother at all — Jason had still managed to lose his way, Jason the Explorer who had taken their father’s Colt .45 and blown his brains out.

2. A pack of Wrigley’s Winterfresh gum. Only two sticks remain, smashed down from constant friction in his pocket. The scent reminds Grady of stealing a pack of Doublemint at the corner store when he was seven. How the owner ratted him out to his dad, and how his dad had raged, threatening to beat the shit out of him, until Jason stepped in and claimed the owner had gotten their names mixed up, that he’d stolen the gum, not Grady. It reminds him how their dad took Jason out back to the garage and how, when Jason returned with his face red and wet, he refused to tell Grady why, just as he refused to sit down that entire night.

3. Three school pictures, kept together by a large paperclip. One shows Jennifer Geberth, who’d been in Jason’s senior class. If it wasn’t for the fact she’d been murdered a few weeks ago, Grady wouldn’t be able to remember her name. From the kids at school he knows her stomach had been sliced open, her boobies cut off. She was a pretty girl with long blond hair and white straight teeth. On the back of the picture is a single word: FIRST. It means nothing to Grady, just as the words SECOND and THIRD on the back of the two other pictures mean nothing. The one shows Grace McPhee, found murdered last week, torn open, her blood soaking everything within a five-foot radius. The other shows Kelly Lurie, murdered two weeks ago, an overweight girl whose fat supposedly poured out all over the place when she was sliced open.

4. A square foil-wrapped package, maybe two inches long, two inches wide. It makes Grady think of the few times his parents took him and Jason to the Thirsty Dog, how if you ordered ribs they brought you a few of these square packages. Jason told him once they were called moist towelettes, that they were meant to clean your hands, but this package looks different. It’s dark green, the same kind of green as the tiles in the bathroom at school. The more he feels it, the more he thinks it’s some kind of candy. Curious, excited, Grady opens the package to find it’s not a candy at all but some kind of balloon that makes his fingers feel gooey.

5. A Tweety Pez dispenser, with only one grape Pez left inside. The last time he saw Jason with it was almost a week ago when he walked by his brother’s room and heard voices from within. Grady paused and listened for awhile, unable to tell who Jason was talking to, only that his brother was anxious about something, saying that he didn’t want to do it, that he’d done enough. Grady knocked and opened the door and peeked inside — but then paused because it was just Jason. Pacing around the room, shaking his head, Jason stopped and looked at Grady. Is everything all right? Grady asked, and Jason nodded, said it was. Then who were you talking to? Grady asked, and Jason, looking around the room, grabbed the Pez dispenser off his desk, said he’d just been having a conversation with good ol’ Tweety, talking now in that hilarious voice. Would you wike a wittle tweat? Jason said in his Tweety Bird voice, and Grady, laughing, held out his hand.

6. Two movie stubs for the latest Bruce Willis film. Jason took Grady to see it three weeks ago, on the night Jennifer Geberth was murdered, the night the town’s serial killer first struck. The film was rated R but he sneaked Grady in, because Grady loves action films. Jason bought him a large tub of popcorn with extra butter, a large Sprite, and Junior Mints. Grady had been so excited he barely noticed it when his brother started talking to himself in the car, his fingers clenched around the wheel. He barely noticed that after the previews and the first ten minutes of the movie Jason left and didn’t return until near the end, right when all the bad guys got killed. What Grady did notice was his brother didn’t smell the same, that he smelled fruity almost, like their mother’s perfume. And the edginess to him was gone. He seemed so calm now, so relaxed, and when they left the theater and one of Jason’s friends told them what happened to Jen Geberth, Jason squeezed Grady’s shoulder tightly and said, Are you serious?

7. Another picture, only this one isn’t from school. This is a six-by-four photograph taken when Grady was very young. When he was either one or two, just learning the ways of the world, just learning to talk and walk and look up to his older, bigger, stronger brother. This picture taken from the family album, and when it had disappeared weeks ago their mother asked Grady and Jason if they knew where it had gone, because it was not only her favorite picture of Grady, it was everyone’s favorite. On the back, scrawled like the rest of the pictures: FOURTH.

Robert Swartwood claims a seatbelt once saved his life. According to Swartwood, he was at a bar one night and a man came in with a gun and threatened to kill anyone who was a writer. Then, quite suddenly, a seatbelt came in and kicked the crap out of the man with the gun. After the applause died down, the seatbelt said, "Only you can prevent forest fires," and walked out. It was, Swartwood says, a typical Thursday night.