My fingers are covered with ink. And I had to dig up the yearbook that contains the page with his photograph and name “in memoriam” because he died before the school year ended, before the town’s first integrated prom – which took place very late in the town’s history, so late even for Arkansas. How can I forget a name lost in such a way, with details left hanging like bodies from trees, swaying in a thick, summer breeze like it was the 1950s? “Died of exposure,” squeaked the coroner from a tiny mouth with thin, scaly lips, a man waving clammy hands dismissively. Others said they found him in the field – don’t think it was a cotton field, but it could’ve been. We had lots of cotton growing around us.
They told us he was lying face-down in the rich soil. They told of tire tracks all around him, gouged by big tires – the kind of tires you put on trucks, the kind of tires with thick, knobby treads that don’t get stuck in the mud. They told us there were boot prints inside the ring of tire tracks in the rich earth – the cold earth where they found him face-down. They told us there was one boot mark on his back, one muddy boot print. Yes, he died of exposure to something he never should have met.
I had to find the yearbook with the memorial page to remember his fucking name, but I had kept his face in my memory. I hadn’t forgotten that.