Recalling Persephone

“How’s my hair look?” The T.V. newscaster “live on the scene” practically snapped to attention in front of Demetrice.

Demi only took the time to nod at Dennis. Fine, fine, he looked fine. She hoped she did too. Not that anyone cared what a newspaper reporter looked like, much less bothered to read the whole “scoop.” Dennis Charles was here at Garden Park Square for WFPD-T.V.: Demetrice, byline Demi, Matthews for the Daily Herald.

Demi had to pick her way through holes in the concrete parking lot while taking statements and making notes. The news at Garden Park Square, as always this time of year, had to do with the pickets standing not quite directly under the red, white, and blue signs: No Picketing. No Distribution of Materials Permitted.

Dennis Charles, the anchor with the two first names, finished his commentary quickly, and his camera crew already having filmed the various sound bites needed for the six o’clock news, Dennis and “crew” hustled off into their van and away back to the station. Demetrice didn’t blame them really. It was chilly out here, the lobby of the Riverview Inn being only a promise of warmth across the street. Cars whizzed by. The clinic was located in an unobtrusive corner suite of the brick professional complex. Its glass door revealed only a closed-off entry room to the public, a green plant cascading to a carpeted floor.

On one side of the dip in the parking lot stood an aged cleric with gray hair and glasses, as well as some stiff, church collar. A few men, mostly women in their “Sunday best” stood behind him. One middle-aged woman clutched a baby doll without arms and one leg missing. The doll’s eyes blinked open and shut. The woman alternately hugged the baby doll to her belly, and then lifted the doll up into the air by one plastic leg. Very colorful. As a “good newspaper reporter,” however, Demi made it a practice never to include her own thoughts in her stories.

Demetrice noted that woman and doll were faced, on the opposite side of the parking lot, by the “other side.” Both young and older women, a few professional-looking men. One woman’s long hair streamed silver down her back, and she held up her sign like a beacon. Demi’s photographer had fled too, but not before she had seen to it first that both this supposed “wild woman,” as well as the one with the dismembered doll were photographed. The first and main lesson to every young reporter—one must be objective.

What no one must photograph, of course, was the girl. The one now being escorted by a man and a woman down the picket lines. Demi guessed the woman, anyway, to be the girl’s mother because the older woman admonished the picketer who jumped out in front of them: “You have no right! You don’t know what we’ve been through. You have no right to judge us!”

Another picketer warned of eternal damnation, eternal regret and a “gnashing of teeth.”

Demi Matthews, “girl reporter,” as she often jokingly called herself, though, couldn’t keep her eyes off the girl in front of her—a teenager obviously, so young and thin, her face covered over with her coat, for heaven’s sake. Demi’s impression of the girl was “all elbows.” Bony elbows and thin wrists all loose and akimbo, and flapping out from underneath a winter coat. A duckling, Demetrice thought, though she didn’t write this language into her reporter’s notes either. The girl resembled a duckling not yet grown into a swan.

A sharp crack. Demi would have sworn later that the “crack” was the sound she’d heard first. One sharp retort, followed by another. Demetrice would have sworn she’d heard the shots before she saw the coat collapse. And of course then, there’d been all kinds of sounds. All kinds of people screaming, shouting, and running. A police siren and an ambulance cried. Demi, standing over the body, scribbled. Not a camera in sight. Damn!

Here in Garden Park Square, just the pulsing red throb of light from the police car. Loosened hair spilling out over the concrete.

What no one had dreamed of “getting on tape” before “the incident,” of course, had been the stand of trees off beyond the parking lot. The brittle limbs and the falling leaves. The hidden birds. Demetrice remembered later the greedy shrieks of feathered bodies, as if suddenly flushed from the brush. The flap of wings across blue sky, scudding clouds. A mother who called out her daughter’s name.

What everyone had also evidently missed was the doctor, or the so-called “usual target.” The doctor’s entry up the back and far side of the picketers. Everyone, including “the shooter.” A shooter who had not only missed hitting the doctor, but “evidently panicked,” police commented later. Panicked or not had faith in whatever was being called God to guide the bullet. Demi also kept this opinion to herself as she scribbled, and the police reported shortly thereafter that having missed, “the suspect” claimed to have “accidentally” then fired again, only scaring the birds this time. Meanwhile, a girl lay dead on the pavement, while a doctor came running.

“Shelley!” The girl’s mother had practically insisted. “Use my daughter’s name. Doesn’t anyone care what they’ve done to my baby?” Demetrice had nodded. It was not she, of course, who was ever finally responsible for headlines. Those labels that sold the Daily Herald. The “powers that be” discussed “concerns” and decided such things, practically behind closed doors.

Later, Demi Matthews, who had wanted to be “a writer” all of her life, was haunted by all she could not say. Images her editor would only admonish her she dared not write.

Shelley. As in the shells Demi had once held to her own ear as a child. As in sea shells washed up on the shore by water. A current a shell could not control, a current in which this child had not even been finally allowed to swim. A shell, just the skeleton of a shellfish—only the whisper of tides forever caught within bone.

Shelley. A girl becoming only bone before Demi’s eyes. Some wanted to call such a girl, mother and unborn child. The others, at least a girl who’d once been just a child herself, never now to become a woman. The reporter could not stop picturing a cascade of scenes in her own mind’s eye: the chill air, broken pavement, bones bent sharp then collapsing, all accompanied by a sudden flap of wings.

“Shelley!” Demetrice could not stop hearing the cry. Become witness, the reporter dreamed the seas could no longer whisper such a name. She envisioned gulls circling. My girl child. Surely all the seas of Mother Earth would finally scream.

Dateline/The Daily Herald