Bedtime Stories . One Man's World . The Mispronouncer . Downloads . Support
HUGEPOP!!!Bedtime StoriesOne Man's WorldThe Mispronouncer

Roadside Memorials

          Even though it took Jade less than 30 minutes to get from her house in Multioak to her friend Miriam’s house in the country, she always made sure that Miriam would be able to host her for at least three hours before she went to visit her. Jade didn’t think anything less than a three-hour visit was worth spending almost an hour in the car. As an avid reader of all Multioak Interpreter Tribune articles about local car accidents and their resulting casualties, Jade knew that she was taking her life in her hands every time she got inside of a vehicle, whether as driver or passenger. It wasn’t like Jade lived in fear of driving, but still, why take that risk for a sub-three-hour visit with, let’s be honest, her fourth-best friend.

Today, Miriam had betrayed Jade. Miriam had assured Jade that she was free from noon until 5pm, but at 2:15, she had said she wasn’t feeling well and had asked Jade to leave. So after being promised a full five hours of visitation – an amount that Jade believed justified the time in the car – she had ended up getting only two hours and fifteen minutes of visitation, and not even that, actually, because she had arrived at Miriam’s house at 12:08, so there had only been two hours and seven minutes of visitation.

Driving home through the hot, green countryside, Jade thought about what an exceptional waste it would be if she were to crash and die now in light of how unsatisfactory this excursion had ended up being. She wondered if the newspaper article about her death would mention the duration of her visit with Miriam. She hoped that it would so that the article could serve as a cautionary tale.

As Jade drove a long, straight stretch of cracked county road between two corn fields, she saw a shabby roadside memorial ahead on the shoulder, and without knowing exactly why, she braked her car and pulled over twenty yards before it. Her mental catalogue of all fatal car accidents in the area meant that she could usually guess who a roadside memorial was for based on where she was when she saw it. The fact that she couldn’t connect this memorial with any accident that she had read about in the last few months was odd. Even stranger was the fact that Jade hadn’t noticed the memorial at all on her way to Miriam’s house. She always noticed roadside memorials. Maybe a closer inspection would clear up some of the mystery. Maybe the memorial was for an accident other than a car wreck. Maybe that’s why she hadn’t noticed the memorial before: because she subconsciously knew there hadn’t been a recent car wreck at this location.

Jade parked far onto the shoulder, the wheels on the driver’s side of her car well onto the grassy downward slope toward the ditch that separated the road from the field of knee-high corn. The memorial was over 100 yards from the four-way stop where two county roads intersected. Jade thought it would be strange for someone to crash and die here instead of at the intersection. The lighter traffic out in the country often led to more drivers running stop signs while under the assumption that no one would be approaching from the right or left. Jade considered the atypical location of the memorial to be further evidence that the memorial was not connected to a car accident. Not to mention the fact that there were no skid marks on the pavement or in the dirt, no pieces of broken glass or plastic or metal. There was no blood, no damage to the corn. There were none of the usual signs that a car accident had recently occurred there. Except for the memorial, of course.

The sun beat at Jade’s back as she walked along the side of the road and knelt to inspect the memorial. It was small and dusty. It consisted of a circular wreath of fake blue and white flowers propped up by a wire stand pushed into the ground. Inside the wreath was a faded photograph of a man who, despite his gray hair, looked healthy, vital. Beneath the photograph was a strip of paper on which someone had written “loving husband, father, brother, son, cousin, uncle, brother-in-law, friend, employee, citizen, etc.” The “etc.” was smashed in between “citizen” and the edge of the paper, leading Jade to believe that whoever had written it would have kept listing the deceased man’s lovingly-performed roles for as long as there was space to do so. There was no name on the paper, no date of the man’s death, and no information about the nature of the accident, if it even was an accident that had killed him.

Jade stood and pondered the memorial. It irritated her. Roadside memorials were for people who had died in car accidents. There was no law about that, of course, but it seemed like common sense. Roadside memorials served as reminders to drive safely. If people started erecting roadside memorials for reasons other than fatal car accidents, then that would dilute the power of all roadside memorials, of the roadside memorial as a concept. Soon, drivers would see roadside memorials and just think, “Well, that could be for anything, no need to take an honest, self-critical look at my own driving.” Jade couldn’t quite bring herself to throw the memorial into the corn field, but she wanted to. What if it was connected to a car accident that she had missed, somehow, or forgotten? That didn’t seem likely, but it was possible. She would go home and comb through her archives of newspaper clippings about fatal car accidents. She had been meaning to do that again soon anyway, and this mysterious memorial coupled with the extra free time rudely granted to her by Miriam provided the perfect opportunity.

Just as Jade was about to leave the roadside memorial, a passing car slowed to a stop behind her. She turned as the driver, an old man in a backward baseball cap, rolled down his window and said, “Sorry for your loss.”

                “I didn’t know this person,” said Jade.

                “Oh,” said the man. “Well, you’ve probably lost someone to a car accident.”

                “Not yet,” said Jade. “Do you live around here?”

                “Yes,” said the man. “Just across the section. The other side of this field.”

                “Was there an accident here recently?” asked Jade.

                “Must have been,” said the man. “There’s the memorial.”

                “But there was nothing in the newspaper about an accident here,” said Jade. “Nothing.”

                The man shrugged.

                “Have you seen this memorial before right now?” asked Jade.

                “No,” said the man. “But I only noticed ‘cause you were standing there looking at it.”

                “It wasn’t here this morning,” said Jade. “I’m sure of it.” This wasn’t entirely truthful, but she was almost sure.

                “Huh,” said the man.

                “Do you know this man?” asked Jade. She pointed at the picture of the man attached to the memorial.

                “Nope,” said the man. “Is that who died?” Jade didn’t believe that he could actually see the picture from his car.

                “Supposedly,” said Jade.

                “You’re not thinking of doing something to that memorial, are you?” asked the man. He must have sensed something in Jade’s voice, posture, or both.

“No,” said Jade. “I’m not.” She returned to her car, maneuvered it around the old man’s car, and continued toward her home. The old man remained parked in the road by the memorial until Jade turned left at the intersection – without dying in a crash – and then he was no longer visible in her rear-view mirror.

That night, Jade dived deep into her archives, combing through clippings of fatal car accidents stretching back 12 years. She found nothing about a fatal car accident, or any kind of accident, on the stretch of road where she’d seen the memorial. And although many of the articles featured nice photographs of the deceased – taken while they were still alive, of course – Jade saw zero pictures of the man whose picture was on the memorial. So that meant that the memorial was either intended to commemorate a death caused by something other than a car accident, was intended to commemorate a car accident from more than 12 years ago, or was entirely fraudulent. Jade did not find any of those explanations satisfying. She was glad that her clippings had confirmed that her memory was not failing her, but that meant that the mystery remained intact. Who had erected that roadside memorial, why they had done it, and when they had done it – had Jade really just failed to notice it when she drove past it the first time? – were all questions without, as yet, answers.

Jade went to bed and dreamt about car accidents, which was not unusual for her. She didn’t consider car accident dreams to be nightmares unless she was the victim in them, which she rarely was.


The next morning, Jade got up early, killed time in the house for a while, and then headed for Forton’s Foods on foot. This was a walk she had been making three or four times a week for just over 12 years. She knew the route very well. She knew every inch of it. She knew there had not been a roadside memorial at the corner of Burnt Street and Crowne Street two mornings ago. Yet today there was. And she also knew that there had not been any recent accidents at the corner of Burnt Street and Crowne Street. She was aware of all serious car accidents in the area, but she was hyper-aware of any serious car accidents that occurred in her own neighborhood. She lived only three blocks from this corner. She would have heard a serious accident at this corner with her own ears.

                This memorial wasn’t a wreath, it was a small, white cross with several paltry bouquets piled around its base. A hubcap was attached to the back of the cross with twist-ties. A piece of string tied to two sides of the hubcap looped around a street light pole and kept the cross upright. On the cross, the words “In memory of Alonzo Deeq” were painted in drippy, black script. The hubcap made it pretty clear that this memorial was intended to commemorate a fatal car accident, but Jade had never seen anything in the newspaper about someone named Alonzo Deeq dying in a car accident, not at this corner nor anywhere else. So what was this, a complete hoax? Even if the accident had happened while Jade was away from her house, it couldn’t be that there had been a fatal car accident that The Multioak Interpreter Tribune had failed to report. They were very, very good at covering local, fatal car accidents. They took pride in it and it showed. No fatal car accident would have escaped their notice, which meant that no fatal car accident would have escaped Jade’s notice. And this memorial had definitely not been here two days ago. And just like the suspicious memorial Jade had seen out on the county road, there were no signs of carnage near this memorial either: no skid marks, no blood stains, no new dents in the pole, no broken glass, nothing.

                Again, Jade was tempted to get rid of the memorial, to break the string affixing it to the pole and throw the whole thing into the nearest dumpster. She didn’t, though. As sure as she was that something was wrong with these roadside memorials, she didn’t want to do anything about them until she understood them better. At the moment, she didn’t understand them at all. Too flustered to continue to Forton’s Foods, Jade turned around and walked home. The excursion had been more ceremonial than essential anyway. She had plenty of food at home. She would just eat some of that food.


                After just eating some of that food, Jade went to work searching for information about Alonzo Deeq. She went back through the entirety of her newspaper clippings concerning local, fatal car accidents. She knew – or almost knew – that she would find no mention of an Alonzo Deeq in those clippings and she did not. She also looked for his name in the phone book. It was not there. Then, despite her lack of confidence when it came to using the internet, Jade turned on her computer and attempted to search for Alonzo Deeq on social media. She found a few Deeqs scattered around the country, but no Alonzo Deeqs. She could have sent messages to those Deeqs asking if they knew anyone named Alonzo Deeq, but the thought made her feel too nervous to actually do it. If the Deeqs she had found online had been local, she would have considered it, but reaching well beyond the boundaries of even the loosest definition of “local” for information was not her style, and if something was distinctly not Jade’s style, then she didn’t do it. Jade’s final idea was to call the Multioak Interpreter Tribune. This idea was more her style, so she did it. An accommodating man whose name Jade immediately forgot performed multiple searches of the Interpreter Tribune digital archives, but turned up nothing about an Alonzo Deeq in connection to any stories about fatal car accidents or any other stories, not even in the obituaries. Alonzo Deeq’s name had never appeared in the Multioak Interpreter Tribune in any form or capacity since the newspaper’s founding. The accommodating man even tried several potential alternate spellings of “Deeq,” but to no avail. Jade thanked the man politely, gracefully avoiding any phrasings that might make it apparent that she had forgotten his name, and hung up. She didn’t know what to do next. She had no idea how important the name “Alonzo Deeq” was to the mystery of the roadside memorials, but it was the only real clue she had.

                Frustrated at the feeling of being out of ideas, Jade filled her watering can at the kitchen sink and went outside to water the flowers she had planted around the base of her mailbox. The day had gotten hotter since Jade’s aborted trip to Forton’s Foods. The sun pulled moisture up from the ground and out from the leafy branches of the trees and left it to hang in the air. Jade used the word “muggy” to describe days that felt like this one. She never used the word “humid.” As she crouched and poured water from her can onto the dark dirt patch around the base of her mailbox, Jade heard the sound of two bicycles on the sidewalk behind her. She did not turn to watch the bicycles approach, but she looked up as they passed. Two teenage girls rode the two bicycles: one girl on each bicycle. They were not riding particularly fast, but they seemed to have a destination in mind. They both wore denim shorts. One wore a faded replica basketball jersey, the other wore a red t-shirt covered in darker red splotches that Jade interpreted to mean that the girl had ridden, accidentally or purposefully, within range of a sprinkler’s sprinklings. The girl with the basketball jersey held onto the handlebars of her bike with both hands. The girl in the red, be-sprinkled shirt held onto her left handlebar with her left hand, but in her right hand she carried what was unmistakably a roadside memorial: a wonky wreath made of fake purple flowers with white ribbon woven through it. There was more to it, but Jade couldn’t make it out. The girl was riding away from her and holding the memorial at an angle that made it difficult for Jade to see.

                “Wait!” called Jade. She stood upright and knocked the watering can over where it glugged the remainder of its contents into the grass.

                The girl in the basketball jersey looked over her shoulder at Jade but did not stop, did not slow her pedaling pace. Jade saw her lips move, but could not hear what she said to the other girl.

                “Come back!” called Jade. “Who is that memorial for?”

                Neither of the girls looked back at her this time. Instead, they sped up.

                Jade considered running after them, but that would be pointless, she wouldn’t be able to catch them on foot. She briefly considered getting into her car and driving after them, but what if she got into a fatal accident while trying and failing to investigate roadside memorials for non-existent fatal accidents? Would the Multioak Interpreter Tribune print that detail? Well, how could they? They wouldn’t know that’s what she had been doing, would they? Unless the accommodating man she’d spoken to on the phone put it all together. She had been vague about why she wanted information about Alonzo Deeq, but…

                The girls rounded the corner at the end of the block, and they, along with their bikes and the roadside memorial, disappeared from view. Jade picked up her empty watering can and went back into her house.

                Later, she decided to attempt another walk to Forton’s Foods. The closer she got to the corner where she’d seen the false roadside memorial that morning, the harder her heart pounded, but as soon as the light pole at the corner of Burnt Street and Crowne Street came into view, Jade saw that the memorial was gone. She didn’t know what that meant, but it helped her calm down. She walked the rest of the way to Forton’s Foods with a thin veneer of relief over the general sense of disquiet that had been her default state since becoming aware of the false roadside memorials.

                Forton’s Foods was empty except for Mr. Forton. He was sweeping a pile of dust out the front door with his push broom when Jade arrived. He’d gotten a haircut since the last time Jade saw him. An inch-wide strip of forehead separated his curly white hair from the top of his eyeglasses. His sky blue apron was as clean as ever. “Evening, Jade,” he said. “Not used to seeing you here at this hour.”

                “I tried to come this morning,” said Jade. “But something came up.”

                “Anything I can help you find?” asked Mr. Forton.

                “No,” said Jade. “I know where everything is.” Allowing Mr. Forton to help her find something always turned into him leading her around the store for an hour trying to sell her things she didn’t want, especially when there were no other customers and he was bored.

                Mr. Forton accepted Jade’s rejection stoically and went back to sweeping. Jade tried to remember if she had ever seen him without his push broom in his hands. Well, yes, she had. Many times. But still, he often had that push broom with him. Jade walked toward the back corner of the store where the juices were kept in a refrigerated case. Jade wanted some juice, perhaps even more than one kind. As she rounded the end of the cereal aisle, Jade came upon an endcap display that almost caused her to scream, because there, stuffed in among the bags of chips piled atop one another, was the fake-purple-flower-and-white-ribbon-wreath roadside memorial that she had seen the girl on the bike carrying past her house that very afternoon. At the top of the wreath was an element that Jade had not been able to see the first time she had crossed paths with this memorial: a tiny banner with the words “I miss you, Alonzo…” written on it in shaky calligraphy. The ends of the tiny banner were rolled to make it look like a scroll, maybe? Whatever the intended effect, Jade was horrified. Not specifically at the rolled ends of the tiny banner, but at the whole thing, at the fact that this roadside memorial was here inside of a grocery store, inside of her neighborhood grocery store where no fatal car accident had occurred and where no fatal car accident could occur. It wasn’t even roadside!

                Jade stalked back to the front of the store. “What is that?” she asked, pointing in the direction of the chip display where she had seen the memorial, although it couldn’t be seen from where she and Mr. Forton now stood.

                “What’s what?” asked Mr. Forton, leaning on the handle of his push broom. When Jade had approached him this second time, he had appeared to be sweeping nothing.

                “On the chip display,” said Jade. “In the back.”

                “Oh, yes,” said Mr. Forton. “Those are chips.”

                “I’m talking about the thing with the chips!” said Jade. “That wreath! That memorial for an accident that never happened!”

                “What are you talking about?” asked Mr. Forton. “Some teenage girls tried to come in with one of those earlier today, but I was suspicious so I made them leave it outside.” He paused. “Although one of them did tell me that the toilet in the women’s restroom wouldn’t flush, so I hung an ‘out of order’ sign on the door and went in there to fix it. I flushed it ten or twelve times and it worked fine, but when I came out to tell the girl there was no problem with the toilet, both she and her friend were gone.”

                “They snuck back in here with the memorial while you were in the bathroom!” said Jade. “It was a trick!”

                “That’s disappointing,” said Mr. Forton. “Those girls are banned for life now.”

                “You have to take it down,” said Jade. “You have to get that memorial out of here. No one died of a car accident back by the chip display. It doesn’t belong there!”

                “All right, all right,” said Mr. Forton. “I’m taking it down. Of course I’m going to take it down.” He pushed his broom toward the back of the store while Jade followed close behind. “Why would they want to put a memorial up in here anyway?” asked Mr. Forton.

                “I don’t know!” said Jade, almost shouting. “How would I know? Why would you expect me to have an answer for that?”

                Mr. Forton glanced at her over his shoulder. “I was just thinking out loud, Jade. Please stay calm.” He walked around the corner at the end of the cereal aisle and stood directly in front of the chip display, gazing at what had become of it. “No wonder I didn’t sell any chips after those girls were here. This is far too morbid. No one wants to buy chips when they’re thinking about someone dying in a car accident.”

                “No one died in a car accident here,” said Jade. “This is a fraud.”

                “Yes,” said Mr. Forton. “Bad marketing. Very bad marketing.”

                Jade went home without any juice whatsoever. Fortunately, there were still a few varieties of juice in her fridge.


                The next morning, Jade pulled her car out of her garage and parked it by the curb in front of her house. She sat in the front seat with the window down and read a book. She also had a backup book in case she finished the first book or got tired of it. The key was in the ignition but the car was not turned on. Jade had also packed herself two meals and there was a cooler on the front passenger’s seat with several kinds of beverages inside of it, although Jade didn’t want to drink very much since using the bathroom was an issue she hadn’t been able to solve in any way that she found satisfactory. But she would wait here as long as she could. All day, if necessary. At least until the sun went down.

                 But she was lucky. She didn’t have to wait all day. Jade had been sitting in her car in front of her house for less than three hours when one of the girls from the previous day went by on her bike. It was the girl who had been wearing the replica basketball jersey, the one who had not been carrying the memorial. Today she wore denim shorts again, but instead of a basketball jersey, she wore a pink t-shirt with black diagonal stripes.

                Jade let the girl get well past her, turned the key in her car’s ignition, and pulled away from the curb. She followed with enough distance to avoid arousing the girl’s suspicion, but close enough to avoid losing her. This tactic, it seemed to Jade, was the very crux of following someone well. Jade knew that driving very slowly was not necessarily a good way to avoid dying in a fatal car accident. In fact, driving too slowly could turn one into a road hazard that actually increased the likelihood of an accident. But she had to find out what was going on with these roadside memorials. She had to know. And she had to stop it. She did not want to die in a car accident, but she also did not want to sit back and watch as the primary interest of her adult life was undermined until it all collapsed and she was left with nothing to do except, what, visit her fourth-best friend Miriam out in the country every few weeks? Jade’s first, second, and third-best friends didn’t willingly spend time with her anymore. But anyway, this girl was on a bicycle, so Jade didn’t think it seemed likely that she lived too far away.

                This deduction was confirmed when after traveling not more than two miles from Jade’s house, staying on residential streets the entire time, the girl swerved her bike into a driveway in front of a shabby two-story house, cut across the yard, hopped off the bike and dumped it in the grass by the front porch, and trotted up the steps and into the house. Jade pulled her car up to the curb in front of the house and stopped. She waited a moment, then turned off the car, got out, crossed the lawn to the front steps, mounted them, and knocked on the door. After a very short wait, she knocked again, knowing that this second knock was too soon, but she was unable to stop herself. The door opened and there stood the other girl from the previous day. Not the one Jade had just been following, but the girl who had been carrying the memorial that had ended up on the chip display in Forton’s Foods. The first thing Jade noticed about the girl was that she wore the same shirt she’d been wearing the day before, but the darker splotches were still there, which meant that they were either not wet spots from a sprinkler or else that they were wet spots from sprinklers and the girl had just happened to get sprayed by a sprinkler right before Jade saw her two days in a row. The look on the girl’s face said “what?” with the least inquisitive question mark possible.

                “I saw you yesterday,” said Jade. “You and your friend. On your bikes.”

                “Yeah,” said the girl. “We were riding our bikes.”

                “Do you live here?” asked Jade.

                “Yeah,” said the girl. “It’s my grandma’s house.”

                “And you live with her?”


                Jade didn’t think a natural segue into discussion of the roadside memorials was likely to arise, so she segued unnaturally. “Why did you put that memorial in Forton’s Foods?” asked Jade.

                The girl inhaled and Jade thought an exasperated sigh was forthcoming, but none came. “That’s where my grandma wanted it,” said the girl.

                “Your grandma wanted it there?” asked Jade. “Why?”

                “I don’t know,” said the girl. “She calculated it. I don’t know the formula. I mean, I’m good at math. I’m in advanced math at school. But I don’t really think I’m a math person, you know?”

The other girl, the one Jade had followed to this house, appeared behind the girl at the door. “What’s going on, Shylah?” she asked.

                “This lady’s upset about the memorial at the grocery store,” said Shylah, the girl at the door.

                “Do you work for the grocery store?” asked the other girl.

                “No,” said Jade. “But I take roadside memorials very seriously.”

                “You can take down the one at the store,” said Shylah. “Grandma’s already calculating a new one. She’s really been pumping them out recently.”

                Jade looked past Shylah and her friend. The front door opened directly into the modest living room, but Jade saw no one else there. “Is your grandmother home?” she asked.

                “She’s in her workshop,” said Shylah.

                “Is that here?”

                “It’s out back,” said Shylah. “But she really hates to be disturbed while she’s working.”

                “I don’t want to disturb her,” said Jade. “I just want to find out what’s going on.”

                “You’re not gonna be able to do that without disturbing her,” said Shylah. “But I guess she’ll be taking a break soon. Go around the side of the house” – she pointed to her left – “and I’ll let you in the gate.”

                Jade nodded. Shylah’s friend gave a little wave as Shylah closed the front door that did not, somehow, seem sarcastic to Jade. She went down the front steps and around the side of the house where she found a chest-high fence enclosing the back yard. Jade could have easily reached over the top of the fence and opened the gate but that would be impolite. At the back edge of the property, she saw a shed with windows which she took to be Shylah’s grandma’s workshop. She could discern movement inside of the shed. There was a ramp leading from the workshop’s front door to a strip of cement that led back toward the house. Halfway along this strip of cement, another strip branched off of it and led to a cracked cement slab in the middle of the yard. Atop the slab was a table with two chairs. Jade heard a screen door spring screech, then the bang of the door slamming closed again. Shylah and her friend appeared and opened the gate for Jade, ushering her through it.

                “We can wait at the table,” said Shylah. “Grandma will probably be out soon.” She and her friend crossed the yard and Jade followed. The girls sat down in the chairs at the table, one in each chair, leaving no place for Jade to sit. She couldn’t tell if this was a deliberately hostile move or just a lack of consideration for a guest. She stood at the table and rested her hands palm down on its sun-warmed, brown plastic surface.

                “You put one on the corner of Burnt and Crowne,” said Jade. “Didn’t you?”

                “Yeah,” said Shylah, watching a small hole in the yard twenty feet away from the table as if something more interesting than Jade’s question might pop out of it. “We put that one up a few days ago.”

                “It’s gone now,” said Jade. “Did you take it down?”

                “No,” said Shylah. “My mom probably did. She takes them down whenever she sees them. I keep telling Grandma to factor my mom’s routes into her formula, but she never takes any of my advice.”

                “I saw one out in the country too,” said Jade. “Two days ago. Was that you too?”

                “Probably,” said Shylah. “We go out into the country to set them up sometimes. I’m old enough to drive, so Grandma lets me borrow her car when I need to set up a memorial too far away to bike to it. Wherever Grandma says to go, we go. Well, I do. Alyssa goes when she can. Sometimes her mom randomly won’t let her hang out.”

                Alyssa nodded. “Yeah, I don’t know why she’s like that sometimes. It makes no sense. But she gets over it.”

                “Better than my mom,” said Shylah. “That’s why I had to move in with Grandma. All I have to do is set up these memorials and she lets me stay here for free, pays for all my food, pretty much lets me do what I want. My mom’s honestly psychotic.”

                Alyssa nodded. “I bet your grandma would let you stay here even if you didn’t set up the memorials.”

                Shylah shrugged. “Maybe. But that wouldn’t be nice.”

                The workshop door opened and a woman in a wheelchair came out, gliding down the ramp and then coasting along the cement strip and following the branch to the table where Jade, Shylah, and Alyssa waited for her. She wheeled up to the table with a pleasant smile on her face. She wore a sun hat with a broad brim and jeans with holes torn in the knees. Her sleeveless beige blouse revealed sunburned shoulders. She looked to be only a few years older than Jade. “And who are you?” she asked without looking directly at Jade, but who else could she be asking?

                “Jade Frane. And you are…?”

                “Eve Hanlon,” said Shylah’s grandma. “Are you from the schools or the government?”

                “Oh, neither,” said Jade. “I’m here about the memorials that your granddaughter and her friend have been putting up all over.”

                Eve’s smile remained on her face but turned sad. “Yes, they’re sweet to help me out, aren’t they? You girls are sweet.”

                The girls received this praise graciously.

                “But they aren’t real,” said Jade. “The roadside memorials are real, but the accidents aren’t real. You can’t put up memorials for fatal car accidents that never happened.”

                Eve looked like she had a lot to say on the subject but didn’t want to get into it with Jade. “The accidents are more real than you think,” she said.

                “How?” asked Jade. “Explain it to me. Because the reason I’m here is that I take local fatal car accidents very seriously. I clip every article about them. I keep track of them.” She saw Shylah and Alyssa wrinkle their noses in distaste.

                “You would have had to have known my son for it to make sense to you,” said Eve.

                “Alonzo?” asked Jade.

                 “You knew him?” asked Eve. “No, you probably just saw his name on one of the memorials.”

                Jade nodded. “But he has a different last name than you.”

                “Yes,” said Eve. “He died years ago. Then I divorced his father and took back my maiden name.”

                “I’m sorry for your loss,” said Jade. “I’m sure it was hard. But you can’t, well, you shouldn’t keep putting memorials up for him all over the place. Don’t you want to move on?”

                “I am moving on,” said Eve. “Have you ever lost someone close to you?”

                “I’ve read about it happening a lot,” said Jade.

                Eve accepted this. “Do you ever think about how if one little thing had gone different, those people would still be alive?”

                “Yes,” said Jade. “That’s why I’m such a cautious driver.”

                “But you’re wrong,” said Eve. “You’re not wrong to be a cautious driver. Being a cautious driver is good. But you’re wrong to think those people would still be alive. Some of them might be, sure. But not Alonzo, for example. I loved him, but my son was a terrible, reckless driver. He was a hazard to himself and everyone else on the streets. I always told him he was going to die of a car accident someday.”

                “And then he did?” asked Jade.

                “No,” said Eve. “He mixed medications and passed out in the bathtub in his apartment.”

                “So those roadside memorials are for someone who didn’t die in a car accident at all?” asked Jade. She couldn’t help sounding a little outraged.

                “No, no,” said Eve. “The memorials are for all the deaths he would have died if all the previous deaths hadn’t happened. That’s my point. He was a terrible driver. For years, I agonized over the way he died, how if he had just taken a shower instead of a bath, he might still be here with me. But then one day I realized, no, he wouldn’t still be here with me. If he hadn’t died in the bath tub, he almost certainly would have died in a car accident, possibly even that very next day. And if he managed to survive the next day, well, what about the next day? Because my son wasn’t going to learn his lesson. He was in several fender-benders before he died and none of them taught him a lesson. He was still just as terrible a driver as ever. But it was this idea that led to my formula. Of course, the early formula was very simplistic. It’s much more complicated now. It considers many, many more factors. For example, yesterday’s calculation indicated to me that if my son were still alive as of yesterday, then Forton’s Foods would have been demolished years before, a road would have been constructed on that spot, and my son would have died there in a car accident yesterday afternoon.”

                Jade shook her head. “So these are memorials for theoretical deaths?”

                Eve’s face was solemn. “I can’t pretend that having calculated my son to his death so many times since his death hasn’t blunted the impact somewhat. But still, it’s a reminder that almost any day since losing my son could have been the day I lost my son, and, when you really look at the math, is a day that I lost my son. That weighs down on you, trust me. So I do the calculations, yes, but I make the memorials to balance them out. They’re the vessels for my grief. It isn’t easy for me to get around, but my granddaughter and her friend help with that part. They make sure the memorials get to all of the locations where my son has mathematically died in car accidents since his death.”

                “But I saw one of your memorials out in the country with a picture of an older man on it,” said Jade. “Who was that?”

                “Alyssa helped with that one,” said Eve. “She used an old picture of my son and put it on the computer and then put some kind of aging…what was it?”

                “Filter,” said Alyssa.

                “Yes, a filter,” said Eve. “She put an aging filter on the picture and then let me press ‘print.’”

                Jade didn’t really know what was meant by “aging filter,” but she knew computers could do stuff like what Eve described. “But couldn’t your son have died in ways other than car accidents?” asked Jade. “You know, like he really did?”

                “Oh, sure,” said Eve. “But that would be impossible to calculate. That would just be ridiculous. No formula could account for that number of variables.”

                “But what do you get out of all this?” asked Jade. She didn’t know why, but the question made her uncomfortable even though she was the one asking it. “Why make yourself sad almost every day?”

                “Because that sadness is better than wondering what it would be like if he were still with me,” said Eve. “I don’t have to torture myself wondering what it would be like if he were still with me because I know that he wouldn’t still be with me. I’ve proved it over and over again. And the memorials give me something to do with that knowledge. It’s a cold, dark comfort, but a comfort nonetheless. In some ways, it’s almost worse on the days when he survives my calculations, because those are days when, if things had gone slightly differently on all of the days of his previous deaths, we could have been happy together.”

                “What do you do on those days?” asked Jade.

                “I try to distract myself with card games if the girls will play with me,” said Eve. “But they don’t like cards, so usually I just watch TV.”

                “I hate cards,” said Shylah.

                “Me too,” said Alyssa.

                “I like cards,” said Jade. “At least, I used to. I haven’t played in a long time.”

                “Really?” asked Eve.

                “Yes,” said Jade. “I’d play cards with you. I’ll give you my phone number. You should call me next time your son survives your calculations.”

                “That sounds nice,” said Eve.

                “Or if you ever don’t feel like doing the calculations. If you’d rather have a day where you just play cards, you could call me then too.”

                Eve looked skeptical. “Well, I have to do the calculations. But I’m usually done making the memorials by late afternoon, so after that…?”

                “Sure,” said Jade. “I’m never busy.” She said her goodbyes, drove home at a normal speed, and called the Multioak Interpreter Tribune to cancel her subscription. Whoever she spoke to wasn’t very accommodating. He tried to interest Jade in the fact that keeping her subscription meant that she could access the online version of the paper as well, but she didn’t care. She wanted to cancel and, in the end, the less-accommodating man had to accommodate her.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you have any concept of how good at math your grandma is/was? If not, explain yourself.

  • What’s your most ghoulish hobby?

  • Would a memorial for someone who died in a car accident propped up in a display of chips make you more or less likely to buy those chips? Why or why not?

  • If you had died yesterday, but then you went back and did something differently so that you didn’t die yesterday, would you have died today?

  • What is your best guess at Eve’s mathematical formula for calculating her son’s many deaths? Hint: it should be extremely complicated.

  • Pretend you’re the Roadside Memorial Chief of your city. In meticulous detail, write down the standards for roadside memorials in your city using legally sound language.