by Daniel Bowman Jr
It’s Valentine’s Day. Sub-zero winds blow snow across the stubble of Indiana cornfields. We hunker down for a weekend of books and movies, blankets and tea.
I make a checklist of chores. It includes dropping off my suit coats at the dry cleaner. I own just a few and they aren’t much to look at, but I wear one to work, with jeans, most every day.
The first suit I ever owned came via a garbage bag full of hand-me-downs from a lady my mother knew from the nursing agency. My grandma hemmed the pants. The blue-gray blazer was out of style and a little shabby. I wore it to the eighth-grade banquet, boutonnière on lapel.
A double homicide just shook this little town I call home. A man was shot and killed in the parking lot of an apartment building a few blocks from our house. The killer then found the man’s fourteen-year-old daughter inside the apartment and shot her, too.
She was a freshman at the high school, the school where, mere weeks ago, our daughter and her fourth-grade class jingled bells, sang songs about the spirit of the season, even the birth of a Savior. I tried to talk with her about it, but could only hold her in silence.
A few days later, my wife stopped into the tiny thrift store on the town square. Our daughter’s favorite jeans had worn through in the knees; my wife wanted to see if there might be a pair or two in decent shape.
As she glanced over the kids clothes, she noticed a sullen young man looking lost as he picked through the single rack of moth-eaten men’s formalwear. There didn’t seem to be anything in his size. His face covered in acne, he couldn’t have been more than fifteen, a boy. These suits were cast-offs from men, a generation of sturdy men who’d gone to church on Sundays, the day of rest from their jobs at General Motors or the glass company.
All those factories are long since empty; they cast ghostly shadows, their insides lifeless as the suits in a secondhand store.
Beth found jeans for our daughter. She was washing them the next afternoon when the parking lot kitty-corner to our house began filling up. The cars kept coming, parking up and down High Street and Elm. Parents and teens stepped carefully through the snow toward the doors of the funeral home.
Calling hours for the murdered ninth-grader.
Suddenly Beth knew why the boy in the thrift store had looked familiar. She’d seen that brooding face on the news. He was the boyfriend. And he’d been in need of something to wear to his fourteen-year-old girlfriend’s funeral.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and the drug store is filled with heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and candies bearing phrases like “True love” and “Be mine.” I brave the storm to join the crowd. There’s not much left in the holiday aisle. They’ve already started loading the shelves with summer items in anticipation of the coming warmth. The first thing I see are toy guns. I leave empty-handed.
Back home I sink into the couch under a blanket, flip on the TV. It’s award show season.
Beverly Hills multimillionaires pat one another on backs clothed in tuxedoes and gowns that cost as much as a house in Hartford City, Indiana, where a grieving kid looks in vain for a six-dollar suit.
I turn off the television, glance out the window. The blizzard has subsided, but the hollow wind still blows. It whips hard, then drifts out toward the fields.
Daniel Bowman Jr is the author of A Plum Tree in Leatherstocking Country (VAC Poetry, 2012). His work has appeared in The Adirondack Review, American Poetry Journal, Books & Culture, The Midwest Quarterly, Rio Grande Review, Seneca Review, and others. He grew up in Mohawk, New York, and lives in Hartford City, Indiana, where he teaches at Taylor University and is at work on two new books.