Fiction: Weight Unsaid

By M.E. Proctor

Carmen soars eight feet into the air, launched by the powerful hands of Jimmy Magruder. Her red and white skirt flickersagainst the background of a cobalt sky. My girlfriend is fearless and I shudder in the heat, palms sweaty. Two days ago, I confronted Jimmy in the locker room and told him that if he dropped Carmen he would have me and the entire football team to deal with. Jimmy took it in stride. He’s the coolest kid on campus and he’s used to me freaking out before big games.
“Yo, Danny,” he drawled. “I know what I’m doing. I catch Carmen like a feather.”
I wish she didn’t like the tosses so much, but she’s a show-off and it thrills her that I have to sit on my hands to prevent them from covering my eyes when she practices. Why the hell did I have to fall for a cheerleader? We’re such a cliché—captain of the football team and star of the cheerleading squad. They should put our picture on cereal boxes.
Jesus! She does a flip. And makes it look easy. Smiling. I can see that seductive gap between her front teeth.
“Is she that acrobatic in the backseat of your Explorer?”
Morgan plops down next to me in the bleachers.
“I’m shocked you know where the football field is.” 
Morgan, top academic scores, debate team champion, hates every activity that requires any physical effort. She’s also a good friend, which is strange, considering how divergent our interests are.
“I need to talk to you.”
It sounds serious, but Morgan is rarely lighthearted. She contemplates, analyzes and rules, always with authority. When I have a thorny problem, I go to Morgan-the-oracle. Needless to say, she rarely comes to me when something worries her. She is, as the saying goes, her own best counsel. 
“I have to be on the field in five minutes.” The game against the Lions, division champions, is tomorrow and Coach Wilder is especially short-tempered when the stakes are high.Morgan’s face sinks and I feel bad. “We can talk later, Mo. I’ll take you out for a pizza.” I better stay away from Carmen tonight and make it an early night.
“It has to be now.” Morgan rummages through her backpack and retrieves a pair of sunglasses. They’re big and black. They cover half her face. “When I have the courage.”
The courage for what? Morgan doesn’t do drama for the sake of it. She doesn’t blow things out of proportion. She’s the most measured and reasonable person I know.
“You remember what we discussed last summer?” She bitesher lips.
I can’t remember what we talked about yesterday. Last summer is buried under tons of junk by now. “It would help if you gave me a clue.”
“The fourth of July barbecue,” she says. “What you said about Tyler Musgrave.” She turns her entire body away from me. The words come out muffled. “The perfect murder.”
I remember now. Tyler, the pompous ass, was botheringAlly, my twin sister, and making a fool of himself. I joked that the world didn’t need a Tyler Musgrave, that he was an embarrassment, that he didn’t contribute anything useful to the human race. That the gene pool would be improved without him. I was drunk on too much sun and spiked punch, weaving banalities, in love with my own bloated cleverness. I’m supposed to be a jock but I read too much. It all comes out when I’m sloshed. Somebody should have the good sense to put me out of my misery. My sister had the right attitude. She pushed Tyler into the pool—Is your phone waterproof, dickweed?—and walked away from the spluttering idiot. Ally is the action hero in my family; I’m all hat no cattle.
“I say a lot of stupid things.” I’m surprised Morganremembers. Frankly, I’m surprised I remember. I was hamming it up big time.
Jimmy Magruder, biceps bulging, holds Carmen up on his extended arms and she waves at me, cheeky sexy, before dropping into Jimmy’s big arms. My heart is in my throat. I love her with the entire tidal rumble of my hormonal chaos. Coach Wilder emerges from the locker room carrying the thick binder where he keeps his play diagrams. “I have to go, Mo. I’ll pick you up at six, okay?” I stand up and shoulder my backpack.
“Don’t bother.”
Her flat tone stops me one step down the bleachers. “Morgan, you okay?”
“You don’t care. That’s fine. Go screw your beauty queen.”
That flash of raw anger, the bite in her voice, it’s not like her. I glance at Coach who’s checking his watch, at my teammates filing out of the locker room. “What’s bugging you?”
She waves me off. “Enjoy your kids’ games with the boys.”
I can’t see her eyes behind the enormous sunglasses. I feel a prickle at the base of my neck. “Are you in trouble?” I think of the fourth of July again, of what happened later, with Carmen on that pontoon boat, fireworks going off, thinking this is cool … What’s that thing Morgan said? About a perfect murder?
“You’ll be late. You don’t want to upset Coach.”
For a handful of seconds I stand there looking at her. She’s unreadable. A shrill whistle comes from the field and I respond like a well-trained dog, a retriever or a tail-wagging lab. At the bottom of the bleachers, I stop and look up at Morgan. She hasn’t moved. She’s a black speck on the steps that are as white and dry as whale bones, and I’m angry at her for making me feel guilty for leaving her there.

#

We win Friday night. By the skin of our teeth. I’m flat out exhausted. There are parties afterwards and I stumble from one to the other. There’s beer and alcohol and the girls are all over me. I don’t know how my teammates fare but I’m leaking the little energy I have left. 
Not surprisingly I miss breakfast and lunch on Saturday. You realize you were truly magnificent when your parents let you sleep till mid-afternoon and smile at you when you emerge.
“I have no idea how I got home,” I say. “Or when.”
Dad looks up from the golf tournament on TV. “About twelve hours ago. Your sister would have driven you back home sooner but she said you were otherwise occupied.”
It’s a rule between twins, we’re sworn to keep each other’s secrets.
“The UT guy called this morning,” Dad says. “He wants to hear from you today. His phone number is on the kitchen counter.”
The call I’ve been hoping for, waited for, avoided to talk about in case I jinx it. My fingers are slippery as I key in the number.
The conversation with the scout goes well. He’s pleased that my grades are good enough to get me in without too much shoehorning. He gives me the usual warnings. Not everybody gets to the NFL, that kind of thing, which is fine because I’m not planning to make a career out of getting pummeled by guys who have a hundred pounds on me. We agree to meet during the coming week, with Coach, to go over practical matters.
“Looks good, Dad. Imagine that, you’ll get both kids acollege education at rock bottom prices!”
He gives me both thumbs up. There was never any doubt Ally would make it but I’m not flying in the same rarefied academic atmosphere. I grab a mug of strong coffee and go face my sister for the reckoning about last night’s craziness. She’s more forgiving than I expected. 
“It’s not like you triumph every week, Danny-O. You’re cute when you’re drunk, and very affectionate. You have a good singing voice too.” I stare at her and she laughs. “I didn’t have to search for your jeans before hauling you away. The three girls were a little rumpled but I can’t see you pressing charges.Carmen called. And no, I did not answer, I saw her name pop up on your phone. I guess she wants a follow-up on promises you made. Let me know if I have to write you an excuse slip.”
My sister wants to be a lawyer. She’s already guaranteed one grateful client.

#

We pick up supplies and drive to Carmen’s parents’ lake cabin on Saturday evening. On Sunday, we take the boat out, waterski, swim, grill burgers and make love, not necessarily in that order. We’re both keenly aware of the freedom the folks in charge giveus. It’s a pat on the back, a handful of candy, a prize for having worked our asses off and not having messed up. Carmen has a scholarship for A&M and my ticket for UT is now secure. While we frolic in the grass until the mosquitoes force us to retreat to the screened porch, our respective parents must exhale a sigh of relief for having successfully navigated the dangerous years of teenage wildness that claim so many casualties.
“What’s wrong with Morgan?” Carmen says, out of the blue.
Her long legs are wrapped around me on the battered sofa. We decided to stay overnight and drive back to town early Monday morning. I dutifully texted the parents to avoid having privileges rescinded.
“I haven’t seen her since Thursday, before practice. She was a little weird.” I shrug. “She’s moody at times. She’s way too serious.”
Carmen whispers in my ear. “You could loosen her up.”
The suggestion gives me a jolt, not because it comes from Carmen who’s confident her sharp strong teeth are firmly planted in my submissive neck, but because I’ve never looked at Morgan that way. As a person with urges and desires. She’s as close to disincarnate intelligence as an algorithm.
“I don’t think I ever even kissed her on the cheek.”
“There’s a warm girl under these goth togs,” Carmen says. “She moves awkward but guys like that. It’s endearing.”
I never noticed. The subject makes me uncomfortable. “If you want a threesome, you’ll have to come up with another candidate. Mo doesn’t do it for me.” I roll onto my back and lift Carmen on top of me. I’m not as strong as Jimmy Magruder but I have this move down pat.
“I saw her Friday and she looked sick.” Carmen isn’t ready to drop the subject. “I wondered if something happened between you two.”
Maybe Carmen isn’t that certain she has a grip on me. It makes me smile. “She wanted to talk but Coach called. I offered to take her out to dinner and it pissed her off.”
“You’re not curious what it was about? You’re some lousy friend.”
I kiss her to put an end to that train of thought. It doesn’t stop mine … That thing about murder.

#

I see Morgan at school over the weeks following the big game. We chat like we always do. We even have that pizza I promised. She’s her usual controlled self. I want to ask her about the conversation in the bleachers but each time I try to bring up the subject, she deflects.
“Why are you so interested in Tyler Musgrave?” she says. “He’s a pathetic little prick.”
No mention of how I suggested he might be more useful dead. It’s like I never said the outrageous thing. Tyler Musgrave is alive and well, by the way. So much for the vague dread that lingered in my head that she had taken my rant at face value and done away with him.
I think I’m being subtle when I tell her that my sister wants to be a lawyer to go work for the FBI. “She’s got all these books about profiling and serial killers.”
I avoid the “M” word but I sense Morgan knows exactly what I’m hinting at. I see it in the slight tension in her mouth that could as easily be the beginning of a smile as the shadow of a contemptuous smirk. It drags an icy knife down my spine. Carmen would laugh if I told her I’m afraid of Morgan. “Such a wispy little thing,” she would say and add that I have too much imagination for a jock.
I’m a coward. I should corner Morgan and demand the truth.
I don’t. I can’t. What if she killed somebody? I look at the back of her head in class—she’s usually in the first rows—and I believe she would get away with it. Yearbook quote: Most likely to commit murder, and walk. It’s an appalling thought. I catch Carmen’s worried look. She mouths: What’s the matter with you?
Ally notices too. “Get a grip, Danny. You’re not in college yet, three months to go. Can’t get distracted now.”
She’s right. I hunker down, bury myself in the books, pick a spot in class where I can’t see Morgan at all, not even a lock of hair, a sliver of profile. I erase her. It’s easier than I thought. She avoids me too.
Weird things happen as we reach the end of the year. We pick sides. Get closer to some—the ones we want to keep in our changing lives—and discard others—those we didn’t care much for but kept around for comfort or convenience. It’s a cruel time, the culling of friends.
“How many will still be around in five years?” Carmen ponders.
I raise two fingers in a half-assed boy scout salute. “If that.”
“I’m a little scared, you know?”
She doesn’t have to elaborate. I have flutters too. By the end of August, we’ll both be in new places, surrounded by new people, and everything we’ve been good at so far will count for naught. A life reset.
I could have told Carmen about Morgan many times. I never did. I kept it from Ally too. One of the few things I never shared with her.

#

I don’t learn about the grisly discovery in Goose Creek until Christmas, when we’re all back home for the holiday break. Ally waits until the food is cleared to ask Dad if the cops havesuspects on their radar.
“Doesn’t look like it.” He pulled out his pipe and is taking his time lighting it. He looks more like a professor than any of the real ones I’ve come across so far.
“Suspects of what?” I’m handing over the dessert plates. Chocolate pecan pie, homemade, the best.
“The news didn’t make it to Austin? I heard about it back east.”
“You’re interested in these gruesome things, Ally.” Mom is portioning the pie. “Your brother doesn’t care about bones.”
“Except his own on the football field,” Dad chuckles.
Indeed. The level of bruising in college is way higher than in high school. Carmen commented on my technicolor body last night.
“They found bones from four bodies in Goose Creek,” Ally says. “It looks like a serial. Nobody’s confirming that, of course. You remember the old bridge?”
“We used to play down there, when we were kids.”
“And Mom had a fit when we came back covered in red mud.”
“That place is dirty,” Mom says. “It’s crawling with snakes.”
Ally shrugs. “We never saw any.”
I remember the place well. The impenetrable jungle ofinterlocked branches and bushes, the darkness in daylight, the seclusion, and the thin trickle of ripe smelling water at the bottom of the dip.
“It’s worse now, an open sewer, where all the road trash goes to rest. The police found human remains, near the culverts.They were not all killed at the same time. The oldest one might be from a year ago. The freshest one, maybe six months.”
“Ally!” Mom points the cake server at my sister. “It’s disgusting. Stop it.” 
I close my eyes and see the football field, the cheerleaders practicing, Carmen taking flight and Coach with the binder under his arm. The image is faded like an old photograph. Not as painful to the eyes as the picture of Morgan on top of theskeletal bleachers under a miraculous blue sky.
Ally ignores the parental warning. “Cause of death is stabbing, in all four cases. One of the victims was identified. Ronald Polk. Old Polk. The homeless guy who roamed the mall, looking for lost pennies.”
I know him. We all know him, and it makes it so much worse.
“He was sleeping under the bridge. The other victims were probably living down there too. Nobody reported them missing.”Ally shakes her head. “The invisible, the ignored.”
“How come you know so much?” Dad puffs on his pipe. “That stuff wasn’t in the news.”
“I’m in a forensics class. We look at cases. It caught my eye because it’s so close to home.”
Too close to home, in too many ways. But time has thrown a blanket over my memories. How much did I see in Morgan’s face, what did I hear in her voice, and what did I imagine? It’s hopeless. The cops would laugh me out of the room. I completely understand, I wouldn’t believe myself either.
And that’s how I manage to convince myself to keep my mouth shut. 

#

That conversation happened twelve years ago and I have no trouble recalling these few minutes, listening to Ally, when I made a choice. A few minutes as black and heavy as outer space material, a chunk from a comet, more dense than anything on earth. These minutes weigh on me during my waking hours, and in the deepest wells of sleep. They’re a scar, a tattoo on my soul.
I didn’t make it to the NFL—I busted my knee in my second year of college—but I graduated with honors. I’m asuccessful architect, the youngest partner in a solid firm. We collect awards. We’re involved in prestigious projects overseas. I have a lovely wife—Vera, Carmen is still a friend—and a baby boy. They don’t know why I wake up some nights and go stand at the kitchen window in the dark to look at the trees in the back of the yard, at the tangle of brushes behind, and the narrow creek that runs toward the lake.
My sister’s name is on a New York law firm roster. Still single, dear Ally, but far from lonely. We are well-adjusted,successful adults, and Mom and Dad are proud of us.
I don’t know what became of Morgan. I have the contacts and the resources needed to find her. I could hire a private investigator. But why would I? I know where she is. She’s behind the curtain of trees. She’s in my head.
We used to play by the Goose Creek bridge. 
Mom was wrong; something much worse than snakes lives down there, in the red mud. It’s an idea. A doubt. A young killer with a knife. 
Maybe.





M.E. Proctor was born in Brussels and lives in Texas. Her short story collection Family and Other Ailments is available in all the usual places. The first book of her detective series, Love You Till Tuesday, comes out from Shotgun Honey in 2024. Her short fiction has appeared in Vautrin, Bristol Noir, Pulp Modern, Mystery Tribune, Reckon Review, Black Cat Weekly, and Thriller Magazine among others. She’s a Derringer nominee.

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