Cassie turned away from the roadside memorial as the light ahead of her turned green. She drove on, music blasting out of the open car window and a hot July wind whipping her hair around the car seat’s headrest. Singing along with the music, she turned through the intersection and saw the little memorial one more time through her rearview mirror.
It was a small white cross with blue lettering written across and down the beams. A vase of flowers wilting in the sun sat next to is as a few discolored balloons hung limp from little discolored ribbons held down by small silver tent stakes pushed into the ground. It was all held into the ground just on the other side of a ditch on the edge of the road, a few business parking lots beyond.
“Fucking bitch,” Cassie said one more time before turning back towards the road and singing along with the song again.
The memorial was for a girl named Beth. Beth Harrison. Cassie still remembered her full name. Even what she looked like. Tall but not too tall for a girl, with long blonde hair and a body that developed too early. All the boys liked her and all the other girls wanted to be her friend or be just like her.
But Cassie hated her.
All through elementary, middle, and high school Beth mercilessly bullied Cassie. She called her names, spread rumors about her, sabotaged her friendships and relationships, and generally made it her daily mission to torture and torment Cassie. And through it all she had no idea why Beth hated her so much. She just knew that Beth hated her.
But Beth is dead now and Cassie has no grief to give.
It was about seven years ago when Cassie was still in college. Beth had stayed out late drinking at the bars and hanging out with her friends. She decided to drive home in her friend’s car. The news reports showed the burned out shell of the car flipped over in the ditch. Beth had been the only one in the car. She was nineteen years old.
The next time Cassie passed that road it was fall and the days were growing shorter and colder as the wind blew the red and gold and russet leaves from the trees onto the sidewalks and streets and little patches of grass between the road and the parking lot near the spot where Beth died.
Cassie sipped on a pumpkin spice latte. Her windows were still rolled down but she wore a flannel shirt against the autumn chill and remembered a time in junior high when she got her first period. Beth had been nice to her all day. Suspiciously nice. She didn’t call her any names or bother her at all. After lunch, as they were going outside to recess, Beth held the door for her. She even smiled at her. Beth finally approached Cassie as she was standing by herself at the edge of the playground.
“Sorry, I didn’t want to bother you but,” Beth lowered her voice, “I think you may have started your period,” she said, pointing down.
Cassie looked down in horror at the spot of red on her blue jeans.
“It’s ok. Here, take my hoodie. You can wrap it around your waist and it will cover it up. Don’t worry, this happened to me last summer.”
She felt something different from Beth. She was telling Cassie about her period. She was giving Cassie her hoodie to cover up the stain on her pants. She was being nice. It came as a shock to her that this enemy who had bullied her for years was suddenly being a friend. Maybe things were finally changing.
“Thanks,” said Cassie, looking down.
“No problem!” Beth said and skipped away across the playground.
Later that afternoon during math class Cassie was asked to go to the board to do math problems. She always liked math because she was good at it. She liked the challenge and she liked showing the class she was good at something. It made her feel proud. But that day in math class as she walked up the aisle of desks toward the board Beth stopped her by grabbing her arm.
“I want my hoodie back,” she said with a slimy smile that only Cassie ever saw, “I’m cold,” Beth hugged her self in a mock shiver.
Cassie stopped and looked around the classroom, afraid to move.
“I want my hoodie back, please!” Beth said, but louder this time, so the whole class could hear.
“Mrs. Wilkerson! Cassie won’t give me back my hoodie!” she shouted.
Mrs. Wilkerson looked over from her desk, “Cassie, does that sweater belong to Beth?”
“And did she ask you to give it back to her?”
“Yes, I did Mrs. Wilkerson,” said Beth.
Cassie could only nod as her face started to turn red.
“Well, I think you need to give it back, Cassie.”
Cassie remembered the laughter. And she remembered the smile on Beth’s face as she pointed, clutching her hoodie in one hand. But she couldn’t remember anything else. Not the teacher guiding her out into the hall, not the nurse’s office where the old women tried to give her some comfort as they held out the oversized old pair of gym shorts for her to wear until her mom came to pick her up. She couldn’t even remember getting into bed and falling asleep. But she woke up in the middle of the night sobbing and cried in her mother’s arms for a few hours until she fell asleep again.
“Cunt,” said Cassie as the memorial and it’s dying flowers grew smaller and faded out of view in her rearview mirror.
Snow blew across the windshield as Cassie jumped in her car and turned it on, rubbing her hands together to get warm as the car heated up. She sat in the parking lot behind the grassy ditch where Beth died, snow filling up the ditch until it was almost full. The lot was empty. Little cyclones of snow whirled across the lot like little dust tornadoes moving across a plain. Cassie put the car in reverse about to pull out of her spot when she saw the memorial collecting snow along the side of the road.
The flowers were gone. There was a lump of snow beside the memorial that may have been the vase tipped over but no sign of the balloons remained. The snow around it was dirty and brown, tossed aside from the road by the snowplows that streaked up and down the street. No snowplows drove by now. Cassie’s was the only car in the parking lot and the roads were empty. It was quiet then as she turned away from the memorial and back out towards the road.
She turned through the light and saw it one more time in her rearview mirror, fading away into the snow drifts around it like someone lost in a distant fog. She turned and remembered high school, Danny, and Beth.
Junior year of high school was good for Cassie. She had a tight circle of friends and had big plans for college. There was even a boy. His name was Danny. They spent all their free time together. They would sit next to each other during classes and lunch and would text each other once they were home. Nothing was official yet but all of Cassie’s friends agreed that they would be boyfriend and girlfriend any day now. Until Beth overheard their conversation one day at lunch.
Cassie found out from another group of girls after a long weekend. Danny had been distant with Cassie that Tuesday. They were texting Saturday but he abruptly stopped during the night and hadn’t texted her back since. In class he sat away from her and wouldn’t even look in her direction. It was like she never even existed. They told her at lunch but she already knew. She could see him sitting next to Beth and Beth staring back at Cassie with that slimy smile on her face. She reached over and took his hand and laced her fingers into his and slowly moved over and kissed him on the cheek, never taking her eyes from Cassie.
They told her that the two had been at the same party together. They spent a lot of time together and were then seen going alone into a bedroom. They said that Beth told everyone at the party later that night that she and Danny were now boyfriend and girlfriend. They only dated a few weeks before Beth dumped him. But the damage was done and Danny and Cassie never really spoke again.
She was back home in her driveway thinking about Beth lying in a ditch on the side of the road, dead. She tried to imagine the EMTs rushing down to try and save her and her parents and siblings looking on and crying. Cassie imagined Danny standing there crying, even though they only dated for two weeks. There were other people there too, people Cassie didn’t recognize, people crying and wailing and tearing their clothes and their hair from their heads. Cassie saw different men standing around the ditch, then children, each with different colored hair but all looking like Beth. Cassie imagined them all; friends, family, lovers, husbands, and children, all possible and impossible, standing there beside the ditch watching with a grim deference as she was carried up like the undead out of a mass grave. There was a look on Beth’s face; not that slimy smile that Cassie always saw but a sad look of a lonely girl.
Cassie looked down at her hands holding the steering wheel of the silent car then looked out into the blowing snow in the lawn before quietly whispering to herself, “Fuck—”
She bent down, wiping the old gray dirt that had accumulated on the cross over the winter. Someone had broken the vase that held the flowers from last summer. Or else it had just been broken on accident. So she had replaced it with two sturdy clay flowerpots, one on each side of the cross, flanking like a pair of sentinels. In each pot, growing from rich dark soil, stood a single white tulip.
Cassie stood and wiped dirt from her hands, looking down at the now clean memorial for Beth Harrison.