2006 Unidentified Man at Left of Photo By Jeff Bursey
They first had to remove the body of the red-headed girl, originally found rolled inside a carpet and thrown out on the street with a crowd of enthralled spectators on the corner of Prince and Grafton watching as her fire-engine pigtails were neatly tucked inside the body bag before she was carted off. Who killed her was the main question, followed by: How did she die?
The answers were many: strangled, knifed, shot, beaten, shaken to death, then left to die even more of exposure!, garrotted (a fan of war and espionage films supplied that one), guillotined (or maybe somebody sneezed), shot (two votes), shaken and stirred (same fan as above, who the crowd was eyeing warily now), beheaded, death by tryptophan, mummified on the spot, knifed (a tie), death by malnutrition, by neglect, by carelessness, by misadventure, caused by a long waiting line at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (this was turned into a commercial enterprise by street vendors, to wit: I waited all night in Emerg., and all I got was this lousy tshirt.), haemorrhaging, shot, after being beaten (pulling ahead), smothered (a fine distinction from strangling), lanced, boiled, and eaten alive, leaving nothing but her bones, dead by infection, by accident, by the tip of an arrow, by the hood ornament of a Jaguar, by the grill of a Hummer, poison (there was a bottle on the street which didn’t say DRINK ME but did have a drop or two of coloured syrup with a face on the bottle that bore a faint resemblance to someone who the crowd knew, the name was on the tips of their tongues), dysentery, anthrax, impetigo, a bee sting, a wasp sting (both, that’s rotten luck) severe bruxism, blood loss, assassination, tight deadlines, whalebone corset, loose ways, wanton behaviour, food colouring, lack of sunshine, too much sunshine, a surfeit of melons, thrombosis, whole wheat bread, an infusion of some herbal remedy administered with too little attention paid to the underlying condition, and too much to the symptom, and so on.
Another dead red-haired little girl here on PEI, another pig-tailed wonderful little lady (!) shrieked someone, say a woman, who then fainted and knocked over the child next to her as she fell, making him split his head open on a curb, resulting in retardation and consequent inferior learning abilities which the province had to make up for through teacher assistants and training courses and strategies which would persist through university, and maybe it would have been better if the child had just flat out died then? The third in a year (!) bellowed a man who promptly struck his neighbour out of excitement, dislodging the victim’s dental work, re-arranging his mouth, and since his mother had grimly told him from an early age to smile evenly, because a proper smile had to show the teeth, the lips had to be directly across, and that he should not curve his lips in any way, he had given up smiling in photographs and looked, therefore, like some snot, but in the wake of this blow he was free, free, free, free (!) to smile as he wished, what a wonderful thing. This could be a trend, said one policeman, and a journalist from The Gourniad swore that he had thought of that first, and the next day declared in print his spotting of an emerging trend.
As for the dead red-headed girl, she was just another statistic, another black eye for PEI, another blow for tourism, she was the casualty of the infernal desire of people to slay that which they love, in passion that can be hate or love, in a desire for fame or a thirst for revenge, out of frustration or excess of devotion, from base as well as supposedly noble motives, those people not forgetting Vollmann’s moral calculus on force so much as never hearing about it. She was never claimed, she was an orphan, a foundling, no other province wanted her, she was PEI’s own, which is to say, since dead, another burden for the province to shoulder rather than a worker or labourer moiling and toiling and therefore able to pay back to the Treasury taxes for the right to have been born in God’s land.
The ambulance drivers drove off, very smartly, or not quickly enough, depending on what people saw or thought they knew, and they used the lights and sirens sparingly, for after all, the distance wasn’t great, there wasn’t much traffic, and Charlottetown’s a quiet place. But at one intersection they did come up behind a car, right indicator blinking. The driver snapped the siren on for a few seconds. Nothing. Not even after the light had been green for a few seconds. Swearing, and already enraged at the death of a cute little girl who might have been one of his daughter’s friends, she looked that familiar, the driver got out and went up to the car. Is it a particular shade of green you’re waiting for? But the freshly dead old man, wearing a hat made redundant by the roof of his car, didn’t answer, and the driver had to get his fellow paramedic to help him lift the octogenarian out from behind the wheel into their vehicle. It later turned out he had died of a sudden heart attack, maybe caused by the siren, who could tell? No one was blamed, though there were some questions asked. The final report declared it happened in the course of medical personnel going about their duties. They were commended for checking on the health of the man in front of them, and for using their training and instincts, because such bad driving was rare in C-town among old men with hats.