Song for Edmund
each other’s shadows—
Oh, yes: we — along with how many others before and after? — were responsible.
His name was Edmund Otis Pew: strikes one, two, and three on the playground and in the classroom.
—Overweight, wimpy, unhappy, all we fellow Twelve-acres campers could think of was how to make things worse for him.
What irked us in particular was an irritating habit of Edmund’s. He would fold his oversized polka-dot kerchief over and over until it almost disappeared. Only then could he go to sleep.
Kids are super-insensitive to their sensitive brethren, and we would make rabbit ears to Edmund with our fingers to signify that he was too quick—too eager?—to hear things we shamelessly whispered about him.
In the beginning we tossed pebbles in his glass of Kool-Aid—“bug juice”—at lunchtime. Then we spread a rumor around camp that a breed of spiders liked to lay their poisonous eggs in sleeping bags, where it was nice and warm. The counselors—campers themselves once upon a time—laughed the rumor off, putting it in the same category as snipe hunts.
. . . Lights out in two minutes: Edmund (he was in the bunk below mine) slipped on a pair of bright green pajamas and crawled into his bag, only to discover the salmon eggs we’d planted there.
To this day I’ve never heard a shriek as loud. One cohort four rows of tents down said it woke him up from a sound sleep.
Still in pajamas, barefoot and shrieking, Edmund flew out of the tent and disappeared into the night.
turning the other cheek
to her dark side—
No one found him, and so he stayed somewhere until dawn, when two counselors discovered Edmund under a live-oak tree, curled up in the fetal position.
His mother showed up late in the afternoon (I didn’t know about a stepfather until later), and took him back to Palo Alto. I never saw Edmund again.
Fast forward five years to when I’m in high school.
I’m flipping through the Palo Alto Times when I come across the news item.
The day before, Edmund Pew, who, it turns out, lived only eight blocks from me on Waverly Street, had patiently spent two hours on the front porch, waiting for his stepfather to come home from work.
When the stepfather finally showed up Edmund whipped out the shotgun he’d hidden behind him.
—And brought it to his shoulder. —And aimed it. —And fired both barrels, sending his stepfather’s cranium into a pile of autumn leaves across the street.
Childlike in so many ways, Edmund was now old enough to be tried as an adult. His lawyer’s insanity plea went nowhere.
Shortly afterward, the mother left town.
—And so, fifty-plus years later, sitting on Swan Lake’s rocky beach, all I can do for Edmund is toss pebble after pebble—
Before the icy water folds over and the pebbles disappear.
a guard on the tower
shoots at a rabbit