The button I remember
Sometimes the nightmares still come. Called up by what I don't know. There's some connection, some link, some invocation unseen, and I remember, in my sleeping mind, a detail.
It's never a narrative. Never a story or a sequence of events. I don't even know if nightmare is the right word, since it's not fear that I feel but just there's this sense I don't understand, and there's one thing and I focus, and I can't let go.
The smell of body rotting in August. Two legs bones tied together by a red blanket, which didn't disintegrate even though the flesh in the dirt decomposed. The way a mom's face looked -- impassive, but pained -- as she didn't talk about her son. Wire hanger scratches down the throat of a baby. A man crying in the dark of a church parking lot after killing his cousin with a gun, his wife with an ax he'd bought the day before. A button almost lost in the long carpet.
I don't know why I remember the button instead of the body, naked in the bath tub.
The woman was raped by a neighbor, either before or after she died, and left in the tub, and then he tried to burn the place down, turning on the oven and stuffing in rags. But what I remember, when I'm not thinking about it and it comes up anyway, is the button, ripped from her blouse and left in the carpet, the little threads still stuck in the holes like the roots of a ripped-out eye.
When a friend went to check up on the woman and found the door open, it was the button on the floor that made her think something was wrong.
Compared to the cops I didn't see much, as a crime reporter. Just enough that they sometimes felt like they could show me what they'd seen. Some of them were haunted too, in ways I never was and never could be, feeling like they had to fix something that couldn't be fixed, where all I ever tried to do was write something sad enough.