A journal of narrative writing.
Introduction to Airborne Radar
by Corey Campbell

I already see tomorrow’s headlines, black and huge on the Rocky Mountain News. If we’d left the highway an exit sooner, we would have driven right past it.

Delia’s mom nods at Mrs. Moorehead. “We’d better get inside then.”

Or if we hadn’t gone to the mountains at all, there’s a chance we’d have been inside the store—we go there all the time—and maybe in firing range.

Delia’s mom starts walking up her driveway, saying over her shoulder, “Thanks for telling us.” Tree branches reach over her head, leafless against the sky.

“They caught him already,” Mrs. Moorehead says. “I mean, he killed himself at the end.”

“Who was it?” Delia says.

For a flash I picture Ernie but know that’s ridiculous. He’s never really been mean to me, just sometimes a little out of it. Like I’ll be talking and he won’t seem to be there at all. I think, with the divorce, he deserves to act like a jerk sometimes, and usually I can see the jerkiness coming. But how can you tell when someone everyday-looking holds that darkness? How do you know who all these people are and what’s in their minds, and who’s feeling homicidal and what will set them off? What if it’s something as dumb as running out of milk? Your whole day—ruined; might as well go kill someone. “Quit being so scared all the time,” Ernie told me once, way before this. How do you know your own brain won’t turn on you one day?

“Who was it again?” I ask.

Mrs. Moorehead shrugs. “I don’t remember his name, but someone from the community.”

Gregory kicks his heels against his mom’s hips like spurs. “Okay, cowpoke,” she says.

Mrs. Moorehead clicks her tongue. “Channel nine.” Reaching her own door again, she calls across the street, “Mister Gregory had a touch of diarrhea this morning but otherwise is fine.”

“Fuck,” Delia says, closing her bedroom door.

I dial Ernie, but his phone goes straight to voicemail, again. “What the hell?” is all I say in the message. Delia flops on the bed and turns on the TV. The shooting has already swallowed all the stations whole. Van fleets are moving in, like huge heavy sea creatures, overloaded with satellite hook-ups, newscasters acting both concerned and distant. Sometimes you can care too much, they seem to say. It’s easier when you don’t. Channels compete to show insider images that aren’t gruesome enough to screw up our sleep, mostly teary-faced shoppers who just stopped in for a pound of ground beef—it was on sale, the circular says so—and one of the gunman’s home, lights off, shades drawn, paper pumpkins taped on the windows.

Then there’s a cashier, a sobbing hysterical straight-haired woman I’ve seen before. They’ve shoved a camera in her face and a microphone. Her voice comes out raw: “He kept saying, ‘Where’s Addy? Where’s Addy?’” She tries talking through a heavy ugly waterfall of tears. “I didn’t know,” she says, “I didn’t know he was gonna, I didn’t—”

Then the newscaster stands next to a pyramid of squash. “It happened right here,” he says, “in the vegetable aisle. Two employees killed by a lone gunman, two families robbed of their livelihoods…and their lives.”

The camera cuts for a second to another puffy-eyed employee, blue vest and nametag showing, turning to the manager beside her so that the camera can’t hold her face.

Delia offers me a wine cooler from under her bed. I shake my head no. “You have to,” she says.

“This is freakin’ warm,” I say. It tastes like old perfume.

She says, “Well, I can’t put it in the fridge.”

It’s drying out my tongue, like a desert lizard. “Cheers,” I hold up my bottle like in Coors commercials.

Delia just stares. “You can’t cheers to this.”

“I’m not cheersing to this,” I point at the broadcast. “It’s what you do when you have a drink.”

She finally looks back at the screen. “Lindsay, that’s just wrong.”

I put down my bottle in silent protest.

“And then a suicide,” the newscaster says with his Jeeves-like posture, his ultra-polished plastic hair. You can tell he’s trying to stay calm and professional. You can tell it’s hard for him. His daughter Jade goes to our high school, a grade before us. They don’t live right in the neighborhood but close enough.

Delia shuts off the TV. “Jesus,” she says. “It’s all out war.”

“I wouldn’t say war exactly,” I say. “I mean, it was an isolated thing.” I’m not thinking as I talk. I just don’t want her to be so superior. “I’m sure this happens all the time, actually.” It’s weird, though, because the station messed up and showed blood on the ground in the vegetable aisle. It didn’t look any different than a fake puddle in NYPD Blue—red corn syrup, right? The weirdest part is that even this morning that blood on the floor was alive in somebody’s arm. It ran through someone’s whole body while I was trying to sleep in Delia’s trundle bed but thinking about Ernie instead.

“Name one time when this happened before,” Delia says.

I pause. I want to outsmart her, but I don’t watch the news. “I don’t know for sure, but don’t post offices get this a lot?”

When Delia and I come back upstairs, Gregory is lying under the coffee table, watching us upside down through the glass. Their mom has gone to lie down, and the sun has already dropped behind the mountains.