A smear of wite-out blotched the space just beneath the signature of the Murphy’s Christmas card. I already knew what had been obliterated, what the writer had attempted to erase, but I had to see. I snatched the closest thing on the kitchen table– a pen cap–to scratch off the thick layer of the stuff, revealing just five letters.
Rache, the ‘e’ abruptly cut off in mid-swing.
I couldn’t even brush the hardened white flakes off the paper. They blurred through welling tears. Fresh pain, like a fish hook through my guts, buckled me, and I collapsed into a chair.
Her mother had made the mistake. It had to have been. The feminine loops in ‘Love,’ and the rounded edges of ‘Nancy, Mike, and Matt’ couldn’t be the work of her father or brother. She had caught herself before she finished–but barely–the ‘L’ at the end the only missing letter.
The question wasn’t how a mother could make such a mistake. Rachel had only been dead a handful of months after all.
The question that raised bile in my throat was how many times had she pulled that little brush out of the tiny bottle of Wite Out? How many times did she have to slash out her daughter’s name as she worked through her pile of Christmas cards?
Something had fluttered to the ground when I’d opened the card, but that smudge of white had distracted me before I’d seen what it was. I picked it off the floor.
It was a picture of Rachel, staring at the camera, with more self-possession than a 14-year-old girl should have. Like she knew something I didn’t, but it was the other way around. The girl in the photo had no idea that soon she’d be stabbed, raped, and left in a shallow grave in the woods to die. I was glad she didn’t know. I wish I didn’t.
If only her death could be covered in Wite Out, not in a blanket of early fall leaves.