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by Jace Daniel (b. 1969)

Three knocks broke the silence. KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.

The suburban family said nothing, sitting around the dining table, somber, avoiding eye contact. The father, Bob, 45. The mother, Audra, 40. The brother, Christopher, 18. And Gwendolyn, 14.


Bob got up and went to the front door. In the entry hall, a photograph of Gwendolyn sat on a credenza between two lit candles.


Bob opened the door as a taxi cab pulled from the curb and drove away.

Standing on the porch was Tyler, a man in is thirties, dressed in black attire and sunglasses. In one hand he held a bouquet of flowers, in the other he carried a bag of cookies. He entered the house, greeting Bob with condolences.

“Cousin,” Tyler said, handing the bouquet to Bob. They hugged. “I’m so sorry. Anne wishes she could be here, but she had to stay back with the kids. She made these…”

Audra stood from the table and went to the entry hall. Tyler turned his attention to her, delivering a hug and kiss on each cheek. He handed her the bag of cookies.

“Mmmm,” Audra said, suspiciously chipper. “Anne’s peanut butter cookies. Gwendolyn’s favorite. Have a seat, Tyler. Can I get you something to drink? Something to eat?”

“Water’s fine.” Tyler took a seat at the dining table between Christopher and Gwendolyn. “I had a bite on the plane. Thanks.”

The tension in the house was quiet and heavy. Tyler looked at Christopher. “Captain Chris! Still playing ball these days? Look at you. What are you weighing it at now? About one seventy-five? One eighty?”

Christopher nodded, hands folded in front of him, staring straight ahead. Bob sat back down at the head of the table. Gwendolyn hung her head in silence.

Audra returned to the table with a plate of cookies and a glass of water. She spoke with the kind of predictable small talk that comes from anybody trying to ignore an elephant in a room. “How is Anne, Tyler? And the twins? They must be getting big now.”

“Six last march,” Tyler said, obligingly taking a cookie and the glass of water. “My little Pisces girls. They’re just like their mother. I’m surrounded!”

Tyler cracked a laugh to lighten up the room. Christopher chuckled.

“What time is the service?” Tyler asked, in all seriousness.

“Four thirty,” Bob said. “We have an hour.”

Tyler took off his sunglasses, speaking with a rehearsed tactfulness. “We are so incredibly sorry, you guys. Phil and Jake weren’t able to get away today, so I’m representing everybody down south. They send all their love. We’re all in disbelief.”


Three persistent knocks pounded on the front door. Gwendolyn got up from her chair. Nobody else seemed to notice.

“We just don’t understand it,” Tyler said. “Too young.”


Gwendolyn walked to the entry hall. The candles flickered as she passed her photo. She stopped and stared at the door.

“What on Earth could have pushed her to do the ultimate?” Tyler continued. “Were there signs?”


Tyler gasped, reactively turning to Bob.

Bob said nothing.

“Do you… do you smell that?” Tyler’s eyes were wide. He looked at Audra, then Christopher. He stood from his chair. “What’s that smell?”

“It’s Gwendolyn,” Audra said.

Tyler arched his eyebrows, thrown off-guard by such a notion. Disbelief. He turned his nose to the ceiling as if to try to identify an intrusive aroma hanging in the air.

“It smells like flowers…” Tyler went to the bouquet and stuck his face deep into its arrangement, inhaling a deep breath through his nose. Dissatisfied, he shook his head. “Nope, not the flowers… more like a perfume or something…”


Gwendolyn stood at the credenza, staring at the front door.

Tyler walked into the adjacent living room, inhaling through his nose, trying to pinpoint the source of the smell. He went to the photo of Gwendolyn between the two candles on the credenza. Leaning over, he placed his nose directly above each candle and inhaled. Nothing.

“Not the candles either. Hmmm…”

Beside himself, Tyler turned to the family in the dining room, at a loss for words. “Don’t you guys smell that? Bob? Chris? Smell that? It’s sweet. Just, like, everywhere. Strong as hell. There’s no epicenter…”

Bob and Christopher said nothing.

“It’s Gwendolyn,” Audra repeated. “She’s here.”

“Gwendolyn?” Tyler smiled. He shrugged, taking his seat back at the dining table. “Of course she is.”


Gwendolyn opened the front door. Rip Greamer, lanky and ageless, stood on the porch holding an electronic device in one hand and a cup of black coffee in the other.

“Come in,” Gwendolyn said.

Greamer entered the house. Gwendolyn closed the door and led him to the living room. They took a seat on couch.

“I’d like to ask you a few questions,” Greamer said, pushing the buttons of his device with demon-like proficiency. “Is that okay with you, Gwendolyn?”

Gwendolyn nodded.

Greamer read from his device. “I’m told you weren’t even fifteen years old yet. Awfully early to make an exit, don’t you think?”

Gwendolyn explained. Her face stoic, but pained. “Nobody helped me. I had no friends.”

“And that’s why you haven’t left on your own?” Greamer asked.

In the dining room, Tyler grabbed another cookie and shifted in his chair, still spooked by Audra’s comment. He cut right to the chase. “Anne told me Gwennie had been having… problems… for a couple months. She didn’t know the details. What exactly was going on, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“She was disturbed,” said Bob.

“Ever since she was a little girl,” said Audra.

Christopher said nothing. Staring at the cookies.

In the living room, Greamer studied Gwendolyn’s sad eyes. “No friends? Surely, a pretty girl like you had friends. Perhaps even a handsome boyfriend. No?”

Gwendolyn shook her head. “I wasn’t allowed to see boys. My parents said I couldn’t date until I was sixteen.”

Greamer nodded, sipping his coffee.

Tyler grabbed another cookie. “Why would a girl do such a thing? Jesus, she was fourteen. What could push her to do the ultimate?”

“Gwendolyn was an introvert,” Bob said. “She’d been dabbling in the occult a bit. She had a Ouija board.”

“Lots of kids have Ouija boards,” Tyler said, unconvinced. “I had one in the fourth grade…”

Greamer crossed his legs, sitting back in the couch. “You must have been a lonely person to do this to yourself. You must have believed there was no hope.”

Gwendolyn sobbed. Nodded.

Tyler took a long gulp of water. “Where’d she get the gun?”

“Bob had it in the closet,” Audra said.

“Was it loaded?” Tyler asked.

“I’ve kept it loaded ever since the burglary two years ago,” Bob said. “To protect my family.”

Greamer read from his device. “How about girlfriends? A teacher, maybe? A coach? There was nobody for you to talk to?”

Gwendolyn shook her head. “I couldn’t tell anybody.”

Greamer looked over at the family sitting at the dining table. He pointed to Audra.

“How about your mother?” Greamer asked. “Were you able to tell her?”

Gwendolyn shook her head. Tears began to flow. “The problem got bigger. But my mom wouldn’t do anything.”

“It was after school, right?” Tyler asked. “And Gwennie was home alone?”

Bob nodded. “She had gotten my gun out of the closet. She called Audra at the office and said that she was going to do it.”

“Shit,” Tyler said softly. “Then what happened?”

Audra said nothing.

“Audra called me,” Bob said. “I left work immediately, but it was a forty-five minute drive from the north side with traffic…”

“And your father?” Greamer pointed to Bob. “Were you close to your dad?”

Gwendolyn shook her head. No.

“Christopher got home first,” Bob said. “It was Chris who found her.”

Christopher said nothing.

“My god,” Tyler said, putting his hand on Christopher’s back. The husky boy stared at the cookies, straight-faced. “My god, Chris, that must have been horrible…”

“And how about your brother?” Greamer asked, pointing to Christopher.

Gwendolyn shook her head. No.

“…finding your own sister shot,” Tyler continued. “What a nightmare, bud. You doing okay?”

Greamer looked at his device. “It says here that you shot yourself in the abdomen. Most suicide victims who use firearms shoot themselves in the head. Do you know why that is, Gwendolyn?”

Gwendolyn shook her head, sobbing.

“To kill the terrible master,” Greamer said. “To kill their mind. The truth is, most suicide victims are dead long before they even pull the trigger.”

Gwendolyn stood up and screamed. Tyler turned toward the living room, reacting. Spooked.

“What was that?” Tyler said, hairs standing on the back of his neck. “Did you hear that? Came from over there.”

Bob said nothing. Christopher said nothing.

“Gwendolyn’s here,” Audra said.

Gwendolyn stood in the middle of the living room. Greamer sat on the couch. “What is it, Gwendolyn?”

“I didn’t shoot myself to die,” Gwendolyn said.

Greamer pushed the buttons of his device. “Then why did you shoot yourself, sweetheart?”

Gwendolyn paused. She paced in the middle of the living room, hanging her head.

Greamer repeated the question.”If you didn’t want to die, then why did you shoot yourself, Gwendolyn?”

“I shot myself because….” Gwendolyn sobbed. “…because…”

“Because why, honey?” Greamer put his device down and inched toward the edge of the couch, watching the poor girl struggle to find the words. They finally came.

“I shot myself because I didn’t want to be pregnant anymore.”

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