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Punctuation by Elizabeth Thorpe



Part One: Common Problems


Cody was seventeen.

Cody was in love.

Cody’s curfew was midnight.

Cody’s girlfriend had freckles.

She had a freckle on her right hip.

Cody circled it in pen.

Cody wrote “Cody’s” above the freckle.


Cody left the party, and he died.


The SUV broke the thin skim of ice over the gravel pit and sank to the bottom.


Cody’s girlfriend told him not to leave the party, and he didn’t want to, but went anyway.

Cody’s mom didn’t want him to drive fast, but didn’t want him to be late, so he drove fast.


Seeing the hole in the ice the next morning, Sgt. Benjamin feared the worst.


The dispatcher who answered Sgt. Benjamin’s call knew Cody’s family.

Everyone in town knew Cody’s family.

Everyone in town knew everyone else in town.


Cody’s parents, who had only one child, had been up all night.


Cody, their baby, was below 100 feet of water.

Water, black gravel pit water, surrounded the SUV.

Sarah, Cody’s girlfriend, didn’t know yet.

Marcia and Phil, Cody’s parents, didn’t think to tell her.



Cody had, a few years ago, stopped telling his parents everything.

Cody knew, or thought he knew, he was going to die.


He dreamed he was in a car accident (driving his father’s car, not his mom’s SUV) and the dream ended in darkness.


Cody told his girlfriend -- he told her everything -- and she made him stop talking about it.


She put his finger on her freckle, his favorite one, and made his finger trace back and forth across her stomach until he wasn’t thinking about the dream anymore.


Who would open his Christmas presents, he thought, if he died? Would they just stay, with big homemade bows on top, in his parents’ bedroom closet?


(That made Cody cry sometimes, as he lay in bed, thinking of the Christmas presents getting dusty, the boxes warping from summer heat, the paper fading.)


The gravel pit was deep, the weather was cold, and visibility was poor.

Cody’s mother wanted the police to send divers, a crane, and a submarine, if that’s what it would take to get to her son (she couldn’t say the word “body”).



Part Two: End Punctuation


Marcia was amazed that people could continue on as normal.

She felt skinless.

The police wanted to wait until spring to recover the car.


Marcia asked them how they could leave a kid underwater all winter.


Marcia had always avoided confrontation. But not now.


Sgt. Benjamin said, “I’m sorry, Marcia. I can’t endanger my men.” She would have gladly traded all of his living men for her dead child.


“The divers can’t do their jobs?” Marcia said, “Is that it? Or maybe you don’t think the car’s really there?”

Sgt. Benjamin said, “It broke through the guardrail, remember? We know it’s there. Why don’t you sit down?”

“You have children!” Marcia yelled. “I know you understand!”



Part Three: Making Transitions


The other Sarah, Sarah Bunker, was the one who told Cody’s girlfriend Sarah; Sarah Bunker’s father was a volunteer firefighter.


Sarah and the other Sarah weren’t friends; still, the other Sarah thought Cody’s girlfriend should know before everyone else.


Sarah skipped the assembly and left the school building; in the meantime, Sgt. Benjamin was on the phone with the Environmental Protection Agency, at Marcia’s request.


Here’s what Sarah saw as she walked: icy trees, shining in the sunlight; a pink knitted mitten, frozen into a snowbank; a pothole, layered with thin ice.


Sarah jumped on the pothole until it was filled with nothing but snow. She kept walking, even though it was five below and she didn’t have her jacket; she didn’t stop until she got to the 7-11 where her mother worked.


Sarah’s mother stood behind the cash register, selling Chuck Salsbury a breakfast sandwich; Sarah waited in line to talk to her.



Sarah told her mother what she knew: that Cody was dead, that she had left school, and that she needed permission to get a tattoo.


Sarah’s mother had plenty of questions: What happened to Cody? Would her daughter be all right? Why a tattoo? For God’s sake, a tattoo? Now?


While Sarah’s mother hesitated, Sarah blinked back tears and stared at the sign by the register: “Leave a penny, take a penny.”


Sarah’s mother looked at the clock: 8:45. A woman she didn’t recognize stood behind Sarah holding a booklet, "We, Like Sheep: Bible Verses for Every Occasion." While she thought about the tattoo request, Sarah’s mother rang up the woman’s purchase. Looking for a sign, she opened to a random passage: Luke 1:34. "'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'" This didn't help.


“Mom,” Sarah said, almost whispering, “It’s going to wear off.”

She turned down the waistband of her jeans, and her mother saw the word written above her daughter’s right hip: Cody’s.



At the crash site, Marcia hadn’t given up.

Now Charlie O’Hallahan, the local diver, was talking to Sgt. Benjamin: “Guess if I can dive for urchins in the winter, I can't refuse on account of the cold. I d’no but it’ll be tough, though, Benny, gettin' that car door open.”

“Just try,” Marcia said. “I won’t leave him there; don’t ask me to.”



Part Four: Possessives


Cody’s family’s house was already lit up for Christmas. In two weeks’ time, Marcia’s sister Pam and Cody’s cousins, Chuck and Casey, would be there for Christmas Eve.


Marcia sat in her husband’s car after he had gone inside. She looked at the sign next to the mailbox: "The Joneses’ Abode." Her husband’s best man gave it to them as a wedding present 25 years ago. He thought it was funny: keeping up with the Joneses, ha, ha. Phil and Cody had wrapped lights around the signpost in a candy cane pattern. The lights were off, but covered in ice and catching sunlight.


They'd been on a fool's errand. She sat up straighter.


“It’s a mistake,” she yelled, hitting the cold steering wheel. Her hand stung. “It’s just a mistake. Cody, I thought you were dead!”


Phil came back out, opened her door and reached for her. “It’s time to come inside,” he said. “It’s been a long morning.”



Part Five: Emphasis


Phil felt punch-drunk. Three days ago, he had returned from a fact-finding business trip. His company had taken care of him: he had flown first-class and enjoyed a few well-earned in-flight drinks. But he had felt unsettled. While he waited in the baggage-claim area, he had a feeling that something was wrong at home. Cody had been testing the limits lately, pushing for more independence. Phil had often felt like the go-between in conflicts with his wife and son. He called home. Everything was fine there.


Still, the strange feeling remained. Phil stopped in one of the airport stores. He looked at the quarter-, half-, and one-pound bags of dark chocolate. Cody loved dark chocolate. It had been a while since Phil had bought him a present on a business trip.


Now Phil went into his son’s room. The one-pound bag of chocolate sat on Cody’s desk, half empty. Phil hesitated, then reached into it. He put a dark wafer of chocolate on his tongue and let it melt.



When Sarah and her mother left the tattoo parlor, the sun was setting –- the days were so short this time of year. Sarah looked at the trees –- evergreens, mostly –- silhouetted in black against the orange-pink sky. In the cold car, Sarah tried to shrink into herself, make herself as small as possible and touch as little as possible. The tattoo felt sticky –- sticky and sort of scratchy -- and Sarah wondered if the dressing would freeze to it. The other Sarah had left a message on her cell phone: “They’re sending Charlie O’Hallahan down to get Cody. Tomorrow morning, early -- if the weather’s okay. I just –- I thought you should know. I almost said I thought you might like to know, but that’s not exactly –- I mean -- I’m just really sorry. About Cody.  I’ll see you at school.”


Sarah thought -- she couldn't help it -- about Cody's body, how it would look when they pulled him out. She wondered if he'd look like himself. She touched the gauze pad over her tattoo and tried to remember the way it had felt when he wrote on her -- the point of the pen, his little finger on her skin.



“Marcia, I strongly recommend that you do not...yes, I know. But I don’t think you’re gonna want to be there when we... Still, I... Yes, we talked to the EPA, and...right. They want us to get the crane in...well, I didn’t think it was an option before. I know, but... I KNOW, but... Well, if the EPA wants us to pull the whole car out, that’s what... I was just worried about the diver, Marcia, not... I know. See you tomorrow, I guess...okay. Try to get some sleep. Goodnight.”



Part Six: It All Falls Apart


It was snowing again the ground crunched under marcias boots as she shifted back and forth phil was still in the car he didnt want to watch he didnt understand why marcia wanted to my baby she thought my baby and she thought about once when he was two blond hair big eyes and he fell in her sisters pool he was a good swimmer she thought he loved the water how strange that it would be like this charlie the diver was underwater and then he came up and marcia assumed he had clipped the cable onto the car like they said he would onto the front of the car next to the dent where she ran into the light post at the supermarket god shed loved that car and why was she thinking that and why were her feet cold how could she feel or think anything besides my son my son and it seemed like a long time before the sound of machinery the crane pulling back phil coming to stand behind her and the ice cracking around the car her car as the front bumper came up and she didnt want to look and she couldnt help but look and the silence then the murmuring as they all realized he wasnt there he wasnt at the wheel was he in the back no no he wasnt he wasnt anywhere and marcia didnt feel the gravel mixed with snow on her knees through her pants but she saw the scrapes later





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