From the Trolley Car to the Field

Corrina Carter


Bernadette Williams was fatally stabbed in a rust-striped trolley car on the scrubby outskirts of Wichita Falls, Texas. The disarray within the vehicle suggested the twenty-four-year-old nurse fought hard for her life. Blood had dried in burst raindrop spatters on the wooden floor. An RN's uniform consisting of a pleated cap and a starched apron lay in a stiff tangle amid the gore. Still tied shoes rested on the ground below, where they had fallen through a missing slat. Discolored undergarments sprawled beside them. Police found a few more of Bernadette's possessions in a nearby mesquite bush. The items included two Bic pens and an age-softened dollar bill.   

The trolley car haunted bereaved parents Lawrence and Evelyn Williams. Everything similarly derelict conjured the descent of the knife, the invocations to God, the frenzied breathing, the silence. The guilt of not being there. The milestones never achieved.

The trolley car haunted Lawrence and Evelyn, but the field off West Jentsch Road, a tract of winterkilled buffalograss a hundred meters downhill, destroyed them. Bernadette died there on her back, her head canted to the left, her chest a red drizzle. The implications were harrowing. After her attacker fled, the young woman dragged herself toward the street in search of help only to realize she was not salvageable. Confronted with this worst knowledge, she rolled over to look at the stars as her consciousness feathered apart like a thinning cloud. But something in the night sky rattled her. She turned her face to the side. What horror had presented itself? The fundamental cruelty of the universe? The afterlife exposed as a crutch for the weak?

These questions reduced Lawrence to rage and Evelyn to inertia. He ground his teeth to white shrapnel. She smelled outgrown teddy bears, unwashed blankets, and expired lipstick. No one could reach them. Everybody tried. Neighbors left groceries on the front porch. Relatives cooked and cleaned. Son Gary, repressing his own pain, made light conversation to keep the couple's social skills limber.

Eventually Evelyn succumbed to cancer. She declined so rapidly it seemed she was trying to accelerate the process, was consciously gathering her energy in order to expel it in one burst. Lawrence had the opposite problem. He lived into his nineties. Age gentled his anger to a degree, but he regularly cornered strangers to share anecdotes about his daughter. He never mentioned the trolley car or the field. In his stories, Bernadette reverted to a child of ten, the brown-eyed pride of the family, the little girl with the big future, his greatest accomplishment. People could tell a tragedy had occurred, anyway.