My First Body: Conversations with the Dead

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Dawn Shurmaitis

Everyone remembers their first body. Mine died in a shallow creek during a hard winter. By the time she was found, a delicate sheen of ice had covered her homely face. She looked like an aging ice princess, albeit a very dead one.

It was my first homicide as a fledgling newspaper reporter, and I was determined to get it right. From my vantage point, I scribbled furiously, describing the clothes she wore (short skirt, flimsy blouse), the number of detectives scrambling along the bank (three), even the body bag they used to take her from the scene (thick, black, zipped). As I took notes, I congratulated myself for not losing my lunch (soup, split pea). “I can do this,” I thought. But my bravado deserted me the second after I arrived at the dead woman’s door. Read the rest…

“A Leg Up”

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The next-best Paul McDermott story anybody ever told was about the day Paul hung his leg from the ceiling of the Hilltop Inn. The best story anybody ever told was about the day he took it down.         Read the rest…

“The River Man”

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They called him “The River Man.” Blessed with a sweet soft way, he lived his whole life in a small house in a small town built on the banks of Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River. The first time I saw him, sitting alone at the far end of a bar, his big hands wrapped around a sweating mug of Stegmaier, I dismissed him as another hopeless drunk. For a time – a good long time – he was. Read the rest…

That’s So Gay

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It was a flip remark, the kind 10-year-olds toss out as easily as Frisbees. “That’s so gay,” said my nephew, a blue-eyed kid I nicknamed Charlie Brown after his good nature and moon face. Read the rest…

Smoking with the Patch On

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The way I saw it, I had two choices before me the morning I came downstairs to find Stella firmly tethered to her oxygen tank – and defiantly waving a zippo and a Parliament. Run like hell or stand and fight. Read the rest…

“A Magical Night of Music”

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My father got Alzheimer’s 10 years ago. At first, we passed it off to “getting old.” He’d drive the car to the corner store a half-mile away, and get lost coming home. He’d take a bite of my mom’s apple pie and say, “I don’t want meat loaf.” Read the rest…