His Witness

By: Vanessa Waltz

Normally this room is filled with the sound of people talking, bullshitting, whatever. Fifteen or so men are in the room, and you could hear a pin drop. What’s there to say? A made guy was caught talking to the feds. It’s an outrage. It’s a tragedy, too. All of them look pale. Ben’s betrayal shook them. Everyone liked him, even me. Ben had an infectious smile. Many of them regarded him as a little brother, but he talked to the cops.

We all know what happens when you do that.

Joe, one of the captains, took it especially hard. He sits in one of the chairs, looking as if his sister died all over again. They probably didn’t hear his screams—the place is pretty soundproof—but Vince sure as fuck did. Jack places an arm around my shoulders, unsmiling.

“Tommy boy, good work. Why don’t you take the rest of the night off?”

I can tell from the unhappy faces that I’m not welcome here tonight. It’s not that they don’t like me, but I’m the one who killed the guy everyone liked. The mood just feels strained. My footsteps echo hollowly in the deli, and I leave without so much as a wave, exiting to walk into the stinging air. It feels colder than usual, and it isn’t until I reach my car and look at the rearview mirror that I realize my face is wet.

An invisible force slams into my chest and I crumple over myself, my face falling into my hands. It’s a strange tightening sensation in my chest. Air shakes through my mouth.

He always saved me a seat at the poker table, always had a smile for me. He was a nice guy, but that didn’t stop me from carving him up like a Christmas turkey.

Why the fuck did you rat us out? You knew what would happen to you if we found out. Now you’re gone, and your mother will get a visit from the FBI when you turn up missing, telling her that we probably killed her only son.

I regret it.

Remorse swells my chest, and I ball my hands into fists as a shaking sigh leaves my mouth. I sit there in the freezing seat of my car for a while and I feel low.

Why did I do that to him? Why do I do it to any of them? There’s no need to make them suffer so much. No need to torture, maim, and kill them like I do.

But I can’t stop it.

Grief is like a tide. It blows forward, its icy white fingers grabbing my chest, and then it recedes. Then it comes back and fades again, ebbing and flowing. Each time it comes back, it’s a little less strong. After ten minutes I don’t understand the tears on my cheeks, just like I don’t understand how some men shake when I rob them. The only thing I know is rage. The familiar stirrings begin in the pit of my stomach. The guys’ faces run through my mind, kindling for the small spark.

And I’m angry again.

I wish I could tell you that I was abused.

I wish I could tell you that I had a shitty childhood.

I’m just sick.


The steps of Columbia University’s library glow in the late afternoon sun, and I lay my hands on the smooth creamy stone. I can feel the sunlight’s warmth through my skin. Joyous, carefree voices reverberate around me, and I marvel for a moment at all the excitement around campus. Everybody is humming with the simple joy of being young and in love, and for a moment I can almost feel it, too.

Sometimes I come here and I pretend that I’m one of them. For a moment, I believe it.

Their eyes slide over me, instantly accepting me as one of them because I am young, like them. I look as if I belong here. I do belong here.

The hardest moment of my life was the day I rescinded my acceptances to college. That was the day my dreams died.

It’s in these moments that I feel horribly lonely and lost. I’ve never been surrounded by so many happy people, and felt such an ache in my chest. My eyes glaze over and a breath catches in my lungs. Two pathways extend in front of me, the roads infinite. The one where I go to college is closed off forever.

It’ll never happen at this rate.

I swallow that bitter taste in my mouth, which burns with a vengeance when I glance at my watch. It’s time for me to go to the club, where I work. I gave up my dreams to manage a club and watch people get shitfaced nearly every night, just so that my father could have an easier life. Without me, he’d be running the club. He’d have to deal with the men he brought into our business.

And I don’t want my dad getting mixed up with them.

I shoulder my tote bag and walk through the campus, my eyes burning with such intensity that I’m afraid to meet anyone’s gaze. They’ll see the ugly, jealous thoughts swirling in my head. Once I’m off campus, the feelings will fade.

I don’t know why I come here. To torture myself with visions of what could have been?

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