Fincke500x622In the next town over, early in the parade, the recently acquitted drive their red truck slowly, the Ford F-150 as polished as the fire trucks and the horns of the high school band. From both windows they throw Tootsie Rolls and hard candy wrapped in cellophane to scrambling children, then wave like the mayor and the Farm Show Princess who follow the Civil War re-enactors and their hoop-skirted wives.

An hour ago, because the acquitted said they would carry a sign and a poster, a volunteer had approved their red pickup as a float, slotting it between the Cub Scouts and the Gym Starz in their sparkling tights. Now, all of us along the parade route read the sign that says, “Our trial wasted $17,000 of your money,” beside a poster of the District Attorney stuffed into a garbage can.

I’m here with my granddaughters, ages six and nine, because I picked a local parade to entertain them. The parade is small, the route short. They live in Los Angeles, have access to the annual Rose Bowl Parade, but here there are farm animals up close and children their age walking by and waving in Brownie uniforms and dance outfits. Both girls are paying attention.

The acquitted, I think, might have passed the victim’s family. I concentrate on their mouths to read their words. I watch their gestures for tells.

I’d read the newspaper’s daily reports on the trial. Like my neighbors, I’d expected a guilty verdict even though many of the witnesses seemed unreliable. Every adult here must remember the recent testimony about the seventeen-year-old fatal beating that was finally being prosecuted. The kegs of beer in the field of a local farm. The large crowd and their heavy drinking. The young man who would be killed coming on to the girlfriend of one of the acquitted, his hand on her bare arm.

All of us likely remember the descriptions of the beating. A half-sister to one of the acquitted saying the victim was “assaulted hard core while people watched.” Another witness claiming the victim took a few licks, but “just a little knock around, nobody falling down or like that.”

For sure, all of us must remember the farm’s owner repeating the advice she claimed to have given the acquitted that day: “You want to kill somebody, you move that body off my property.”

Which some claimed they did in the bed of that Ford F-150. Which some asserted they did not. Regardless, every one of those witnesses agreed, that young man’s body ended up lying along a seldom used country road. The acquitted, meanwhile, lived as suspects for seventeen years.

My granddaughters love the rabbits in their cages and the tethered calf led by a girl who looks to be about ten years old. I grip their hands to keep them from lunging for the candy, but neither one tugs to free herself, as if the murmur that rises around us as the truck passes is a warning to be wary.

After the acquitted pass, a nearby woman unwraps one of their butterscotch candies. She sucks on it, her mouth working as if she is delivering a curse. I think of how likely it is that some of the spectators are armed. Whether the news of the acquitted’s float has reached a relative or close friend of the murdered man.

A man half a block down raises a fist in rage. Or in solidarity. Either way, I’m relieved to see his hand is empty.

One more block and the acquitted turn left, accelerate, and disappear like the immortal.

Gary Fincke’s latest book is The Proper Words for Sin (2013), a collection of stories from West Virginia University Press.  His memoir The Canals of Mars (2010) was published by Michigan State.  He is the Charles Degenstein Professor of English and Creative Writing at Susquehanna University.

Photography by Liz Wuerffel