Jon Udelson


Jon Udelson is a graduate of City College’s MFA program in Creative Writing. His fiction has appeared in [sic] literary journal and Fiction Magazine, and his non-fiction title, Arabic Tattoos, through Mark Batty Publisher. He currently lives in New York, where he teaches composition at a small collection of CUNY schools.

The Twelfth Remember

Derrick says we need backpacks, satchels, duffle bags and bindles. He says that we could use anything that carries, so long as it’s a lot. I take his dictation, but stop to pass the gasper across the front seat. Feeling good, I interrupt. “I heard another one this morning,” I say. Derrick says that what I’m doing is I’m making him lose his locomotive of thought. I ask, “What was the last thing that went through those girls’ heads?”

“Don’t tell me,” Derrick says. It’s already later than he wants, and he says we need to up our focus. He quotes me item one off the list of remembers we found on the field that day. Item one on the list of remembers is, remember the body is a machine.


When what went through those girls’ heads went through their heads, Derrick and I were under the football field bleachers, sharing a gasper and cutting Spanish so we could perform some reconnaissance on the gym-class girls and their shorts, which to us were a crime in favor of mankind. We liked the little wiggles the girls made before shooting their hips around to knock golf balls a couple hundred feet or so against a three-walled structure of nets. And we especially liked how they paused, one leg crossed over the other, club rested against shoulder and backside poised, each girl set in a frozen stance to watch her flying ball.

The wind, yelling at us, hurled up crispy leaves that crumbled in flight. Old tin empties from Friday’s game bashed against the seating, setting it to rattle and groan. Every few seconds the rat-a-tat of the girls teeing off in unison would mix in, delayed a second or two because even sound, we learned, has a speed.

I suggested Aiden McCormick for our numero uno, practicing our Espanol so we wouldn’t fall behind. I added that she had mucho tatas, but Derrick vetoed me. He nominated Denise Richman, instead, since when she stretched you could see her underwearos. First I said, “Si,” and then I said, “Muy,” and I looked down to our notepad to enter it in the way I wanted. But Derrick watched me to make sure I’d enter it right.

Our heads down, we heard the wind crack like twigs snapping in the sky. This happened a few dozen times and as fast as rolling r’s. Before it registered that what we heard was a spray of metal about to go through those girls, we thought the sounds were from more old empties beating the network of aluminum around us. When we heard a dozen more snaps, we looked out to the field.

It was one way of settling our argument.

“Ay dios mio,” I said, and meant it.

Derrick asked, “What’s that?”


The police radio in Derrick’s clunker is courtesy of the local department. I perma-borrowed it when everyone was busy at the school loading the black bags into vans and trucks. It’s telling us that there’s been an accident on the parkway, so I tell Derrick he’s going to want to take the Crosslake. Derrick ramps off and says that since we have extra time now he wants to add to our list. I take dictation in shorthand: the rest of what we’ll need, how we’ll get what we’ll need, what we’ll do with what we need, and what we’ll do with what we need after what we do is done.

I ask Derrick why he makes me take so much dictation. I’ve lowered my passenger side window a crack or two. Derrick is driving so fast the rushing air is whistling through, and I have to speak loud. He says, “Item six, the shooter’s list.” He calls the list we found at the incident the shooter’s list. I call it the list of remembers. “Remember that success is preparation’s son.”

“I wonder what ours’ll have that theirs didn’t.” I’m shouting.

“An escape plan,” Derrick says, but I barely hear him. He turns and guns it through the gate. The parking lot’s so full, you’d swear there was a giveaway.

“Poor chica,” I say, knowing that the lot is full for her. Derrick says don’t say that. The radio advises emergency vehicles to roundabout on the Crosslake.


At first we thought to run and get a teacher, but then we thought, what would a teacher do? Even one who taught health or human anatomy would be scratching their head. All we could guess they’d do was what we were doing: watch and then think to go get someone else. Taking that line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, we figured that’d only be useful if we were looking to gather an audience. That idea out, we spent our next thought on thinking we’d run a sneak attack on those guys, because if the girls didn’t notice us, maybe they wouldn’t either. Then we thought about how once we were up close, that might be an idea we’d regret. Derrick says that up close things are real in a way they aren’t when they’re far away, but I know that already. But since we hadn’t yet learned that the body is a machine and machines don’t regret, we were stuck still thinking of ourselves as flesh and blood and bone. So our last thought was that we’d bear witness, because what else was there?

And even though it’s not on the list, I remember that at the time a scrim of cloud cover had invaded the sky, making the day white, and that the sun shined behind the thin veil like a face we were waiting to marry. We shaded our eyes and we kept ourselves waiting.


Inside it’s all hushed voices and beeping intercoms and wheels on chairs. Eyes topped with glazed film and hunched shoulders everywhere you look. They make us show our licenses at the front desk even though our pictures are thumb-tacked to a corkboard behind it. The nurse at reception makes an O with her mouth and says, “Oh the heroes” and hands us back our I.D.’s, her smile all teeth.

Derrick asks, “How’s she doing?”

The nurse shakes her head and says, “Such a pretty girl.” Then something about something being a shame.

Derrick says, “What’s that supposed to mean?” The nurse tells him her answer.

I pull Derrick away before he makes a scene, and we stair it up to floor number seven because the elevator lines wrap around to the gift shop. On floor number seven we have to wait behind a few cool-humming vending machines for everyone else to leave.


Item ten on the list of remembers is remember why you’re there. Under the bleachers, Derrick and I couldn’t remember why we were there, but we were the only ones. This other pair of boys watching the girls’ gym class funneled the rest of the girls into the capture of the nets. The two then took turns knocking golf balls their way while the other picked them off one by one by one. Both of the boys wore windbreakers and had brown hair and didn’t seem at all what they were. We didn’t see their faces, but they were calm, or they acted calm. The girls, on the other hand, lost it. They clucked about, making themselves moving targets—which are targets still—and when they cried out, they cried out in waves. Some tried climbing the nets, but they must’ve been fifty feet high. Plus, no footing to speak of. The girls who tried got themselves pull-up high, their fingers caught in the mesh, and then stayed there like the opposite of spiders.


Behind the snack machine I say to Derrick: “C’mon, through their heads. I’ll give you all the guesses in the world.”

Just then the parents leave, slumped at the vanguard of a motley bunch of family, friends, and stragglers, and leading the way to the cafeteria. We re-scramble, this time behind the soda machine and watch to make sure they’ve left. On the way in, Derrick says he wants precisely zero guesses.


At some point the gasper had gone out, but neither Derrick nor I noticed. We continued to pass it and suck down air. The air was stale. We watched the girls become broken machines, or we watched them become a body count. Same difference.


Aiden McCormick’s room is a jungle of flowers, glass, and helium-fattened Mylar. Square vases and round vases and heart-shaped vases and vase-looking vases hold flowers in colors I didn’t know they came in. Flat cartoon faces look down at her from the ceiling, each smiling big, and serenely contoured cursive orders her around like it knows what’s best. She holds her head cocked to the far corner, looking up at them. “Cheer up,” one reads in bright orange (a color you can count on). What it doesn’t say is cheer up, you’ll never be you again. Mostly, I guess, because those two don’t go together.

With half her head shaved, Aiden looks punk-rock. We can see the crater that wraps around her head starting just above the ear. The left side of her mouth drools out thick strings of spit that slop onto her gown, which Derrick and I can’t help notice is becoming very wet t-shirt like. She doesn’t know who we are, but she smiles at us anyway, pretending she does. She never knew who we were, but now she doesn’t know that. She thinks we’re like everyone else she’s forgotten.


At the memorial on the football field, people asked us why. Us being bearers of witness and all, they thought we must have insight. When they asked, we felt compelled to quote them remember number two: remember, there are only whats. That’s all remember number two says. No one asks us why anymore.


None of us knows what to say, so I say, “Hey Aiden.” Aiden looks up, eyes so out of focus the doctors have said we’re upside down. She mouths back a soundless hey and nods her head. I say, “So what was the last thing that went through your head before—” Derrick knuckles me, hard and on the chest.


Know this: a ball hit well into a blank sky disappears for a time, the surrounding white too much for the light to tear away, the ball lost in all that color of itself. You have to imagine its flight, and if you imagine right, the ball will appear where you want it, when you want it to, but only if you imagine it right. And when it touches down to the green as if back from spaceflight, it will bounce, always forward and cheerful and in a way that’s exciting and alive.

One of the pair definitely played, because he even bulls-eyed a few of the girls. The other excelled at mowing down the target closest to the landed ball, bulls-eyed or not, filling her machine with metal.

Aiden must have gone temporarily loco because when we spotted her at the backdrop of the net she was jumping up and down. It wasn’t working for her, so she squatted low and jumped again, looking like she was playing at leapfrog. We couldn’t tell if she had gotten higher, but then she started skipping and flailing her arms as if she were flagging down a rescue plane destined not to notice her. Some of the other girls joined in, and soon it was a field of scared chicas waving at what wasn’t there. The next ball bounced near Aiden, and then she fell. A second later we heard the snap of another snapped twig.

Know this too: machine or not, screams in a yelling wind sound like part of the wind.


We’ve loaded Aiden into the hatchback and strapped her in. We told the attendants that Aiden spoke—a breakthrough! they said—and told us she wanted to go for a roll around the garden. It’s amazing what they let heroes do. Outside the car I say to Derrick, “I’ll even give you a hint. Please, please, please.”

“Don’t want one,” he says, and shuts the hatchback.


Derrick was the one who found the shooter’s list in the field of aftermath. It was part torn and trapped under a bucket of balls and trying its best to blow away. Derrick picked up the list, and the first remember he read out was remember number nine: he told me to watch where I step. He said it more like a question though, not knowing what the list was then. “Watch where you step?” he said. I was, and I was watching where I was kicking too, seeing if anyone would kick back.

At the far corner of the net, Aiden twitched when I steel-toed her shoulder. I leaned over to hear her speak, but I couldn’t make out a word for all that gurgling. I leaned closer and Aiden, the numero uno she is, gnawed into my leg with whatever fight she had left in her to gnaw into a leg at all.

“Ow!” I screamed. “We’re rescuing you!”


In the car I say to Derrick, “Hey Derrick,” and Derrick looks across to me. “What about what went through the pair’s heads?”

Derrick says that he heard that one already. Some guy in homeroom. He starts the car and off we go.


A shot fired behind us and with Aiden’s teeth sunk into my ankle, it was difficult for me to turn around. Derrick and I looked back to see a sunglassed face and a security uniform and a smoking gun, aimed up. The shot was warning us away. The security guard yelled, “You gun freak assholes some kinda sickos?” He trained his gun on us and settled into a squat he looked born to hold.

Derrick said, “You don’t understand.” He then hit the ground, elbowing up against one of the girls. Then he got up and hit the ground a little farther away.

Hands reaching for it, I called out that we had a live one here. The guard might have taken it as a hostage situation, because he said he’d be glad to blow my brains out if I wanted to keep making threats.

“You’re not even supposed to have a firearm. This is a school!” I yelled. This talk of firearms reminded the security guard: He asked what us gun freak assholes did with ours.

Derrick had since assumed the position: prostrate, fingers netted behind head. “We’re not the guys,” he said, his head cranked up toward the security guard.

Aiden passed out and her head started leaking out onto my shoe. I could feel it soak through into my sock. I yelled to the guard some more, this time about calling an ambulance.

“Who else has been shot?” he asked.

“This is the only who left!” I said, this time screaming.

The security guard walkie-talkied something into his shoulder. The walkie-talkie came back in warbled chokes. He then stopped making us look into his gun.


We were later told we saved her life, though now I have my doubts.


In list-making, it comes to me, is the art of knowing the future, which requires cross-outs and constant revision. If the pair had made a list of possible outcomes to their own bodies when the SWATs road-blocked them at the bridge, they might have reconsidered their project all together. Or maybe they would’ve just planned it better. Maybe they would have thought to get a police radio, like us.


Derrick talks more so I won’t. It’s more for our list, and I take dictation from the passenger seat. He says for scooping we could pack single-handed point-tip shovels and the two-handed kind with their deep concave dips made for digging out snow-buried cars. We could bring children’s sand buckets, or rakes and nets, augers even, though they may slow us down. Derrick geniuses something up on the spot. “Pencil ready,” he tells me. “An empty gallon of milk with its top scissored off.” That I know could be for Aiden.

I turn in my seat to face her. “Did that get through?” I ask. Aiden eyes the window and, as we’re passing them, stares down either the sky or the sky under the lake. To her it’d be the same. Then I think, if she’s not a machine now.


Then there was the reporter for a local paper who asked for an interview. We were sitting on benches outside of the cafeteria. It was after the incident and we were draped in emergency blankets and he offered us a couple cocoas to sip. The reporter called us heroes and asked for our thoughts. Derrick didn’t know what to say. I said, let this be a lesson. The reporter asked of what. He stumped me there. His version of the story didn’t even go national.

Later, paraphrasing remember number nine, Derrick told me I really stepped in that one.


Maybe we should all carry the same list. A list of considerations. It’ll be the list of things we can’t make lists of. Of right things in need of doing, but we don’t know how. Of feelings that don’t yet have names. The list of whys we don’t have answers to. But I only take dictation.


We stop at the hardware store, the grocery, the athletics store, the pharmacy. We take turns watching Aiden and wear hoodies and pay in cash. We collect what needs collecting and cross off what we can. We gas up.

Derrick leaves the car idling in front of the costume store and goes in to buy the face black so I can check it off the list. I get out of the car and open the hatchback all the way up and talk at Aiden. What I say to her’s not important, but she’s a good listener anyway. A man comes up to us. Forty, nicely dressed, well-meaning. He looks at Aiden and the juice straw hanging out of her mouth and tells me that it’s nice that I’m so nice to her, that it’s good to see my being so good to her. This guy doesn’t know us from them or anyone else. So I grab the seven-iron from the car’s floor and ask him what, if anything, he does know. Then I offer to introduce him to my friend here, face to face. Of course the guy runs. Some people.


That night I dreamt of what Aiden gurgled at me from the ground, right before her head stopped working right. In the dream her words didn’t come out like drowning sounds. They were a beautiful Spanish that I didn’t know.


Remember number twelve was remember, and then that’s where the list was torn off. We have to wonder why and we have to wonder what. Another pair, Derrick and I consider our project. We pass the gasper across the seat and wonder why we never decided on what to do with what we get. We look for the logical end but can’t see anything but the unwinding road and the arcing sun, reminding us that for a while each day’s red.

We sit there for a bit, not talking and doing some thinking, which the gasper helps with. What we finally figure is like the smoke we exhale: clear enough. Remember number twelve we make up. In case remembers one through eleven aren’t worth shit, remember there’s remember twelve.


They’re talking about us over the radio. “Be on the lookout for two”—and they describe us, and even broadcast our names. “Young, semi-paralytic female abducted from”—and it goes on like this for a while. “Suspects should be considered”—and the dispatcher tells the police what to consider us. “Potential copycats—” but that’s when Derrick shuts it off. As far as we can figure, people don’t want to remember. They’d rather remind themselves that they did what they could, and then bury the scraps. No one says it, but it makes them feel more broken seeing broken machines.


“The very last thing?” Derrick asks, en route.

“That’s right,” I tell him.

In the back Aiden groans. There’s a cadence to it. “What’s that, Aid?” I say.

“Don’t tease her,” Derrick says. Then Derrick says, “Never mind. It won’t be funny.” He pops the emergency brake and parks.


So it’s me and Aiden and Derrick and what we’re doing is what we can. At night, the overcast sky looks the same as if it weren’t overcast at all, and we skulk under it like spies. When the security guard—new guy, explicitly told the most dangerous weapon he could carry was a flashlight—finishes his patrol, that’s our cue to snip the tape and roll Aiden into the capture. She nods her head even though we didn’t ask her anything.

Derrick wheels her through the range in zigzag cuts, the milk containers lying loose in each of her hands and skimming the green. I trail next to them, a rigged wet vac strapped to my back and sucking up everything they miss. We can’t see them but we know they’re out here. Hundreds of them, thousands maybe, all and each left out here alone. Scuffed and dimpled and run tan from the dirt in all different ways, and each with a sharp line of red that goes all away around its center. Our plan is simple. Get as many as there are.

When Aiden’s milk containers fill up, Derrick takes them from her and empties the balls into his duffle bag. He then hands back the containers and continues rolling her through. When his bag is full, Derrick hands it to me and I run it and my wet vac to the car and load the hatchback and return for more. We comb the range and get all there is to get. I can’t remember how many runbacks to the hatchback I’ve done, but even in getting them all I feel I should be running back more.


We save a bucket for a sort-of salute, and tee off into the empty range. Derrick launches a ball. And then I launch one. They travel silent and invisible, and there’s no need to see where they land. Aiden reaches out as far as her arms will extend, pleading to us in pantomime. We set her up for a stroke and watch her for a while as we pass a gasper back and forth, trying to feel good about things when we got no right to feel good about anything at all.

At the tee her swing is beautiful. It is short and angled and when she rests the club against her shoulder, its end catches a diamond of squinted moonlight. She hacks at her ball, eventually dribbling it into the dark, and nods her head the ball’s way and points. I set her up with another ball, but she pokes it off with the club’s grip. I pick up the ball and set it again, and again she does the same. I can’t make out what she says, but I get her meaning. I flashlight the area and find her ball a few yards in front of us and place it back on the tee. She knows what we’re doing better than we do—what a thing.

What a thing.


We evoke the twelfth remember. Remember that of course the body’s a machine. It takes in metal and flower smells and gaspers, and all the jolts of living, and that’s what makes it go and that’s what makes its heart boom and legs leap and eyes witness, and that’s what makes it move in all the directions the world’s got any directions for.

So go ahead. Call the body what you want. We know what it is and we’re aiming to show you. We know that when the body breaks it’s never broken, and when the body breaks it can become something else. We’re making a list of all the names. Not of those girls, because their names we can recite by heart. But of every student, teacher, administrator. Of every maintenance man, secretary, and janitor there is. Names of everyone in town those girls ever knew, and who those people know and those people who know those people know, until we have them all. We have a hatchback full of balls, and one by one by one we’ll drop them off, if that’s what it’ll take. In your mailboxes or through your soon-to-be shattered windows, in your hands or right smack in your faces if that’s how we find you, if that’s how we get your attention.


I say to Derrick, “You’re telling me you don’t want to know? The last thing that went through the girls' heads?”

“I told you already,” he says. “It’s not funny.”

“Not the joke,” I say. “Legit.”

Aiden cracks another ball and calls out after it. I can’t make out what she’s saying, but what she’s saying is starting to sound like words. Derrick runs off to grab the ball, round and warped, out of the net’s side capture and tosses it back to me. I bend down to set her up again. Aiden pulls back her swing as far as her brain will tell her muscles they’re allowed to go. At full rotation she holds her club straight-armed, as parallel to the green as it is the sky. But it’s all upside down.

Derrick runs back up and flicks the gasper into the dark, its neon glow trailing through the air in the bends of an incomplete cursive. “How could you possibly know?” he asks.

In the distance we hear the faint sound of far-off sirens whirring through the air, moving in no direction but our own.

“Imagine it had been us out there,” I tell him, while we still have time.

Aiden shoots her arms around hard and knocks the ball true and into a place not here. “Damn thing,” she slurs. We look to her. Her club is rested, her eyes up. “Won’t you fly?”

I very much like the word bearing in the phrase bearing witness; it implies a conscious choice to be encumbered, and, not only that, but to be so ongoingly. In ‘Twelfth Remember’ I tried, then, to take this thought one step farther by asking a couple questions: what do we do with these loads we choose to carry, and how do we reconcile ourselves to the aftermath of that which cannot be fixed?”