One morning in June I was walking on the route that takes me past ball fields, beside a creek, and into a city park. Along the way, there is an elaborate memorial for a police officer who was murdered while making a routine traffic stop in that location a few years ago. The memorial has a flagpole, seating, and a flower garden, along with a memorial stone. Until the killing of the officer, that location was rather non-descript; not distinguishable from any other place along that street. Now it is an attractive rest stop, as well as a way-station for people who occasionally sleep on its sheltered benches at night. On that morning’s walk, I had just passed the memorial when I saw something shocking on the sidewalk in front of me. There were splashes, drips, smears, and three distinct hand-prints on the concrete, all the color of dried blood. “Is this a prank? What happened here? Is this paint or blood? Am I the only one seeing this? Where is the yellow police tape? If this has already been investigated, why is there still blood here?” In disbelief, I studied the patterns on the ground and tried to assess what had happened. Several scenarios came to mind, the most likely being an unamusing prank.
Each day of the summer I walked past the spot and still saw the prints quite clearly. Over the weeks, the marks faded, but never disappeared, since we had had no rain. I saw nothing in the news about any misdeed that I could connect with what I had seen, which fortified my prank theory. Two months after my first encounter with the startling evidence, there was a short article in our newspaper asking for information that would lead to two suspects in the beating of a man on that sidewalk one night in June. He had been walking home from a restaurant, back to our neighborhood, when two strangers accosted him with a baseball bat. They only stopped clubbing him when a car came by. This was their excuse to flee, and the police were still looking for any clues about who they might be. The flowers blooming at the memorial were present when the men appeared, did their deed, and ran, but testimony by plants does not hold up in court. I have no idea what happened to the injured man; I hope he is healing from that terrible night. I now know two tragic events that have happened in that sidewalk’s bend; I wonder how many other life-changing occurrences have happened there from which no evidence whatsoever remains? Have there been other beatings, other murders, a rape, or a stabbing? A marriage proposal, a friendship born, an inspiration conceived? I look at those flowers differently now- I see that they are silent witnesses in that place. They know what I cannot.