Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Jacob Kittilstad has won our short story contest on the theme of Reflections on Race with his piece "Milkshake."
Jacob Kittilstad has worked as a reporter in the North, the South, and the Midwest.
I drink a milkshake on my way home. It is the only thing I have eaten all day. The film drags down the back of my throat. I grunt to clear it on my way home.
I am not going home. I am going back to work. I tell myself that I am going home because it makes me happy. It makes me happier than saying I am going back to work.
I am not going back to work. My work is already finished. I am going back to the building where my work is collected and broadcast. My camera is in a bag in the trunk.
My camera captured nothing. I call non-interviews nothing. My camera captured a location. My camera captured my presentation. But my camera captured nothing new. The new information is in my head. No one wants to go on-camera. My camera captured nothing.
I pointed my camera at a drain along a road. The hole is long but less than a foot tall. A vehicle pushed a body into that hole. The body belongs to a high school student. The student is Mexican and without citizenship. He survives but barely.
It is the night of the crash. A young woman drives the vehicle. She turns out of a parking lot and hits the young man. Her bumper crunches his body into the drain. She straightens herself out and drives a block down the road. She is crying. She calls her father. Her father tells her to drive home. Her father says the police officers can meet her there.
Her father is the chief of police. Authorities determine there is no foul play. The sheriff’s department confirms this assessment to downplay any accusation of conflict of interest. But there is no accusation.
The family of the student does not want to speak out. No one is documented. No one speaks English. The only family member who speaks English was attending the local high school before he was squeezed into a sewer grate. The rest of the family works at the chicken processing plant tearing bones from meat and pressing muscle through machinery.
No one talks about what happens. Talking means attention. Everyone has something to lose. The families fear losing their children. The families fear losing their jobs and their lives as they know them. There is an understanding of power that is accepted.
The collision happened outside of a restaurant. I ask an employee if they have surveillance video. The employee says no. I only ask because my boss will ask me if I asked. The corporate structure of the drive-in restaurant would forbid them from giving it to me.
“Can you imagine if the people were switched?” the employee asks.
The news would talk about the daughter of a police chief maimed by an illegal immigrant who fled the scene. There might be raids. Other things might happen unofficially.
“It would never happen this way. All the Mexicans around here ride bikes,” another employee says, missing the point.
The authorities do not need to answer my questions. I am viewed as a person deliberately stirring up controversy to hurt the mental health of a young woman. The social media pages run by the department are the only believable news channels. It is the only thing that is real.
“What size shake did you want?” the second employee asks.