Brookline, Massachusetts, 1994

By

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When my son Josh was thirteen he got braces on his teeth.  His orthodontist’s office was in the same building as the Preterm clinic where John Salvi shot and killed Lee Ann Nichols on the morning of Friday, December 30, 1994.

On the first floor of this building there was a small, one-room pharmacy where prescriptions were filled and small incidentals purchased.  When I took Josh to his first appointment, well before any braces were actually put on his teeth, we went into the pharmacy where I bought each of us a candy bar.  Josh was sad and anxious about having to get braces, worried about the expense and how much they might hurt so I wanted to cheer him up, I wanted him to believe that everything would be all right.

John Salvi also killed Shannon Lowney and shot two other women at an attack that same morning at another clinic, Planned Parenthood, which was tucked in a row of connected brownstones about a three minute walk from where we lived.  If I had to I could run there in a minute, as most of the way was a gently sloping downhill, past the old, stately trees and large brick homes of our neighborhood.

The clinic sat on Beacon Street, directly across from the Beacon Supermarket where I used to buy most of our groceries and also across from the Granite Super Drug and Hardware store, where I bought odds and ends, such as nails, thumbtacks, masking tape, and the coarse brown twine I used after trimming the hedge to tie the sticks and branches into acceptable bundles for the trash.

s320x240Planned Parenthood was also across from the Busy Bee Restaurant, a small diner where Josh and I sometimes had dinner when my wife was at a late meeting and Josh cajoled me into not cooking and going out to eat.  The restaurant was owned by a Greek family whose members shouted at each other in explosive bursts of Greek, as though upset or alarmed, but they were always friendly to the customers and also the two waitresses and the man who washed dishes.

The dishwasher was a man about fifty, with pale skin and short hair the color of beige linoleum.  I never heard him speak. When things were quiet he poked his head out through the small opening where dishes were passed through and stared out at the customers, his eyes wide and searching, but if he caught you watching him he ducked his head back inside.

There were no tables, just a counter and five booths, so only one waitress was really needed, although two were employed, working on alternate days.

The older waitress had dark hair, cut straight at her jaw line, and called Josh Honey or Sweetie, which made him feel like a kid.  The younger waitress had longer hair, also dark, worn piled in a bun that always leaked strands that floated and bobbed around her head as she walked back and forth.  She talked to us both like adults, often lingering by our booth to chat if there were not a lot of other customers.

She liked to tell stories about her dog, a greyhound that she adopted after his racing career ended and he was going to be put down.   She had him for a year but he had been killed that previous summer, hit by a car.  Whoever did it apparently carried him from the street and placed him in her van in her driveway where he died from a combination of his injuries and the heat of the closed car.

“Why did they do that?” she asked Josh and me when she told us what had happened.  “Did they think they were helping by putting him into the van without telling anyone, where it was so hot?”  Remembering made her eyes well up, and they glistened as she spoke, her voice rising in anger and sadness.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “They were stupid.  Scared maybe.” (continue reading)


Jep Streit is an Episcopal priest currently serving as Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston. He has worked as a college chaplain, a parish priest, and an oyster shucker at the Sand Flea Restaurant in the Florida panhandle. He was a member of the writing group hosted by the late author Andre Dubus, which continues to meet after his death. His son Josh is now 27 and teaches high school outside Boston. More from this author →