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My Sunshine Away

by M. O. Walsh

Hardcover, 306 pages, Penguin Group USA, List Price: $26.95 |

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My Sunshine Away
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M. O. Walsh

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NPR Summary

A man reflects on the summer of his 14th year, when he fell in love with a golden-haired girl across the street before an unspeakable crime shattered illusions in his seemingly idyllic neighborhood.

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Excerpt: My Sunshine Away

There were four suspects in the rape of Lindy Simpson, a crime that occurred directly on top of the sidewalk of Piney Creek Road, the same sidewalk our parents had once hopefully carved their initials into, years before, as residents of the first street in the Woodland Hills subdivision to have houses on each lot. It was a crime impossible during the daylight, when we neighborhood kids would have been tearing around in go-karts, coloring chalk figures on our driveways, or chasing snakes down into storm gutters. But, at night the streets of Woodland Hills sat empty and quiet, except for the pleasure of frogs greeting the mosquitoes that rose in squadrons from the swamps behind our properties.

On this particular evening, however, in the dark turn beneath the first busted streetlight in the history of Piney Creek Road, a man, or perhaps a boy, stood holding a long piece of rope. He tied one end of this rope to the broken light pole next to the street and wrapped the other around his own hand. Thinking himself unseen, he then crawled into the azalea bushes beside Old Man Casemore's house, the rope lagging in shadow behind him like a tail, where he perhaps practiced, once or twice, pulling the rope taut and high across the sidewalk. And then this man, or this boy, knowing the routine of the Simpson girl, waited to hear the rattle of her banana-seated Schwinn coming around the curve.

You should know:

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a hot place.

Even the fall of night offers no comfort. There are no breezes sweeping off the dark servitudes and marshes, no cooling rains.

Instead, the rain that falls here survives only to boil on the pavement, to steam up your glasses, to burden you. So this man, or this boy, was undoubtedly sweating as he crouched in the bushes, undoubtedly eaten alive by insects. They gnash you here. They cover you. And so it is not a mistake to wonder if he might have been dissuaded from this violence had he lived in a more merciful place. It is important, I believe, when you think back about a man or a boy in the bushes, to wonder if maybe one soothing breeze would have calmed him, would have softened his mood, would have changed his mind.

But it did not.

So the act took place in darkness, in near silence, in heat, and Lindy Simpson remembered little other than the sudden appearance of a rope in front of her bicycle, the sharp pull of its braid across her chest. Months later, and after much therapy, she would also recall how the bicycle rode on without her after she fell. She would remember how she never even saw it tip over before a sock was stuffed into her mouth and her face was pushed into the lawn. The crush of weight on her back. The scrape of asphalt against her knees. She would remember these, too. Then a voice in her ear that she did not recognize.Then a blow to the back of her head.

She was fifteen years old.This was the summer of 1989 and no arrests were made. Don't believe what you see on the crime shows today. No single hairs were tweezed out of Old Man Casemore's lawn. No length of rope was sent off to a lab. No DNA was salvaged off the pebbles of our concrete. And although the people of Woodland Hills answered earnestly every question the police initially asked of them, although they tried their best to be helpful, there was no immediate evidence to speak of.

All four of these primary suspects therefore remained unofficial and uncharged, as the rape had occurred so quickly and without apparent witness that the crime scene itself began to fade the moment Lindy Simpson regained consciousness and pushed her bicycle back home that night, a place only four doors away, to lay it down in its usual spot. It faded even further as she walked through the back door of her house and climbed upstairs to her bathroom, where she showered in water of an unknown temperature.

There are times in my life when I imagine this water scalding.

Other times, frozen.

Regardless, Lindy never came down for dinner.

She was likely thought by her parents to be yapping with friends on the telephone, twirling the cord around her young fingers, until her mother, a woman named Peggy, made her evening rounds with the laundry basket. It was then she saw a pair of underpants in the bathroom, dotted with bright red blood, lying next to a single running shoe. The other shoe, a blue Reebok, was missing.

By this time, her daughter Lindy was curled in her bed and concussed.

A bed that just that morning had been a child's.

I should tell you now that I was one of the suspects.

Hear me out.

Let me explain.