"Townies" by Andre Dubus

In a way, he was the best man to find her. He was not excitable, he was not given to anger, he was not a man of action: when he realized the girl was dead he did not think immediately of what he ought to do, of what acts and his words his uniform and wages required of him. He did not think of phoning the police. He knelt on the snow, so close to her that his knee touched her shoulder, and he stroked her cold cheek, her cold blonde hair.

Andre Dubus’ “Townies” (not to be confused, please and thank you, with his son’s memoir Townie) is my favorite short story of all time. It tells the tale of two men from the same crumbling mill town. One is a campus safety officer at the local college, a girls’ school recently gone co-ed, and the other is a guy who hooks up with the college girls from time to time.

What draws them together is the dead body the security guard finds on page one. That, and the repeated image of bridges and crossings, my favorite element of the story. At the mid-point, Dubus shifts point of view and we are offered the chance to compare and contrast: will the young guy make the same crossings the guard does? And, perhaps more importantly, will he go places the guard does not dare to go?

The story can be found in Selected Stories.