What's All This Then?

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In Cold Blood
by Truman Capote

Field-Tested by Zach Sims

in Holcomb, Kansas

He had described it so perfectly that, 40 years later, it took me all of five minutes to find it. The main street through Holcomb, Kansas ends abruptly and turns into a sandy country road that twists out towards nowhere. After a mile or so, I found a place to turn around. A chill raced through me when I saw those two beautiful rows of Chinese Elm trees marching along both sides of that long driveway. I knew instantly that it was the Clutter House sitting at the end of that drive, alone, out away from the rest of town.

I had purchased a copy of In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, two nights before in the only bookstore I could find in Salina, Kansas. I had never read it before, but I had heard it read aloud by my ninth grade English teacher Mrs. Baine. I had always remembered Capote’s description of the murders, the vicious details were burned into my 15 year-old mind. The mental images from years earlier, stored away for so long in some recess of my mind came back to me as I stayed up reading until three a.m. in my hotel room in Salina.

A day later, I was there. I took a left onto a knotted little road in Holcomb, past a few small houses and a trailer park and I stopped at the entrance of the driveway and squinted at the house through the tree branches. A sign posted at the entrance of the driveway requested that I go no further.

It was almost exactly as I had pictured it in my mind, a testament to Capote’s descriptive skill. I sat there for a while. I closed my eyes and I could see tail lights sliding silently between the darkened elms. I could hear Hickock and Smith’s feet crunching on the gravel as they walked toward the house. In my mind, I could see the most heart-wrenchingly vivid scene in any book that I have ever read: Perry Smith’s detailed description of the slaughter of the Clutter family.

And there was the house where it happened, just like Capote said it was. The Clutters suddenly became real to me as I looked at their house. I suddenly imagined them sitting around the kitchen table, having breakfast together as the sun streamed in through the window. I saw them laughing together, fighting too, just like any family. I thought about the children, Nancy and Kenyon Clutter, who each dreamed dreams in that house that would never come true.

I started to feel guilty as I sat there and gawked out at the house. I felt like I shouldn’t have gone there. Being there, somehow, I’m not sure how, it made the book different for me.

After a few minutes, I drove away, craning my head back and staring at the house until I couldn’t see it anymore.

Zach Sims is a freelance journalist from Missouri.

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