By Karen Carlson

forty miles outside Arvada the string quartet segued into something sturm und drang. I wasn’t familiar enough with the rental car to fiddle with the radio while driving, so I switched it off.

“What do you hope, what do you fear, what do you expect,” said Merida when I left the hotel after breakfast. “Best, worst, most likely. As long as you’re clear on those things, you’ll know where you are.” Her favorite paradigm, used with her students, me, our sons, anyone. A couple of years ago as a joke I’d turned her paradigm into an equation, complete with probability variables and positive/negative coefficients and put it on her web page. She thought it was hilarious.

Forty-now thirty-nine-miles from 4650 Amis Street where Jamie Ferro lived, and I still couldn’t assign values to the parameters.

* * *

Jamie Ferro was the big brother I never knew I wanted.

I didn’t know Mrs. Ferro had a son, but seems she did, and in June of 1983 he came to live with her in our bland New England suburb. Jamie was older-my mother said he was sixteen. I’d only seen him from a distance, but to my twelve-year-old eyes he seemed even older than that. He seemed like a man. A carefree man, looking at the world as a source of fun and adventure rather than as a series of tests, dangers, and goals. A man I might like to be, someday.

I met him a few days later while I was struggling with my discombobulated bicycle chain in my driveway. “Looks like you need more arm power than you’ve got, laddie.” I looked up. Jamie towered over me – not that he was really tall, he just seemed tall, though most people seemed tall to me – with hair that curled any way it pleased, and a smile that looked like a laugh holding its breath.

He held out his hand. “Jamie Ferro at your service.” I mumbled “Michael Porter” as I shook his hand. It was the first handshake of my life, if you don’t count relatives who thought it was cute to shake a kid’s hand.

He went to work on the bike, and the chain was in place in a few seconds. “Now, where might you be travelin’ to on this bright shiny machine?”

“The Museum of Science, they have a summer Enrichment Program.” Even as I said it, I realized how nerdy it sounded.

“Well, now that sounds impressive. Very impressive. Studious of you to undertake on a beautiful summer afternoon.” He gave a lazy wave as he walked away. “See ya, bra.” Wait, was he calling me a bra? It didn’t sound mean, though. With his accent – like Scottie from the old Star Trek reruns – it sounded fun. Though fun wasn’t something I knew a lot about.

I saw him again at the supermarket checkout a week later. I was helping my mom load bags of whole wheat bread, brown rice, and produce into our cart. Jamie was bagging an old lady’s groceries at the next line over. “And now, my dear, how would you like your groceries tuckered away today? Plastic? Paper? Yes, ma’am, I’d be delighted to double bag for you. Would you like all the heavy things in one bag for the mister to take in, or shall I spread them around so’s they all are easy to lift?” He gave me a wink as he packed the boxes and cans.

That night at dinner I asked my parents if they knew anything about him. “I think there was some kind of problem with his father, but Lydia and I don’t really talk much,” said my mother.

“Is he foreign?” I asked. “He talks with some kind of accent.”

“Accent? No, he’s not foreign. His father’s in Colorado, so maybe he picked up some kind of accent out there.” Maybe, but it didn’t sound like Colorado to me.

The third time I saw him was on my way home from music school. My cased violin and flute were carefully tied into the side baskets of my bike. He’d just pulled his tattered wreck of a car into his driveway.

He gave me a wave. “How’s the chain?”

“Fine,” I said, and brought the bike over to show him. He gave the chain a quick glance, and saw my instruments.

“A fiddle? You’re a fiddler? And what’s that?”

“A flute.” I’d never call myself a fiddler. I wasn’t much of a violinist either-I just didn’t have an ear for it, I was better on the flute.

“You are a well-rounded darren, aren’t you.” I shrugged. “What do you say we hike out to the lake tomorrow, go fishin’?”

“There aren’t any fish in the lake. It’s not really a lake, it’s a man-made pond, all muddy. You can’t even swim in it unless you want to be dirtier when you get out than when you went in.”

“Is that so? Well, then, we can just hang around. I’ll bring some grub and we’ll have a fine time.”

As it happened, tomorrow was Friday, and I didn’t have any classes, workshops, or programs. “Sounds like fun.” I wasn’t sure why, but it did sound like what I thought of as fun.

My mother wasn’t as pleased with my new friend when I told her my plans the next morning. “Why doesn’t he have any friends his own age?” she asked.

“He just moved here.”

She was already looking over the galley proofs she had to send back to the publisher by Tuesday. “It doesn’t make sense. I want to meet him first, have him come over for dinner next week.” She smiled at me, then took the proofs into the study and I went to the pond with Jamie.

The pond was deserted, as it always was. Surrounded by trees, we roasted hot dogs on sticks over a tiny probably-illegal fire and ate Oreos and drank root beer from real glass bottles. We skipped stones; mine just sank when they hit the water, but Jamie’s went four, five hops. For a while, I didn’t worry about grass stains on my pants, or germs, or the ozone layer, or that I’d disobeyed my mother, or what it would be like to start high school almost two years younger than the other freshmen. Or, for that matter, what it would be like for Jamie to start in a new school with 900 other kids who’d known each other for years. If that was the sort of thing he’d worry about. Seemed to me he didn’t worry about much.

Jamie told me about his car – he’d bought it for $200 and pretty much rebuilt the whole thing. I wasn’t sure it was a true story, but it was fun anyway. His accent disappeared when he talked about carburetors and gaskets.

“Got a girlfriend, matey?” The accent was back.

“Me?” I was surprised he even had to ask. “No. Girls at school, they’re all older than me, and they wouldn’t be caught dead with someone younger than them. I wouldn’t know what to say to them even if they did talk to me. I don’t understand girls.”

“And you never will. That’s ok, they don’t understand us any better than we understand them. But you know, some day you’ll meet a girl and it won’t matter that you don’t understand.” He pulled a blade of grass and stretched it between his thumbs. “She might be as beautiful as the first day of spring, or she might be right munting; but you’ll be there loving blue, and she’ll be there loving yellow, and somehow you’ll both end up loving green. You can look your whole life for a girl who’s willing to love green. But when you find her, it’s like nothing else in the world.” He blew on the blade of grass, but it didn’t make much of a sound, more of a fart.

“What about you, do you have a girlfriend?”

He tossed an empty root beer bottle towards the sky without worrying about its impact on the ecology when it landed. “Not any more, bra.” He leaned back on his elbows. “I’m just a poor Welshman, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be kings.”

“You’re Welsh? Is that why you talk with an accent sometimes?”

“Well, my grandfather was Welsh, so I’m as much Welsh as anything. We’re all mutts, we proud Americans. So we can be whatever we want.” He looked at me. “What do you want to be?”

“Dead,” I said without thinking. Then I caught myself. I didn’t want him to think I was some depressed whiner. “No, I don’t mean that, I just don’t want to start school next month.” I finished my root beer and threw the bottle towards the sky, felt it stretch and arc and flip end over end and sing woo-woo-woo and soar.

“Come on now, bra, I imagine you haven’t gotten anything less than an A since you were in kindergarten.”

I ducked my head a little. He was right. I focused on untangling the straps of my backpack. Jamie didn’t say anything, he just waited for me to decide whether or not I wanted to go on. I decided I did.

“They think I’m weird ’cause I’m younger. Mostly they ignore me. I spent lunch period in the library all through eighth grade. And once I got beat up. Not much, just a little, but enough.” I took another Oreo from the package. “Middle school was hard enough, but high school…” The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to die. Before September 6th.

“Why are you in high school so young? Did you skip a grade?”

“Yeah. Actually I skipped two, second and fourth, but I started late since my birthday’s in December.”

“I didn’t think they let you skip grades any more.”

“Well, they did.”

“How come you’re not in some fancy private school for geniuses?”

“I’m not a genius. I’m just kinda smart, and I like to study.” I tried to skip another stone; it sank. “Anyway, private school means boarding school, and nobody wants that.”

Jamie didn’t say anything for a minute. Then, “I tell you what, bra, we’ll go to school together. I’m older than the other kids, you’re younger, so that makes us together just about right.” We laughed over that. It’d be nice to have a friend, especially a cool friend. Some of his coolness might even rub off on me, like radioactivity.

“How much older are you?”

“I just turned eighteen last month. But don’t tell anyone, the school thinks I’m sixteen. I had a wee spot of difficulty in my youth, so I lost a couple of years.” He gave me a smile and a wink.

“Why did you move in with your mom now?”

He sat up and grabbed the bag he used to carry lunch. “We’d best be getting’ home now, laddie, so you can practice your fiddlin’.” I wasn’t too sure what Welsh sounded like, but this sounded Scottish to me. But I didn’t mind. Maybe his grandmother was Scottish.

I picked up both root beer bottles and stuffed them in my backpack. “My mother wants you to come over for dinner next week so she can meet you.”

“Well, that’d be fine, laddie, she can check me out, see that I’m harmless as a baby lamb. Tuesday ok?”

“Sure,” I said, relieved that he wasn’t trying to duck it. “But don’t tell her I was here today, she… well, she doesn’t know.”

Jamie gave me a big grin and punched my arm.

Jamie was a good dinner guest. He told some anecdotes about rodeos and skiing in Colorado, a little chat about his car, how he’d be in eleventh grade when school started. He won my parents over without getting all slimy. Afterwards, my mother asked why I thought he had an accent. I shrugged.

We did something every Friday after that, and sometimes on other days. One week we went bowling. I’d never bowled before, and I knocked down a total of twelve pins in twenty frames, but it was fun anyway. We went to the Museum of Science the next week, and I showed him my favorite exhibit: black holes. I loved black holes. I called them points of loneliness, pulling in everything and never letting anything go, hoping they’d feel less lonely. That’s the sort of thing I could never say to anyone, because it sounded nerdy and pathetic, but I said it to Jamie and he said it was brilliant. He asked me if I’d help him with his homework when school started: “I’ve never been that good with the books.” I said sure.

He explained the Welsh words he used – bra for pal; munting meant ugly; a darren was a guy, a sharon, a girl. And we went back to the pond. Jamie brought peanut butter sandwiches, and he showed me how to skip stones: “The key is to throw horizontally, with a curve; otherwise the stone’ll just sink.” I got two hops most of the time. We’d go to the movies – saw Return of the Jedi and War Games, we both wanted to play games with Ally Sheedy – and sometimes just hung out at my house watching TV and eating popcorn. He listened to me play Mozart on the violin; he clapped and cheered even though I made mistakes, said I just needed more practice. He brought over a couple of “fiddling” records. I got a few riffs down – I loved the sliding chords – but violin or fiddle, it was never going to be my instrument.

My mother still worried: “It isn’t normal for a boy that age to socialize with a boy your age.” I reassured her that he wasn’t trying to molest me, or convert me to homosexuality, or lure me into a life of crime. But truth was, I wasn’t sure why he hung out with me either.

In mid-August I went to his house on Friday, as usual, ready for another adventure. Mrs. Ferro let me in; she let me in and walked away without saying anything. Jamie was in his room, packing clothes into a duffel bag on the bed. “What’s going on, Jamie?”

“What’s going on is that I’m leaving.”

“Leaving? But school starts in two weeks!”

“Well, it’ll have to start without me, then, won’t it.” He punched a t-shirt into the duffel. He sounded angry, but he looked like he was about to cry. I was almost scared of him.

“Where are you going?”

He jammed another t-shirt down, with enough force to slide the bed a couple of inches. “The dog pound, most likely.”

“But we’re going to go to school together, I’m going to help you with your homework…”

“No, we’re not.”

“But… you said…”

“Sure I said, bra. People say a lot of things; that’s what we do, we say. Thoughts drip down from our brains and leak out our mouths – and that, my young friend, is what separates us from the apes. We say.” Mrs. Ferro came into the room. She looked pissed, too. Jamie glared at her. “But we don’t always mean.”

“I don’t understand…”

Mrs. Ferro stared at me. “Do you have my earrings?”

Earrings? Why would I have her earrings?

“Leave him alone,” Jamie said. He turned so his back was to me.

She gave him a hard look. “A thief, just like your father. Did you give them to your little playmate to hide?” She turned the hard look on me. But I was staring at Jamie. He wouldn’t look at me.

“You stole her earrings?”

He zipped the duffel and threw it on the floor.

“Go home, Michael. It’s been a pleasure, bra.” He kept his back to me.

I ran out.

I went home and thought about dog pounds, about saying and meaning. About eating hot dogs off sticks and throwing bottles in the air, and thought maybe the world wasn’t all that dangerous. Then I thought about stolen earrings, and school starting in two weeks, and thought maybe it was.

And when I couldn’t think any more, I turned into a black hole and cried.

* * *

All that was a long time ago, of course – more than twenty years now. I hoped for a long time Jamie would write or call, but he never did. A month after he left, a For Sale sign appeared in front of the Ferro house. My mother said she remarried and moved out of state.

High school was much better than I’d feared. My youth was divided into Awful and OK, and the turning point was that summer in 1983. In ninth grade, I ditched the violin (I was lousy at it, and it wasn’t fun) and played flute in the marching band (I wasn’t good at it, but it was fun, like bowling). In tenth grade I joined the computer club and found people who thought “nerd” was a compliment. As a junior, I tutored math and science, using my smarts instead of hiding them in shame. And got the nerve to ask a pretty girl named Jennifer for a date; we even went to the Junior Prom, though she met someone else over the summer and I never made it to the Senior Prom. After high school, I told my parents I needed a couple of years off before college, to grow up. They took it well. Then Bowdoin, and Merida: marriage, two kids. A fun high-tech career that paid obscenely well. None of it seemed possible on that August day, but it happened.

I thought about Jamie over the years, on perfect summer days when the air smelled like freedom, and stones existed to be skipped and grass to be felt with the bare soles of my feet. Or on snowy hills when I made my sons laugh and clap by falling off my sled. Or when the news ran one of those background profiles of someone who’d made headlines: homeless man freezes to death in Deering Park in Portland, old childhood acquaintance says he was a little off, didn’t have any friends, dropped out of high school, took a few wrong turns… or the other side of the coin, the millionaire CEO who’d quit school at 16, worked hard and gained knowledge not found in books and made himself a millionaire. And each time I thought about Jamie, it ended the same: I should’ve stayed in the room until I knew.

Last October, Merida saw the invitation to my twentieth high school reunion in the mail before I got a chance to throw it out. She wanted to go. I laughed.

“I want to meet your first girlfriend, the one you took to the Junior Prom,” she said.

“Jennifer? I doubt she’ll be there, she’s an oncologist at Johns Hopkins now. Too bad, I wouldn’t mind showing her how well I upgraded.” I leered at Merida’s lovely breasts. She punched my arm.

“I want to meet Jamie.”

I’d told her about Jamie on our third date, when she sipped too-sweet wine with me in a tacky Italian restaurant and quipped, “Now, bra, I’ve been known to like green on occasion, meeself” in an accent no more authentic than Jamie’s. If I hadn’t already been in love with her, that would’ve done it. When our older son was born, “Jamie” was on the list of names. Younger son, too. But each time, family names won out.

“He wouldn’t be there, he never went school with us.” I took the reunion envelope from her and put it in the trash. The kitchen trash, among coffee grinds and orange peels, so it wouldn’t be retrieved.

That night I spent some time looking through my memory box, the carton where I kept yearbooks, my National Merit Scholar certificate, the Junior Prom pictures. Ticket stubs, programs, idle jottings. Not a scrap of paper from that summer when Jamie was my big brother. Something keened above, a lonely twelve-year-old’s plea: “Do I matter?” And rumbling beneath like a subsonic earth tremor, the fear: no. Impulse grew into near-obsession to silence those unheard sounds, to go back into the room.

An Internet security expert has certain advantages. We go beyond Google. We know where to find things. Like the Colorado address of a 42-year-old man named James Ferro.

I didn’t want to call him, or write this James Ferro. I thought it would be better if I ran into him in a McDonalds or a hardware store, anonymously – a growth spurt shortly after I started high school and recently acquired hints of sags and wrinkles made me unrecognizable from that twelve-year-old-and made casual small talk. Depending on what I found, I could call him later.

I talked to Merida. A hare-brained scheme. We both liked that it was hare-brained, Merida because she loved humor, and me because it covered my fear. She arranged for a family ski trip to Colorado in February when the boys would be on school vacation. I’d just slip away from the Breckenridge resort on a side trip to Arvada.

And that’s how I came to be sitting in a rental car next to a dingy snow bank in front of 4650 Amis Street on a sunny, cold Saturday morning.

The house, I knew from my cybersnooping, was deeded to H&M Inc. as a two-family rental income property. James Ferro had registered a 1998 Chevy Blazer three years ago; sure enough, something Blazerish was one of the two cars in the wide driveway. I wondered if he lived behind the white drapes on the first floor, or the flowered ones on the second.

I waited, listening to my iPod. Slaid Cleaves wondered about Roberta, and Stan Rogers’ lockkeeper warned me the anchor chain tethered the sailor to the foam. An hour passed, and a woman came out of the house but got into a subcompact instead of the Blazer; I went back to my thoughts. This was a fool’s errand, a ridiculous adventure. Jamie might not come out; he might be out of town; it might not be my Jamie at all.

Part of another hour passed. John Prine and Loudon Wainwright kept me company. If it hadn’t been so cold, I might’ve imagined I was in my den at home.

Just before noon, a man came around from the back of the house and unlocked the Blazer. A ponytailed girl, about 10 years old, ran out and handed him a cell phone. She said something; he threw his head back and laughed, gave her ponytail a tug, and climbed in the car as she ran back to the house. I can’t say I recognized him; he wore a muffler and knit cap and was 30 feet away. I tailed the Blazer anyway.

We drove a few minutes to a strip mall with a small grocery, a Dunkin’ Donuts, and a pizza parlor. I parked a few spaces away from the Blazer. He headed for the grocery, waving at someone he passed near the entrance. I could see him smiling – like a laugh holding its breath. He took off his cap as he went in; his hair curled any way it pleased.

I went in a few minutes later and found him putting a half-gallon of milk and a jar of tomato sauce on the checkout counter. Even though I wasn’t recognizable, I tried to hide anyway by taking great interest in a carousel rack of postcards. The clerk – not a kid, maybe older than me, probably the owner or a manager – looked right at me. People who think Internet security is something like being in the CIA would’ve been disappointed by how quickly the guy made me. I gave the rack a quarter turn and studied the pictures – mountains, Denver at night, snowscapes – and tried to look fascinated. Jamie picked a couple of candy bars out of the register display and plopped them next to the milk.

He was talking to the clerk as he handed over money and got change, but I couldn’t hear. I moved around the rack to get a little closer. I didn’t notice the zipper of my parka was caught on one of the wire pockets; as I moved, I felt a tug and the rack leaned towards me, like a Christmas tree with one of the screws loosened. I tried to steady it, but my balance was off. I fell, and the rack toppled to my right. Some postcards escaped their cages and skittered across the floor. I heard the clerk yell, “Oh Jesus.” So much for the CIA. Good thing Internet security is really more like accounting.

Jamie came over, grinning, and held out a hand to help me up. We stood facing each other. We were the same height now. I looked him in the eye and said, “Thank you.” He nodded – he looked like he was working very hard at not laughing – and we righted the rack. I scooped up most of the loose postcards on the floor. Jamie hefted his groceries and left.

I watched through the plate glass as his back move farther and farther away from me. It was as if there was an elastic band stretching taut between us, thinner and thinner. I couldn’t let it snap. I ran out after him and a nerdy twelve-year-old’s words gushed out of my mouth: “Jamie, wait!”

He stopped, and turned towards me. “Now, no one’s called me Jamie in a very long time.” No accent, not Welsh, Scottish, or cowboy.

I squelched the twelve-year-old. “Michael Porter, we knew each other years ago, back in Belmont…” I stopped. He looked curious more than anything else. “You worked in the grocery store, you fixed my bike, we went bowling…” I held out my hand.

“Belmont, that was a long time ago.” He smiled, closed the distance between us and shook my hand. “What are you doing here?”

“I came out to see you. My family and I, we’re skiing at Breckenridge. So I thought I’d take a side trip and say hello.” It sounded idiotic as I said it. No one flies a couple of thousand miles to tail someone he knew for a few months twenty years ago to a grocery store…

I felt a rough grab of my arm. The clerk had followed me out. “Where do you think you’re going with those?” he yelled. “You want me to call the cops?” Cops? What cops? Then I realized I still held a stack of postcards in my hand. Grand theft postcards. The one on top was a picture of the Denver airport. The airport? Who the hell sends postcards of an airport? “Sorry,” I said, and handed the cards to him.

“So now you want me to clean up your mess? Get back in there and fix it.” He kept his grip on my arm. And, oh God, Jamie was standing there looking from me to the clerk and back.

I faced the clerk, looked at his hand on my arm. He let go, opened the door and waved me in. I stood my ground. “I’ll be back in a few minutes after I’ve spoken to my friend here.” I nodded towards Jamie, hoping he was still there.

The clerk muttered “Sure you will, I just bet you will,” and went back into the store.

I faced Jamie. “Do you have time for a cup of coffee?” I pointed at the Dunkin’ Donuts.

He waited a second, then said, “Sure, let me put this stuff in the car. I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll get the coffee, how do you take it?”

“Black’s fine,” he said over his shoulder as he headed towards his car. I went into the shop – must’ve been a slow time, only one other customer-and ordered two coffees. I wondered if he’d come back, or if he’d just get in his car and go, thinking I was some sort of crackpot. But he came in just as I put my change away. We settled into a booth near the door.

“What do they call you now, instead of Jamie?”

“Jim. I tried James for a while but Jim worked better.” He took a swig of his coffee. “So you’re skiing, that’s nice, I’ve never been. Probably should try it sometime.”

“I’ve thought about you sometimes over the years, wondered how you were, where you went when you left.”

“I did six years in the Army,” he said. “Learned aircraft maintenance. Came back here after that, some of my family was here.” He sipped, then leaned back and draped his arms over the top of the bench. “So you have a family?”

“Yeah, my wife Merida, two boys, ten and eight. They’re off from school this week. I consult for software companies, internet security.”

“Ah, so that’s how you found me.” He smiled. Politely. Leaned forward again and looked around. Dunkin’ Donuts looked the same as the one in Newton, or Brunswick, probably the one in Nepal, for that matter, if they had one there.

We drank coffee and made small talk – Jim’s wife and two daughters, his job as an airplane mechanic for a small air freight company. My trip out here, the drive from Breckenridge. What any sane person would expect from an acquaintance lost for twenty-some years. Something heavy hung in my chest. But I stayed in the room.

I picked Styrofoam from the lip of my cup. “You don’t remember me, do you.” I didn’t make it a question.

He held his cup with both hands, stared at it, then looked up at me with the kind of look a fifth-grade teacher has when she has to tell you your essay, the one you spent weeks on, didn’t make the finalists in the American Legion “What Patriotism Means to Me” contest. “Belmont was a long time ago.”

I nodded. I knew now. I didn’t need to stay in the room any more.

“Okay, well, I’m sorry to have interrupted your day, but I wanted to…” I didn’t know how to finish. I shrugged, smiled, and picked up my empty cup. A black hole formed right behind my sternum. I walked to the trash bin and tossed the cup in, watched the flap top wave at me as it sank into the depths. I almost waved back but my arms were now in the gravitational vortex. I just needed to tough it out for five seconds, just turn around, say “Nice to see you,” and leave. I breathed deeply, to get those five seconds.

“Tell me, laddie, didja marry the lovely sharon with the black hair, the one who wore the waterfall of a blue dress?”

If I hadn’t just looked through those old pictures, I wouldn’t have remembered the blue dress. I would’ve remembered the hair-glorious black waves and tangles-but not the dress.

Jamie clapped me on the back – he’d come up behind me, as I stared at the waving trash flap – and tossed his cup in. We headed for the door. The black hole turned into a twinkling white dwarf, faintly bright.

“How’d you know about Jennifer?”

We stepped out onto the sidewalk. “I went back to look you up, on leave, a couple of years later. Wanted to see how you were. You looked like you were doin’ just fine, your mom taking pictures of you and the lovely lady by the car. But that isn’t your wife?”

“No, I met Merida in college, my senior year.”

“So tell me, bra, does she like green?”

I looked down at my feet. “Oh, yes, she does.” I looked up again. “But why didn’t you say something, tell me you were there?”

“Ah, laddie, I wasn’t sure if you’d remember me, or if you’d want to remember me.” He fished in his jacket pocket, pulled out a key chain. “That summer was, well, it was a bad time, you know? My dad got arrested, fencing stolen property, so I had to go live with my mother, who didn’t want me. She was about to marry some asshole copy machine salesman and I just didn’t fit in the picture.” He picked under his nails with a key. “And you, all bright and brains, and you didn’t think I was so bad.” He looked out over the parked cars. “Only good thing that summer. Then good old Mom kicked me out in the street like a dog.” He toed the mound of snow at the edge of the curb.

“Yeah,” I said.

He held out his hand. “I’m glad you came by. It’s good to see you.” We shook. I mumbled, “Yeah, me too.” He walked towards the Blazer.

As he opened the car door, he hollered, “Hey, my oldest, named her Michelle. Hoped she’d be all bright and brains, and damned if she isn’t, more every day.” He waved, got in and backed out.

I watched him drive through the lot and disappear down the road under a blue sky and yellow sun. The air smelled green. The white dwarf in my chest grew and grew and got bigger and warmer and expanded me and lifted me and overflowed me.

I headed back to the grocery to fix the postcards. Maybe I’d even buy one of the airport, for my memory box. Merida would think it was hilarious.


Karen Carlson lives in Maine, and writes about the lost, the lonely, and the confused.  Her undergrad and grad work was in linguistics and TESOL rather than writing, but write she does anyway.  Her work can be found in various online litmags such as Word Riot, Toasted Cheese, and Pequin.

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