I wandered around
after Tim shot himself
in the basement,
the place where
we made out and
watched monster movies
after high school dances.

“I like you,” he had said.
“But I never really love
much of anybody.”

I thought that would change
when we graduated,
him pumping gas,
me clerking at the cleaners,
everyone else leaving,
us staying in town.

He came to see me
in my rented room,
coming after his shifts,
smelling like gas and sweat.

One night,
pressed together
in a single bed,
Tim told me
he wouldn’t be around
much longer.

“What do you mean?”
I balanced my chin
on his shoulder,
running my hand
down his side.

“I’m going someplace,” he said.
“I don’t know where,
just someplace.”

His eyes swirled
the way they had
in his parent’s basement,
the nights we talked
about going away,
maybe hitchhiking,
taking a bus,
doing something,
going anywhere,
just to be gone.

“Do you think
that’d make me
feel better?” he asked.
“To go away?
I feel so bad,
all the time.”

We lit a joint
and sipped warm beers.
A breeze blew apart
the curtains
and we stared out,
not saying much,
the gray clouds,
etching the moon.

“Maybe,” I said.
“Like I think so.”

Tim stood
and pulled on his pants.
I helped him slip
his long arms
into his sleeves.

“We’ll see,” he said.
“I don’t know what to do.”

I didn’t hear later,
until the next day,
about the handgun,
how it came up missing
and his parents found it,
strewn next to Tim,
his work clothes still warm,
his face exploded
on basement shag.

I took the bus
to the funeral home,
his graduation picture
atop a closed casket,
wreaths of vibrant
flowers nearby.

A few girls were there
drinking punch with guys.
I signed a guest book
lit by a gooseneck lamp,
using a pen attached
to a beaded chain.
His mom was sobbing
so I went out back.

A man in a seersucker suit
sat on a wooden bench.
He draped a skinny
leg over the other,
his pants hiked
on scuffed wingtips.

“Need a seat?”
He swept off the slats
with a handkerchief.
I sat down.

“Did you know Milly?”
He smelled like onions,
his gray hair sticking
from a wool cap.

“No,” I said.
“I’m here for Tim.”

He lit a Winston
then set the pack between us.

“This is Milly.”
He held the mass card
like a host.

“She’s pretty,” I said,
cigarette smoke hazing
her colorized cheeks
and gleaming bouffant,
her eyes dotted with light.

He rotated the card,
showing a golden image
of a robed man with a scepter,
a small child with a halo
perched on his shoulder,
lines of filigreed type
running beneath them.

“You know this, right?” he said.
“The prayer.
Of St. Christopher.”

Lowering the card
he kissed it,
tearing it once
then twice,
creating a ragged confetti
to toss and scatter
into the scuttle of leaves
at our feet.

Selected byNolcha Fox
Image credit:Wendy Scofield

Ann Kammerer lives near Chicago, and is a recent transplant from her home state of Michigan. Her short fiction and narrative poetry have appeared in several publications and anthologies, and her collections of narrative poetry include Yesterday's Playlist (Bottlecap Press 2023), Beaut (Kelsay Books 2024) and Friends Once There (Impspired, coming summer 2024). Visit annkammerer.com