Fiction by Jendi Reiter
Photo by Elvira Vila
Floating, face-down, in the lake: a diary, brown leather
stained with mute blue ink. Or a hat, twirling slowly on the water's surface.
Pencil stubs, lucky stones; the things in a boy's pocket that sink when dropped.
I could make a series of portraits of him from which he would be absent.
He is not one boy alone but many, in potato-fed towns and iron cities, at
this very moment drawing their last unsuccessful breath. Hear that apologetic
gulp of air, feel the thick green waters roll off their final shrug, their
well-practiced hands opening to give back everything before it's offered.
Oh, yes, there are some whose brains are action paintings formed by bullets,
boys whose mother finds them hanging from her discount chandelier, heavy
as Daddy's prize fish. But I want to speak of those who tried so hard to
be polite, even in death; who, if they could have lived a moment longer after
they were hooked out of the water, would have folded their own shrouds as
neatly as the name-tagged underwear they packed for Scout camp. Marshmallow
ghosts, burnt flecks of campfire ash dancing in the wind you can ignore as
you huddle down under your identical blankets. These are the lost boys, the
harmless boys, who tore the pages out of their journal and stuffed them in
the storm drain, clogging the toilets with their shame. Those wet blue masterpieces
of regret, that you try to decipher only now, when the words have been washed
away. They are messages you might have sent yourself: I am sorry for all
the pain I caused. Remember that hour when you held back the words Nobody
has ever loved me the way I loved him. I have. I do.