Alas, Behind the Garage

Alas, behind the garage where the trash cans are, hunched and weeping, your cousin Glenna says she is pregnant and you are the only one she can tell.

You are ten–a boy–and she is fourteen; the two of you smoking grass.

 “It’s going to affect your little balls,” she’d said once. “You won’t be able to have babies.”

You let her smoke this one for free, the two of you passing it back and forth. Usually, there‘s a charge, even for relatives. Two or three dollars for a joint as long and skinny as a nail–and you go to the playgrounds and basketball courts and video game arcades and the county fair–which is where you once made more money than you could comfortably keep in your pocket,  a wad of bills thicker than your fist.  

And you take the money back to your cousin Keith–who is Glenna’s twin brother who she can’t stand most of the time–and he gives you more of the joints to sell, which are like thin little cocoons that you keep in your pocket.  

And Keith has always said that he thinks Glenna will die before she is twenty. He doesn’t want her to die, but he still thinks she will.

And Glenna saying that the guy is twenty years old and he already has a girlfriend who is seventeen and dropped out of high school and who plans to kick the shit out of Glenna if she ever finds her.

And you say, “How do you know for sure?” You watch as the joint turns to ash, millimeter by millimeter. “Unless your stomach starts stretching out or whatever.”  

“Do you know what a period is?” –she asks.

You think of first grade. You think of learning how to write sentences. How beautiful and remarkable it was to learn the punctuation marks. It had made you so happy to make that dot at the end. You darkened it and darkened it with your pencil, until you broke right through the paper onto the blonde formica of your desk. 

“Sure–I know,” you say–although you know you don’t. But you will know enough–soon enough–and this crying and this whitewashed garage wall and these black bags full of your dad’s beer cans are part of what you will know–and you sit down cross-legged and she wants you to press your palms against her palms–and so you do. The only comfort in life is going on with it.

Originally published in wigleaf

Dan Chaon is the author of three short story collections and three novels, including Among the Missing, which was a 2001 finalist for the National Book Award. Chaon’s stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize Anthologies, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. His 2017 novel, Ill Will, was named one of the best books of the year by publications including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Publishers Weekly.

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