Sarah Freligh_Epidemic


Because Davie Gray is protected by the blood of Jesus and his scripture-spouting pastor daddy, he stays in the classroom practicing his times tables while the rest of the class waits outside the gymnasium, sleeves rolled, for the stern-faced nurses to swab and stab us with the biggest needles in the history of the world, according to Markie Wolf, who will faint at the very sight of it, or Judd French who Darlene Meadows will tell us cried like a little baby though he looked just fine by the time we break into groups of three and argue over what color to make the map of the Dakotas, green or blue I say, though Judd insists on brown because of the Badlands while Davie just sits there coloring and quiet.

Because we are inoculated, none of us will get the mumps that year or the next, though Davie Gray will spend a month in the hospital in eighth grade and come back to us a shadow, skinny as a scarecrow and sterile, according to Darlene who claimed she overheard her nurse mother say the sickness settled in his balls, which is how joke got started: How is a starter’s pistol like Davie Gray? Answer: Both of them shoot blanks, something we will all ha-ha over until the day Davie shows up at school with his father’s gun in his black backpack and shoots his way through the cafeteria before the cops cuff him and lead him away but not before he kills six people, Judd and some other jocks and a lunch lady, and for weeks the school will be lit up with television cameras and microphones tethered to women with glossed-on faces who talk about never forgetting what happened here but there will be a mall next week and after that a synagogue and a movie theater and a nightclub and a mall again until we lose track, an epidemic of violence say the glossed-on faces before tossing to the weather guy for tomorrow’s forecast more rain on the way. And sometimes I think about hunting down Davie Gray on the Internet but I never do, though what I did do once was drive through North Dakota where I took a cell phone shot at sunset of the Badlands, which weren’t bad at all, in fact, they were kind of lovely in their vast and shadowed dark.

Sarah Freligh is the author of five books, including Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis, and A Brief Natural History of Women, forthcoming in 2023 from Harbor Editions. Recent work has appeared in the Cincinnati Review miCRo series, SmokeLong Quarterly, the Wigleaf 50, and in the anthologies New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction (Norton 2018), Best Microfiction (2019-22), and Best Small Fiction 2022. Among her awards are poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Saltonstall Foundation.

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