My therapist asks me to create a list of people I’ve known who have died. To order their deaths from biggest impact to least and provide some details from when they were alive, or after they weren’t.
I don’t use my brother’s name or say how he died. The therapist asks that I do both, but I refuse. Elementary through grad school, whenever a situation arose where I had to use his name, I’d write or say “narrator,” “character,” “protagonist.” It’s how I’ve always coped with him. A lot of the time I’d use the initial. Somehow, I always got away with this. I remember one time when I nearly didn’t. A professor accused me of “being too familiar” when examining the little boy in an O’Connor story, who I called “J.” She told me that when I speak like that, it’s easy to forget we aren’t talking about real people.
Identical twins, and completely different. I skateboarded and smoked pot with Josh. Gabe was a water-drinking jock. Popular. Varsity football since freshman year. Always in his letterman. Josh was the one who found him. No note, nothing. He and his family moved after that. Months ago, we reconnected on Instagram. I scrolled his photos. Wife. Kids. Two boys. A girl with hair so blond it looks white. He’s smiling in every picture.
My cousin Evan fell off scaffolding. He painted houses during summer breaks. At sixteen, he’d grown tall, lanky, had reach. Bragged how people held him by his overalls while he’d reach with a paintbrush to get to places everyone else had a hard time reaching. One afternoon, someone held him while he painted a gable vent three stories up and both clasps on his overalls snapped.
My mother’s parents died before I was born. Car accident. I’ve only seen pictures; they looked nice. My father’s folks I barely knew. Few times they came around, they brought toys or comics, and my brother and I were encouraged to play or read in our rooms, outside if it was nice. Later, I’d learn my grandmother had Alzheimer’s. Near the end, she wandered into a golf course in North Albany. Picked golf balls up off the green and dropped them into a basket she made from her nightgown while golfers watched. She thought she was little again, collecting eggs on her parents’ farm in Brownsville. My father called it a blessing when she died. Not long after, my grandfather died. This, he called mercy.
“Kristen isn’t dead,” I say. “We’re just divorced. Does that count?”
Nicholas Claro is an MFA candidate in fiction at WSU and serves on the editorial board for Nimrod International Journal as a fiction reader. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, Bending Genres, Heavy Feather Review, Cleaver, Fictive Dream, Identity Theory, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, Necessary Fiction, and others. He lives in Wichita, Kansas. Nicholas’ flash fiction piece “Inventory” was a finalist in Cleaver’s 2022 Flash Contest.
Cover Design by Karen Rile