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
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
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
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
Dan Chaon's most recent book is STAY AWAKE, a collection of stories. His fiction has appeared in
many journals and anthologies. He teaches at Oberlin College.
Read more of his work in the archive.
Detail of art on main page courtesy
of Chad Powell.
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