The missing boy lived a block over, in the part of town where children often disappeared. This was in May, when you folded back your jeans to show me pink lace. Your skin was shadow beneath my fingers pressing toward warmth. Your mouth to mine, I joked that you were trying to steal my breath.
I drove you home, past the video store bound in slats of wood, the state liquor agency in neon, the metal grills over windows where your neighbors slept. A pair of sneakers hung by their laces from electrical wires. You ran up a crabgrass lawn, and when your porch light blinked off, your palm pressed to the front window’s glass, curtain bunched to the side.
Two nights later they found the boy in the park gazebo, his knees curled to his chest, skin puckered where cord bound his wrists. They lit candles in memorial until the gazebo caught fire.
Don’t steal my breath, I’d told you, as if we are composed of transferrable parcels, our exhalations slipped from one to another, the density of oxygen weighed on the tongue against the teeth. But here’s the truth: I’d have given it freely, if you’d asked. If I’d been anything more than practice.
Brett Beach holds an MFA in Fiction from Ohio State University, where he won the Helen Earnhart Harley Creative Writing Fellowship Award in 2013. His stories have appeared in numerous journals, including Prairie Schooner and The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal. He frequently reviews for The Master’s Review, and has served as Associate Reviews Editor for Pleiades. A 2015 Bread Loaf Scholar and a 2016 Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, he is at work on a novel and a collection of short stories.