June’s brother committed suicide when we were in the fourth grade.
Her desk was empty. Another girl turned
towards me, a knowing smirk on her face. June’s brother killed himself.
He’s dead, she made sure to clarify.
He was older than us. I didn’t know him.
But I knew to cry. I just feel so sorry for June,
I said through hot tears erupting,
through the lump in my throat that roiled my tiny belly with dread.
No one knew why he did it.
There has to be a reason, for someone so young. How could a child
even know of such a concept,
such a cosmic loophole?
When adults kill themselves, we can empathize.
The reason loses specificity. Life gets heavy, accumulates and we crumble
under its weight. Was he just an old soul,
bearing the weight of the world early?
Should I be so afraid of junior high?
June showed up for a birthday party
the weekend before it happened.
Sleeping bag tucked under her arm
her dad’s hand on her back as she approached the door.
Oh, sweetheart, said the mom on the third ring of the doorbell,
The party isn’t until next weekend. You mixed up the dates.
By next weekend, the party would be canceled.
There would be no frosting-sweet sleepover squeals,
only the haunting realization that childhood is fallible.
June came back to school
after the necessary amount of time.
After the minimal distance had been established.
That morning, I made my mom take me to the supermarket
So I could buy her a tube of Shock Tarts.
Remember those? Little cloyingly sweet disks that left sores on your tongue.
Back then, the trend was maximized flavors,
masochistic candied violence. Blasts and shocks and Warheads.
She ate them right there at her desk — the teacher allowed it.
She chewed silently, sweet pain blasting through her mouth.
We never talked about it.
June came back to school,
And asked me to follow her out to the cemetery behind the school parish
where a lump of fresh dirt blanketed her brother’s body
where a savings account’s worth of headstone cast its long shadow
where a fourth-grader should be doing nothing more than chasing ghosts.
She touched the granite with tiny gentle fingers,
traced his birthday, his truncated life.
She didn’t offer an explanation,
and I didn’t offer a condolence.
We were fourth- graders.
We never talked about it.
when my husband’s cousin killed himself,
when my mother-in-law got the call,
slack-jawed and gasping in our living room
I thought of June,
the cosmic loophole.
Brittney Uecker lives in rural Montana. Her work has been published by HAD, Taco Bell Quarterly, Fever Dream Magazine, and others, and she is a Best of the Net nominee for fiction. She is @bonesandbeer on Twitter and Instagram.