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The Boy Who Shouldn’t Have Died
About the Author: Mark Steven Long is a freelance copyeditor from New York City. He has previously published work in National Lampoon magazine, Reed, Paragraph, and InterText.

“Gretchen!” Clack-clack-clack.

Barely a foot in the door. She sighed, hauled the rest of herself into the house, and slung her purse on the table. “I just walked in,” she called out.

The clack-clack-clack of his typewriter was still constant, hadn’t paused even slightly. “I’m hungry!” he called out. Clack-clack-clack. “How long till dinner?” Clack-clack-clack.

“I just walked in,” she wearily repeated. “Have you been up there all day?”

Clack-clack-clack. “You know I can’t stop! I’ll die if I do!”

Gretchen’s sigh almost hitched itself into a sob. “You won’t die,” she said quietly.

Clack-clack-clack. “Gretchen?”

He couldn’t even use a computer—instead, he’d dragged his father’s old Underwood out of the back of their closet. I have all these stories churning inside me, he’d told her in a panic. Burning me, eating me away from inside, like poison. They’ll kill me if I don’t get them out.

Her stomach boiled. She closed her eyes and forced herself to think of Paul: his deep, cobalt eyes, his firm jaw, that sweater she bought him, the B&B they were going to this weekend. Paul, she thought. Paul.

Confident Paul. Decisive Paul. Business Leader Paul.

The Paul she desperately wanted to sleep with, the Paul who was more than receptive to her, the Paul she’d had absolutely no time to slip away with. But that was going to change.

“Gretchen!” Clack-clack-clack.

“You’ll have to wait!” she roared, throwing her coat on a chair. She stopped herself from going into the kitchen and instead kicked off her heels and marched up the stairs.

At the top, she turned toward the sound—clack-clack-clack—coming from what should have been their little boy’s room, at the end of the hall. Matthew’s room, she told herself, as she did every time.

As she walked down the hall, she caught herself glancing at the blank spot on the wall where the handcrafted, Moroccan-style mirror used to hang. It had been a wedding gift from her grandparents, but she had to hock it to pay the bills, which she—not he, not the two of them together—had been struggling with ever since Kevin lost his job.

They had left this room bare after the miscarriage. When Kevin had first felt the overwhelming urge to write, he moved in a folding table and a small filing cabinet he’d found at a yard sale. I’ll keep it neat in here, he’d said over her objections. I won’t take it over, I promise. All she could do was insist on adding some throw rugs so his chair wouldn’t mark up the floor.

But as he became more obsessed with his writing, he spent less and less time keeping the room clean. Now, as Gretchen entered the room, she scowled with distaste at the piles and piles of paper surging around the table. She pressed her eyes shut and, not for the first time, imagined him choking on all that paper.

This story appears in our SEP 2016 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Good story. Very well done!
By Larry Greenberg

Excellent story! I felt as if I knew both characters intimately in such a short span of time. Well done.
By William Crawford

By Lisbeth Mizula

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