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Michelle Reale


He liked to remind her that he found her in the gutter. He hadn't taunted her in a long time, but when she started community college, the attacks began anew. He was unemployed during the winters and felt ignored while she leaned over her books, squinting under the light of a 40-watt bulb that cast long shadows over everything in the room.

"We can't be more than who we are," he'd reminded her, as a lesson to both of them.

When she learned to drive, he sold the car, pleading the price of gas. She still had school to attend, had those classes that she struggled through, where everything was like a puzzle without a solution. She begged a different ride every day. A kid in her English 101 class pulled up in his red Firebird and beeped his horn. She bounded off the porch, throwing a scarf around her neck, jumped in the front seat.

He was in the back yard with a gun pointed, patiently watching them ride off. A squirrel with a cold piece of pizza from the overflowing garbage inched up a tree to enjoy what he had found.

He laughed. "We want so little," he said. The squirrel never saw. He shot a few more, his trigger finger easing into the cold familiarity of muscle memory.

"Maybe," he said.

He would talk to her when she came back. Sit her down. Ask her what she'd been learning all these long months. What her friend in the Firebird might have taught her. Promise to teach her a few things.

➥ Bio