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Today's Story by Erin Niederberger

He comes home late one night with blood all over his clothes and all I can think is not him, please God, not him. He’s better than this.

Living and Dying

There’s a difference between living and dying. Some people say from the minute you’re born, you’re living. Some people say from the minute you’re born, you’re dying. They’re both right. They’re both wrong. Confused? Get used to it. Schoolbook rules don’t matter here.

I remember the moment he started living. He’s a five year old kid, lively, always ready to explore. I let him go after telling him the world we live in is full of monsters, which is the truth, after all. I send him off to test his boundaries and act relieved every time he comes back, because he needs to feel like he has the choice to leave. One day he’ll stretch those wings of his and fly, and I won’t call him back, but first he has to grow into feeling free.

He asks for the world. Kid’s got standards, I gotta admit. I find an old map in the glove compartment and spread it out. He goes over the shapes with chubby little kid fingers. Jumps from blue to pink to orange like candy. Stumbles over long names for places I’ve never heard of.

“It’s this big?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “World’s a big place.”

“I’m gonna see it all,” he says, and I see the light in his eyes. The need to blaze his trail and leave his mark and hold nothing back. I watch him take in the world with a look of wonder and I smile. He’s started living, all right.

The thing is, when you see the world, you gotta see it all. The good, the bad, the hell. It’s not all free drinks and playgrounds, you know. I’m selfish. I keep him away from dark alleys. Don’t tell him where his friend’s dad went or why the kid left school a day later. When gunshots go off in the middle of the night, it’s thunder. The red-blue-red-blue and steady wail of a police car is just spillover from a block party. I curl up around him and tell him fairy tales I only remember half the words to, making him believe that the wicked can be beaten and everyone who deserves it gets a happy ending.

I can’t keep him blind forever, though. One night I come home late with a split lip and empty pockets and he won’t believe any explanations I have to give. He looks around. Reads the news. Opens his eyes way wider than I’m ready for. He’s not a dumb kid, and you don’t have to be in Mensa to work out that some parts of the city ain’t Wonderland.
I keep at him. Whenever he slumps back in his chair and says he doesn’t get it, I make him get it. I send him to school. I keep him home at night. I remind him that he wants to see the world, so he’d damn well better keep his act together. He’s sullen about it, tells me I’m ruining his life, and I wonder where that bright eyed kid went and how to get him back. I see birds in parks with their wings clipped and think how sad it must be to have feathers and never be able to fly.

He comes home late one night with blood all over his clothes and all I can think is not him, please God, not him. He’s better than this. I can’t show that, though, so I shout, “Where the hell were you, huh?”

“Cam got shot,” he says, dropping his bloody jacket on the floor and stepping on it. More stains for a carpet that’s never been cleaned, that carries the lives of more than one family just like ours.


“I dunno. Don’t need a reason in this part of town.”

I can hear it. The same voice everyone in this place has. (Not him. He was supposed to fly.) I look in his face and (damn it, I knew this was coming but that doesn’t make it any easier) I see the light in his eyes blink out. He’s started dying.


Erin Niederberger is a college student pursuing the dubious grandeur of the English major. She enjoys reading, writing, and spending far too much time on the internet.


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