While Reading My Students’ Stories

It begins in the morning. It begins on sheets. It begins with an alarm ringing. Someone is calling. They are going to the graveyard. They are going to Grandma’s. They are going to the post office. They are going to get coffee. Love. What is childhood? People who say they’re happy are lying. Have you ever wondered what it was like to kill someone? Everything is relative. How long does it take to bury a dead dog in the middle of a blizzard? Richmond, Virginia, 1987. Fair Grove, Missouri, 2012. Earth, 2245. Dear Sir, Dearest, Dear Mom.

The old woman receives a card from her dead daughter; it reads, “Happy Birthday!” The old woman with dementia watches an intruder in her home pretend to be her husband, lets herself enjoy having him again. The old man thinks his daughter is his wife. The old man builds ships in bottles and thinks about 9/11. The old man is also the young man, come to warn himself about the fire.

The soldier sees the fire in his sleep and wakes up with his hands under a running faucet. The new soldier stuffs his sack with pillows instead of weights and hopes to get away with it. The veteran soldier beats his wife. The dreaming soldier thinks his son is the enemy. The soldier is fighting robots. The soldier is fighting terrorists. The soldier looks through a sniper rifle and sees a good father. The soldier looks through a sniper rifle and sees himself. The soldier pushes an important button.

The world has been destroyed by a nuclear Holocaust, the world has been destroyed by a virus, the world lapses into silences during which only the chosen may hear. People do not age. Men have never seen women. People in love grow invisible. Only certain women are allowed to have babies. Men are cannibals. Whatever he writes comes to life. Whatever he draws comes to life. The man traveling in time must kill himself to save the world. The woman buys a rosary in Rome and the little boy she lost in a miscarriage appears before her. The woman committed to the psychiatric hospital can fly. Her baby’s father is the devil. The devil’s son is a bullied child. The devil pays the bartender with Judas’s coins.

The man with cancer gives all his money to the man with the guitar on the corner. The mute man plays the violin to speak. The woman plays Sonata #14 on the piano because her mother played it to her as a child. The man listens to his dead father’s Bessie Smith records. The captain of the ruined airship sings a song about stars as he crashes into the sky, imagines his dead children sitting on his lap. The man with amnesia reads Lord of the Flies, discovers he is a murderer, considers astronomy. The gay gas station attendant reads The Stand before robbers come in and rape a teenage customer. The book club reads As I Lay Dying; the pet parrot quotes literary theorists.

They meet at a library. They meet at a bar. They meet at a party. They meet on the street. They meet at a music festival. They meet outside an elevator. They paint each other’s portraits. One wears a mask during sex. They eat psychedelic mushrooms. One lover cuts another’s hair in revenge. They meet in a calculus class. The surprise is they have bought each other puppies. The count fights for her hand in marriage in a duel. The girl worries her cowboy boyfriend chews tobacco. The man has another family in another state and flies back and forth on weekends. The man paints the kitchen purple. The wife hides an abortion from her soldier husband. The boy’s stepsister comes into his bedroom and kisses him with her tongue.

He rides a bull and remembers his dead brother. She imagines her dead lover while she rides his horse. His twin has died in the war. The remaining twin spins the wheel of her dead sister’s bicycle. The little girl imagines her dead mother as a monster under the bed. The boy eats the dirt at the gravesite of his dead grandfather. The dead wife haunts the husband who killed her in the drunk driving accident. The murdered girl is the detective’s sister. The criminal is the detective’s foster brother. The criminal is the detective’s boss. The criminal is the detective.

The wife is jealous of her husband’s sex slave. The prostitute falls in love. The man paints the portrait of the prostitute. The retired prostitute misses sex. The prostitute murders the john because he is her father. The man masturbates in a coffin after being buried alive. The man turns into a panther and eats his lover. The gay teenagers lose their virginity under a ten-foot crucifix.

The bully dies falling down a flight of stairs. The soccer player purposefully runs the red light. The boy with multiple personalities kills the jock at the party; only one of him is guilty. The man takes the girl from her apartment and puts her in the truck. The boy stabs the inflatable jump house shaped like a castle. The girl who cuts herself is shot to death in a car by drug dealers on the way to her father’s funeral. The newlyweds stalk and kill serial murderers. The witch is burned at the stake. The boy shoots a horse. The wife poisons her abusive husband’s wine. The wife doesn’t cry when her abusive husband dies in a car accident. The abusive husband is a minister. The abusive husband is a doctor. The wife shoots her abusive husband in the foyer of her sister’s house after giving birth to a child who looks just like him.

The tree considers the children in the hospital’s garden. The chair considers the family in the cabin. The dog considers the man, wonders why the woman is missing and why the man cries.

He will remember her fondly. He will take the job. She will ask the man in the anger management group on a date. She still believes in love. He forgives his mother. He takes his wife off life support. She gets on the plane. She signs the papers. He puts the needle in his arm. A needle is put into the prisoner’s arm. The only other woman in the forest walks away. She keeps the baby. It was all an accident. It was all a dream. It was his plan all along. There is only darkness. There is only black. Fade to black. Blackness. The world goes dark.

Front page image by Paul Stevenson.

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Jennifer Murvin

About the Author

Jennifer Murvin's work has been published most recently in The Sun, The Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Bellingham Review, and Midwestern Gothic. She teaches writing and the graphic novel at Missouri State University and is an MFA candidate at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. For more of Jen's stories and essays, visit www.JenniferMurvin.virb.com.
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