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The Yellow Note by Lilly Koonce

The Yellow Note

By Lilly Koonce


Trigger Warnings: Suggestions of abuse, arson, and murder.


For years, my mother warned me not to go near the yellow house at the end of the road. All the other parents in my neighborhood told their kids the same thing. When I asked her why, she told me just to do as she said. And, so, I did stay away for a while.

It wasn’t like the house was pleasant to look at. It stuck out jarringly in contrast to the neighboring houses’ neatly trimmed yards and polished gray exteriors.  My daddy always complained about the poor state of their yard whenever we drove past it on our way to church. The grass was dead and patchy, and water damage had crept up the walls. He said it made our neighborhood look raggedy.

Daddy took pride in the upkeep of our yard. Most days, he’d wake up before the sun to water our lawn and the lush flower beds filled with daisies and lilacs. He always kept the grass neatly trimmed, and during the colder seasons he’d blow away the maple trees’ dead leaves and let me jump in the piles. My mother ran a tight ship and instilled in me the importance of caring for our home. I knew they loved me even though she could be too harsh sometimes and he would get drunk too often. Even though we didn’t have much, I never lacked anything, which was why it was my job to keep myself out of trouble—because I was a reflection of them. 

One summer, while I biked past the house on my way to Kelso’s Corner Store with Claudia, she said her mother told her that the man who lived there was a murderer who’d killed two little girls in the early 60s. The police couldn’t find conclusive evidence linking him to the crime, so he walked away free. That should have stopped me from ever going near the house again, but I was a kid, and what kid ever listens?

***

In the summer of 1972, when I had just turned twelve, I met the boy who lived there. Nixon had recently declared the U.S.’s plan to reduce the number of troops in South Vietnam. Daddy was too old to be drafted, and I was too young, so the war didn’t matter much to me in Little Ridge, North Carolina, where the old outnumbered the young. Most kids who attended Franklin Middle School knew each other, so the boy’s sudden appearance was odd. 

I was riding home from school, and he was walking alongside the curb, kicking an empty bottle across the pavement. His shoulders tensed as I approached from behind, and he met my gawking with a glare. It was quite an impressive glare from a kid barely older than me. I cringed so hard that I almost fell off my bike. I managed to brake, but he’d vanished by the time I looked over my shoulder. I glanced around dumbly before I spotted his willowy silhouette running down the street toward the yellow house at the end of the road.

That night, while my mother cooked dinner in our tiny kitchen that smelled of homemade biscuits, I sat at the counter and asked whether the man who lived in the yellow house had any children. 

Something important to know about my mother is that she’s been serious her whole life. When my grandma was still alive, she would tell me that my mother didn’t cry when she was born. Instead, she scrunched her face in a deep frown that never went away, and that’s why the lines in her soft brown skin are now deeper than the cracks in the pavement. My father always said that her severe black eyes ‘could melt the meat off your bones if you crossed her.’ And I’d definitely crossed her right then with that question.

“I thought I told you to stay away from that house.” She pointed the cleaver at me with narrowed eyes, a silent warning not to lie. 

“I didn’t go near it, but I saw a boy go inside.” I objected to the accusation before she could begin her angry tirade, but my daddy came home at the worst possible moment. We both flinched at the sound of the screen door slamming shut. She pointed at him with the cleaver next when he entered our kitchen.

“Your son is going near that raggedy-ass house again after I already told him to keep away from there,” she huffed, placing a hand on her hip. Daddy’s tired eyes locked onto me as he pulled off his construction vest and put it on the hook by the door. I hugged my knees and lowered my eyes to the floorboards. The thing about parents who were as old as mine was that they didn’t care much about what you had to say. 

“Do what your mama tells you to do,” he said, leaning down to kiss her cheek before he went to the sink to wash his hands. My mother scoffed at his puny rebuke before she turned her gaze back on me. 

“I better not hear about you going near that house again,” she said, returning to cutting the string beans into small pieces. 

“Yes, ma’am,” I muttered. It wasn’t like I wanted to go looking for trouble or anything, but something stirred inside me at the idea of seeing him again. Every warning that my mother gave me about that house and the man who lived there twisted and knotted inside my mind. I worked through each one until I figured I didn’t need to go near the yellow house. I just needed to see the boy again. The image of his lone silhouette filled my mind, and I held him there for a moment. She never needs to know. 

And so, my parents didn’t learn the truth until it was too late.

***

The next time I saw him wasn’t until the beginning of summer, as I biked to the community pool with Claudia. 

“That’s that kid who always smells,” she said, pushing her cheap glasses with heart-shaped rims to the top of her strawberry-blonde head. I recognized the lithe silhouette immediately as he walked alongside the curb with two plastic bags of empty bottles. His sandy bangs had grown shaggy, and they fell in sweaty strands over his eyes. The summer sun practically radiated off him, and I wanted to tell Claudia that nobody would smell nice after walking around in 100-degree heat, but I didn’t want her to break up with me again. 

“You know him?” I asked. 

“He’s going into 8th grade with my sister, and she says that his shoes have holes in the soles.” She scrunched her nose as we sped past him. I glanced over my shoulder, but he’d turned into a black speck in the distance again. He was an enigma, and I was drawn to his mystery like a moth to a flame. 

***

The few times we’d crossed paths, he was always collecting bottles, so I spent the next morning collecting discarded bottles from the train tracks, wrapping them in newspaper, and storing them inside the wire basket on my bike. Later that afternoon, I arrived at the same spot and found him walking alongside the curbside again. As I approached from behind, the bottles shuddered noisily, and the boy's shoulder blades tensed. His shirt collar was dark with sweat, and his threadbare shorts were unraveled at the hems.

“Hi.” My voice came out scratchy, and he kept walking without acknowledging my presence. I maneuvered in front of him and put down my kickstand to block his path. 

“I said hi,” I repeated, that time louder and more powerful, and the boy lifted his chin to peer at me through his bangs. 

“Is this a joke?” he asked in a surprisingly normal-sounding voice. I half expected him to growl at me. I blinked at him dumbly, and he sucked his teeth and began to step around me. 

“Wait—No.” I stepped in front of him again, blocking him with my body. The boy pushed his bangs aside and gave me that chilling glare again. I inhaled sharply and squeezed my bike’s handlebars. 

“Come to Kelso’s with me…Please.” I don’t know what made me ask him such a thing, but he froze, and some of the hostility in his expression softened a fraction. His eyes lowered to the bottles in my basket, and his hand tightened around the bag straps digging into his wrists. 

“I can help you carry some of those. There’s room in my basket,” I offered, and the boy sucked his teeth again before switching the bag he held in his right hand to his left. It was apparent that doing so hurt his left arm, but he masked his pain and stuck his hand toward me. I noticed chewed fingernails that would have made my mother faint before I firmly grasped his hand and met his gaze. 

“My uncle says a man should shake your hand and look you in your eye when introducing himself. My name is Joseph Carrigon,” he said. I didn’t allow my eyes to wander to his shoes, which I didn’t discover until much later, had holes. Instead, I grinned at him, which began my summer with Joseph Carrigon. 

***

“Why do you always want to collect bottles?” I asked as we walked along the train tracks that split Little Ridge into the east and west sides. Joseph squatted down and assessed a busted bottle on the other side of the tracks. It was our third week of walking around Little Ridge collecting empty bottles and selling them at Kelso’s corner store. 

“I’m saving,” he said.

“For what?” I asked as I stretched out the knot in my lower back. Joseph tossed the cracked bottle he held, and it shattered loudly against the iron rail.

“Something big,” he replied vaguely, walking further down the tracks. I dug in my pocket, extracted some of the penny candy we had bought earlier that day, and tossed a Mary Jane in my mouth. The sweet tang of chocolate and peanut butter mingled and melted on my tongue.

Joseph never bought any candy with the money. He saved it in a foot tub, he said. He wouldn’t let me see where he hid his stash, and he said he couldn’t keep it at home or his uncle would use it to get drunk. Daddy did that sometimes, and when he came home bumbling drunk, my mother would yell at him, but what did drunks care about yelling? I wondered how Daddy would have felt if he knew that he and the man who lived in the raggedy yellow house had something in common. 

The blaring sound of an approaching train caught our attention, and Joseph crossed over the roadbed, bumping my shoulder with his. 

“Let’s race the train,” he challenged.

“Why? It’s not like we can win.” 

  “So?” He wore a half smile as he glanced over his shoulder at the speck in the distance that would soon be upon us. The railcars’ energy sizzled in the air, and their wheels’ vibrations rumbled through the ground and up my shins. I set my bike on its side so the bottles wouldn’t fall out and sprinted ahead without warning. 

“Hey!” Joseph shouted from behind me. The train sounded like it was ripping a path across the earth. I moved my legs as fast as they would go when a familiar silhouette sped past me. I hadn’t noticed how fast Joseph was when we first met, but I saw it then. With every stride, he lengthened the gap between us. The train’s draft enveloped me as the railroad cars passed, and Joseph’s legs moved faster. 

“Keep running!” I shouted, but I doubted he could hear me over the train’s horn. Joseph spread his arms with balled fists like he’d just scored the winning goal. The first railroad car sped past him and flashed out of sight. Joseph stumbled to a halt but kept his hands stretched to the sky as if basking in victory. He ran back to me and let out a bellow that I felt deep in my chest, and I stared at him like he was crazy. 

“What are you doing?” I asked in a hushed shout. He examined me, his pupils dilated wide, and we glanced back at the train that was once again a speck in the distance. 

“We have to scream to be heard,” he declared as he leaned back and screamed at the orange sherbet sky. I glanced around, completely bewildered, before I tipped my head back and joined in. We screamed like mad men until our throats were raw, and my head throbbed.

Joseph smelled like the burning heat of the sun, and he looked like freedom as I knew it. His dark eyes filled with a vitality they typically lacked as he smiled at me. I stared at him dumbstruck. Joseph Carrigon had a smile that could light the night sky. 

***

I pushed my bike alongside me as Joseph and I walked up the street that led to our neighborhood. My mother made it clear I had to be home before the streetlights came on, and the sun had already begun to set before we left Kelso’s. I used my tongue to switch the strawberry-flavored candy from one side of my mouth to the other. Joseph had eaten some of my Mary Janes, which made his breath smell like peanut butter. We’d collected twenty bottles and split them, so I got five, and Joseph got fifteen. Each bottle was about 5 cents, so in the end, I got 25 cents, and he got 75 cents. Joseph had wanted to split it even, but he was saving for something big. I was twelve and didn’t care much about saving money. I just knew when my mother talked about saving money, it was for something important. When Daddy’s car broke down, he had to walk six miles to work. We had to put every penny into savings so we could fix it. Joseph didn’t have a car, and he didn’t even have a bike. I was determined to help him.

“Will you tell me when you’re done saving?” I asked and rolled the strawberry candy around my mouth. Joseph froze. 

His shoulders tensed like they did when I snuck up on him. I followed his dark eyes to the yellow house at the end of the road. I hadn’t realized we’d walked so far. The streetlights blinked in and out, and a knot of anxiety twisted in my stomach over what my mother would say.

“Josey boy? Is that you?!” A gruff voice came from the end of the driveway. Joseph stuffed his hand into the pocket carrying his coins and stared at the burly silhouette that had to be his uncle. 

“Who’s that with you? You two come on over here.” He ushered us close. Joseph walked stiffly by my side and glanced at me with a silent warning. I was scared. I was so scared that my entire body vibrated. 

Now, would you look at that? Why haven’t you introduced me to your friend, Josey boy?” Joseph’s uncle cooed in a way that wasn’t very inviting, just like his raggedy house. A stiff breeze could have knocked me over then, but Joseph placed a firm hand on my shoulder that steadied me. 

“Uncle Jeb, meet my friend. He lives right down the street. His parents are the O’Reillys,” 

Oh…the O’Reillys. Your daddy is the one who won’t even bother with an introduction after all these years?”

 He tilted his head like a curious dog. “What? Y'all hear that nonsense they say about me. You scared?” He egged on. I’d been taught all my life to speak when spoken to, but I was frozen stiff. Nothing he said fully registered in my brain. 

“Like father, like son, I see.” Uncle Jeb’s thin lips pulled into a sneer as he extracted a cigarette from the breast pocket of his ratty button-up. His beady eyes burrowed into mine and the hairs on the back of my neck rose. My heartbeat thundered, and bile climbed up my throat as I lowered my gaze to the pavement.

“I’m sorry,” I muttered to Joseph before I took off on my bike down the street and pedaled faster than I ever had in my life. 

***

I didn’t see Joseph for two weeks after that. I’d ride my bike past his house and wait for hours at our spot near the train tracks. Claudia had broken up with me because I hung out with him more than her, even though I’d invited her along to join us. I spent those weeks alone, worrying myself sick with images of what his Uncle Jeb could have done to him. 

I was about ready to confess to my mother so she could go to the police when I biked up the street after a day of swimming at the community pool, and Joseph was sitting on the curb, his head dipped low on his shoulders and his elbows resting on his knees.

“Hey.” I tried not to sound excited, but I couldn't help the smile that spread across my face at the sight of him. Joseph wasn’t injured or hurt from what I could see, but he seemed heavier somehow. Maybe it was because I’d never seen him sitting down before, but I knew something was wrong, and he would never tell me what. So, I rubbed the back of my neck where my skin was burned from the sun.

“Hey,” he said and pushed his bangs from his eyes to get a better look at me.

“You need a haircut,” I said. Joseph’s eyes widened, and he turned away. He almost looked embarrassed.

“I don’t own scissors,” he muttered. 

“Don’t worry, my mom is better than most barbers,” I told him. And that’s how we ended up in my kitchen while my mother cut his bangs. I swept the hair off the floorboards and tied it together to make a rat tail while I waited for them to finish. 

There, now I can see your handsome face,” my mother said with a gentle smile, and Joseph’s entire body turned beet red. I stifled a laugh while he hid his face in his hands, and my mother laughed at us. 

“Thank you, ma’am,” he muttered. 

“No need to thank me. Just make sure you take care of yourself. I’m drawing you a bath too. I won’t have any child leaving my house looking unkempt.” She grabbed his hands and assessed the dirt underneath his fingernails. Joseph shot me a pleading look, but I shrugged helplessly. I couldn’t even save myself from my mother. 

Joseph took more than an hour to clean himself. I was worried he’d drowned when he finally pulled open the door and emerged wearing some of my old clothes. He was narrow and wiry, so the shirt practically swallowed him. I realized that some of the brownness of his skin wasn’t a tan but a layer of dirt. He looked like a proper kid with his new haircut instead of a vagabond. 

“Your bathtub is huge,” he said and grinned at me. 

I grinned back. “Stay for dinner?” 

He nodded.

We sat in my bedroom while my mother prepared dinner, and Joseph sat on the very end of my bed. His back was straight as a ruler, and his knees bounced. His eyes darted to the rows of books and superhero figurines on my bookshelves and the posters of the Temptations, Elvis Presley, and Marvin Gaye on the walls. The only sound was the slow thrum of my ceiling fan. 

“Your bedroom is huge too,” he observed. The strain in his voice made me chuckle until I realized something was off. Joseph was usually closed off and defensive about most things, but he’d never been skittish with me. I was certain he was about to sprint out of my room. 

“What is it?” I asked from my desk, covered with the disheveled sheets of my untouched summer homework. Joseph wet his lips and rubbed his hands on his knobby knees before he muttered something I couldn’t hear. 

“What?” 

“Some kids don’t get haircuts,” he said louder, and I frowned.

“Joseph?” 

He looked at me. His expression had darkened, and my heart pounded as my question sat on the tip of my tongue. “Is it true what they say about your uncle? Did he do those things?” 

His dark eyebrows knitted together, and he kept his eyes glued to my shoes. 

“Joseph?” I repeated.

“Don’t ask me that again,” he snapped. I flinched at the harshness of his tone, which was so out of character that I simply nodded. He lifted his eyes to meet mine, and his expression softened slightly. 

“My family isn’t like yours,” was all he said. I didn’t understand what he meant then. If I had, maybe things wouldn’t have ended like they did. 

***

Joseph hid his shoes underneath his dirty pile of clothes, and when my mother picked them up, she noticed the holes in the bottoms. Right before dinner, she pulled me aside while my daddy talked to Joseph about starting eighth grade. The lines around her mouth deepened as she looked at the raggedy shoes with holes in their soles. Joseph had been running around in those all summer, I thought. 

“Do you know where his parents live?” she asked, her voice calm. 

“He lives with his uncle…” 

“Where does he live? What happened to his parents?” 

My heart dropped. I was certain she’d never let me see Joseph again if I told the truth. And to a twelve-year-old kid, the thought of never seeing the best friend you ever had felt like the end of the world, so I lied. 

“I don’t know.”

“Are you lying to me?”

I shook my head because I didn’t trust my voice to tell the lie again. My mother clutched the shoes in her calloused hands and set them back in their place as if they’d never been touched. 

“Be kind to Joseph,” was all she said. 

We went back to dinner, and she didn’t question him as she should have, and I didn’t see the signs. I should have seen the signs when I gave him an old pair of my running shoes. Joseph and I wore the same size, and convincing him that I didn’t want them was difficult. I told him they were out of style and no kid would be caught dead in them. He never put them down the rest of the night. 

After we sent Joseph home for the night, my daddy placed his calloused hand on my shoulder and looked down at me with a severeness I usually saw in my mother. 

“Look out for that boy, alright?” And that was all he said.

***

It was sometime around midnight when I heard the knock. Since my bedroom was closer to the front door, I heard it first. I figured it was some kids in the neighborhood playing around until I heard the angry shout. The hair stood on the back of my neck, and I shot out of bed before the noise woke my parents.

When I opened the door, I saw Joseph first—his hair had been shaved to his scalp, and his eyebrows were gone too. It made his sharp cheekbones even more prominent. He held something against his chest, and I squinted my eyes before I realized what they were. My shoes. They were utterly shredded and missing the laces. Joseph’s dark eyes locked on mine, but he wasn't there. 

“What's going on?” I asked Jeb. I didn’t dare step away from my porch, but I wanted to get Joseph away from that man. I’d never felt so helpless in my life. 

“Bring your daddy out here, we got to talk.” 

I clenched my jaw. “I don’t know what you think happened, but it’s not Joseph's fault.” 

“Don’t talk back to me boy, and go get your daddy like I said,” he snapped, but there was no need because Jeb’s voice was loud enough to draw both my parents outside. Daddy came out first and stepped in front of me like a wall. His broad shoulders almost blocked Joseph from my view, so I gripped the back of his shirt and clung to him like I hadn’t since I was a child. 

“Y’all got him all primped up like your little sissy over there.” 

My daddy tensed. “Watch what you say about my son.”

“I call it like I see it,” Jeb snapped. 

“Yeah, well, we all know what you are,” Daddy said, treading a fine line. Joseph’s eyes widened slightly, and I froze. Jeb sneered and tossed his cigarette butt into our grass.

“And what’s that?” he challenged. The air sizzled with tension, and Joseph tried to step toward me, but Jeb tightened his grip on his shoulder. 

“Go inside,” Daddy instructed me. 

“But—”

“Do as I say!” he shouted. 

I peeked at Joseph, who looked like an extinguished flame. The back of my throat felt hot, and tears burned my eyes, but I couldn’t turn away from him.

Joseph,” I pleaded. His mouth twitched, and he looked at me, really looked at me. 

“Go inside.” 

I went inside. 

***

Claudia visited the morning after because it’d gotten out that Jeb had caused a scene at our house. Some of the high school boys had been riding their bikes and saw what happened, and because Little Ridge was well…little nothing could stay private for long back then. 

 Claudia had forgiven my neglectful behavior in our relationship by the time she burst into my room. My mother wouldn’t allow me to leave and see if Joseph was alright, and I felt like a prisoner, so I wasn’t really in the mood for visitors. I was on the floor watching my rickety ceiling fan whirl in circles in protest of my confinement.

“Hey! Is it true that old creep down the street threatened you?” 

I didn’t move from my vegetative state on the floor. 

She nudged my shoulder with her foot, and I met her watery blue eyes that brimmed with curiosity. Her lack of concern for Joseph hurt me more than I expected. I glowered at her until she let out an exasperated sigh. 

“Okay, I’m sorry,” she grumbled and settled beside me on the evergreen-colored carpet. 

“Have you seen him?” I asked.

“No. My sister and some of her friends rode past his house, but they said there wasn’t even a light on.” 

“He’s going to hurt him,” I groaned.

“Who?” 

“Joseph! His uncle is gonna hurt him, and it’s my fault.”

“I…What’s that?” Claudia frowned, and I followed her gaze to my window. The sky was dark like night. I sat up and darted from my room and down the stairs. Claudia was close behind as we rushed into my yard, where the scent of something burning grew thick. 

Dark gray smoke billowed in the air and slithered overhead like a serpent that blotted the sky. My eyes followed its path where the smoke was densest, and my heart dropped. I knew what had happened before Claudia grabbed my arm and pulled me toward it. 

“Come on! We gotta help them!” Claudia grabbed my hand, and we ran down the street as our neighbors stepped out onto their porches and gawked at the black mass overhead. My legs were heavy as lead, but I ran anyway. Most of the men were at work, so it was their wives who ran out of their homes with buckets of water that they tossed around the house to contain the flames.

I stopped at the edge of Joseph’s untended yard, which was one big patch of kindling that the fire had already burned away.

“They’re still inside!” an older woman shouted as one of the high school boys ran toward the house. The flames had burst through the windows, and there was no way inside. The boy’s friends grabbed him and held him back as realization dawned upon us.

The house was beyond saving. The yellow paint burned black, and the sirens of Little Ridge’s fire service grew louder. I didn’t care about any of those things. I needed to find Joseph.

“Joseph!” I screamed.

I scoured through the crowd like a madman. I shoved through a mass of bodies that weren’t the one I was looking for. Tears streamed down my cheeks, and, when the roof collapsed, everything stopped. The heat from the flames mingled with the summer sun and turned our neighborhood into an inferno. 

I barely noticed when my mother grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me toward her fear-stricken face. She pulled me to her chest, and her arms were like an iron vise that held me upright.

“He’s gone! Joseph’s gone,” I keened. 

“I know, baby.” Her hands stroked my back to soothe me like she hadn’t since I was little. My heart and lungs constricted, and I gasped for air that never came.

***

When the Little Ridge News & Observer released the paper about the Carrigon house fire, my parents did everything they could to keep me from reading it. It wasn’t until three weeks after its publication that my mother became laxer about monitoring my every move, and Claudia managed to smuggle it into my room. The front cover was of the remains of the house, but it was the header that caught my attention.


Human remains recovered, and one person is still missing after the Carrigon house fire in Little Ridge on Sunday afternoon

A neighborhood is left in shock after the home of Jebediah Carrigon, 54, burned down, and investigators found his remains—along with two sets of remains locked in a vault in the basement of the home. The two remains date back to a previous investigation of the Bailey twins’ disappearance, where Jebediah Carrigon was a prime suspect. No evidence has been found until now. The remains of Jebediah’s nephew, Joseph Sidman Carrigon, 13, believed to have been inside the home at the time of the fire, have yet to be found. 


“Everyone is distraught,” said Police Chief Robert Martin. “Our department suspected Jebediah years ago, but we didn’t have any evidence until now. I’m just sorry that it took so long to bring those girls home to their families.”


The Little Ridge Fire and Police Departments suspect that unnatural circumstances inside the home caused the fire, and there will be a further investigation. 


I lowered the paper as bile rose in my throat, and Claudia looked stricken. We stared at the paper silently until my mother opened the door and noticed the paper on my lap. Her expression turned dour, and she snatched it up and crumpled it. 

“You read everything you needed to? I know he was your friend, but he’s gone. Nothing you do will bring him back.”

I looked up at her. “We could have helped him, if I said something.” My chin trembled, and she sighed before she sat down beside me. Her steady arms wrapped around me, and I leaned into her.

“We could have saved him.” Tears spilled down my cheeks, and she wiped them away. Claudia leaned her head against my shoulder and squeezed my hand. 

“You can’t blame yourself for what happened. That man was sick, and what happened was his fault, alright? You are just a boy. Now, we can only pray that God punishes him rightfully.”

I cried myself to sleep that night and every night after during the following weeks. When I heard the community would hold a funeral for Joseph, I decided not to go because I couldn’t bear to look in the faces of the people who had ignored him or made fun of him. I was the only one who loved him, but I hadn’t said anything. Now, he was gone, and I was all alone.

***

Months passed, and I still didn’t feel like myself. I never talked to anyone about Joseph because my parents believed that time healed all wounds. And sometimes, when bad things happen, people don’t know how to deal with it, so they just try to forget. But I couldn’t forget him, and so I had to grieve for Joseph on my own. I entered seventh grade that year and occasionally heard whispers about the Carrigon kid who died in the house fire. I never stuck around long enough to hear what stupid and childish lore had been created about him. 

I didn’t find it until the winter of ‘73 when the tree branches were bare and dead leaves blanketed the earth. I was searching underneath my bed for my mitt to play a game of baseball with Claudia when I heard the familiar clink of an empty bottle. I’d convinced my mother that I was responsible enough to clean my room when I was ten, so what lay underneath there was questionable. Still, I reached out and removed an empty Coke bottle with a dandelion-yellow slip of paper lodged in the neck. I found a pencil in the mess on my desk to dislodge the folded paper and dropped it into my palm. I sat on my bed and unfolded it. 


If you’re reading this, I’m already gone. I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye. 

And if Jeb’s dead, I’m not sorry. 

The bottles you helped me sell bought me a ticket to Atlanta. I hope to find the father my mother told me about before she died. He may not want me, but anywhere is better than living in that house with those girls. I should have told you, but he said he’d hurt you too, and I knew I had to put a stop to it. So, please forgive me for leaving without saying goodbye. 

You’re my only friend. 

Joseph Carrigon, 1972


I reread the letter twice before I went downstairs and turned on the gas stove in our tiny kitchen. I still remember the pale gray sky outside the kitchen window and the light snowfall as I tipped the note into the blue flame. The edge of the yellow paper burned black and crumpled to ash.


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