Josh, Once

By Isla McKetta

Before he went away to college—this beautiful boy who’d worn a pocket in his cheek so he could hide, not a key like Houdini (though he had magician’s hands), but Orr’s chestnuts—drove me in his parents’ vintage Volvo to Italian food across state lines. We’d never been close, except once on a school-trip plane. I, his friend’s little sister’s friend, admired his intellect, big blue eyes and serious curls—despite his watching all the parts of A Clockwork Orange. It was lunch, I think, the restaurant not fancy but new—beneath false frescoes on yellow walls I watched his hands, fingers that had taught me airplane gin, though it was his shuffling I admired: precise, fancy—like my grandfather’s. That last day before he left (as in a nostalgic screenplay) he said he’d write. And he did, I think, once, and I wrote back, but home is a long way from the future, and unlike that other boy whose name I no longer remember—the one who showed up on my doorstep with a Fimo necklace and undying sendoff love, (I was the girl they all bid farewell even when we’d never said hello)—unlike him, Josh drove me home with only a chaste goodbye, and I wondered then as I have wondered since—once or twice a decade in Google dives and Facebook follow-ups—if he loved me or I loved him.

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Isla McKetta is the author of Polska, 1994 (Éditions Checkpointed) and co-author of Clear Out the Static in Your Attic: A Writer’s Guide for Turning Artifacts into Art (Write Bloody). Isla makes her home in Seattle where she serves on the board of Seattle City of Literature.