We’d been going to church for a year when it burned to the ground on a Tuesday night. On Thursday, a volunteer called Mama to say services would be held at the VFW. Mama said thanks and hung up. That was the last I ever heard of church.
I notice a wall of perfumes behind the counter on the shelves that used to hold cigarettes. They say scent is the strongest trigger of memory, but I don’t need to open the boxes to be transported.
I sort the letters into chronological order. I take another sip. I try not to drink too often, but I’ve marked this ritual is an occasion. I’ve done it before; the wine, the sorting, and the tight feeling in my chest that may cause me to finish the bottle.
I think of myself a year later at eighteen, now wearing scuffed Army surplus combat boots. My boyfriend had a mohawk and a switchblade hidden inside a comb.
It was said that those who’d been there and received a ticket with a number, or maybe they selected a ticket from a deep bowl, or perhaps they heard a number read from a ticket and raised their arms with fierce intensity to claim it, received their true number at the event. Those people came away with answered prayers.
I asked him for cigarettes, taking a chance he’d want to be a cool dad. I stood on his deck later, focused on making a cigarette burn on the cuff of my jacket.
Later, the girls stand in front of the open refrigerator, slightly feral: slices of cheese torn from plastic, pickles from the jar, a swig of Hershey’s syrup, jelly scooped out with a finger.
At that point, we expected locked doors, staff with keys, and intricate systems of levels and points that determined our value, our movements, our freedoms.