You often scroll past photos of him with his children. The youngest, a mischievous daughter, yanks at his patchy beard. The oldest, a confident son with a cowlick, makes light of his growing bald spot. The middle son—as you middle children often are—carries a look of perpetual annoyance.
You barely know him. You spoke for an hour at a party six years ago. He works at a local paper, high school baseball reporter? He’s polite and has a crippling shyness. You attended the party because his wife went to college with a friend who invited you. They aren’t people you normally would have befriended. But she is kind, and you enjoyed the party. You followed her, but it is him and their children ever present on your feed. You like her posts out of habit; you once congratulated her when she received a promotion. Over the years, you’ve offered encouragement when life changes and difficult choices hung in the balance.
He’s not the only one like this; but in some way he is unique. One of many background characters gathered along the way, but his lengthy presence—coupled with such limited real-life interaction—has stamped an imprint on your subconscious. The weeks-long squabble with a neighbor that cost their mailbox; the police cruisers viewed through the space between two blinds. Anniversary dinners. Family vacations. The children you’ve watched grow; the intimate living room moments you’ve been invited to wander in on.
You wonder how it is we gain access to these strange windows? Why you keep this window open? They are so easy to close. How many casual observers do your accounts carry? Through what prism do they view you? What vague peripheries of lives do your digital footprints tiptoe softly around the edges of like a spider skittering across fresh snow?
It dawns on you with a frosty crystallization because you’ve always known. That barren Dakota winter night when you were five years old. He returns in memory-flashes, none more so than from that night. His last Lucky Strike extinguished. Your older brother banished to his room. Your baby sister clinging to your mother’s leg as she labored into the kitchen. The rattle of the ice cubes falling into the glass; the way they crackled when they met liquid. The crumpling of the beer can in his hand.
“You,” he said. “Put on your shoes, we’re going to get more Strikes.”
He’d never asked you; your older brother went. You fumbled with your laces. He buckled you into the truck’s bench seat. You didn’t understand then—the furry-alcohol mouth that breathed visible air upon you‑—but now you recall that night each time a drunk near you exhales.
The red lights appeared like fangs; the truck it seemed to float. He exited through the windshield clean. You peered out of the near-perfect hole in the glass but saw only black. The glass shards that opened into that night were already beginning to freeze over.
Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. He received an MFA in creative writing from The University of New Orleans. His work is forthcoming in Pembroke Magazine, The Hunger Journal, Menacing Hedge, Tiny Molecules and Ghost Parachute.