|Our neighbor’s basement was filled with them, dozens and dozens of the gray stones, tall as toddlers, stacked like a macabre museum for the dead.
My brother dated the girl’s father, and on a lost dare, I had to take the creaking wooden steps down there by myself. I was twelve at the time. I’d just started to sprout a few pubic hairs and I felt them bristle inside my pants with each stair I took.
The girl’s father had died several weeks before, but her mother hadn’t started sorting through his possessions, let alone dealing with the shop.
The girl explained that these were the castaways, the mistakes—names spelled incorrectly, dates written down wrong. A few of the tombstones had lightning-shaped cracks cutting across them. They were all grey, some with slick, shiny fronts, others gruff and unvarnished. A chisel and hammer lay askew on the work bench as if dropped there, and, of course, I wondered if the man had had his heart attack here.
Just as I braved to touch one of the tombstones, the room went black.
I felt the musty air swirl around me. Then something brushed my shoulder. I thought I would collapse. I told myself not to panic, but I reached out in the darkness anyway. I felt around on the bench. Found the hammer. Swung hard.
When the lights flicked on, the girl screamed. But it was all too late. My brother’s life was gone, and mine was changed forever.