Category Archives: Thomas O’Connell

Another Loss of Innocence by Thomas O’Connell

After the tragedy, everybody bought commemorative t-shirts.

One of my photographs was chosen for the image. Not that I’m some hotshot photojournalist, I just had the dubious fortune that the shooting occurred in my hometown. Before the national media set up camp in the soccer field behind the school, I acquired access to everywhere except the library and gymnasium.

I found myself in Mrs Hoover’s classroom. The high windows looked the same, extra textbooks stacked beside a terrarium on the windowsill.

One recess, Dave Whitmore and I snuck back into the classroom; our classmates muffled racket drifting through the windows. We met at Karen Armstrong’s desk, knowing she’d be sitting on a swing discussing horses. Dave slid her desk-drawer open. In one corner was a yellow horse eraser, which Dave stole. I took 5 quarters stacked in another corner and we rejoined our classmates on the playground.

When recess ended and students settled into their seats, I panicked knowing Karen would notice the theft. Not wanting to get caught with the quarters, I ducked into a bathroom. I heard the commotion while pacing the john. I stacked the quarters on the porcelain base behind the commode and returned to class. I never retrieved the quarters and rarely used that bathroom from then on.

I shot some pictures around the class before going into the bathroom. Everything looked so small, like a dollhouse. I knelt, reaching behind the commode to see if the quarters were there. My hand came up empty.


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Beyond the Pale by Thomas O’Connell

“Dad, it’s me,” Steven panted into the phone. “I called 911 on the drive over.”

“Steven,” a man on the other end said, followed by a low, deliberate inhale.

“Dad, I’m at the gate but I don’t know the code to punch into the keypad.”

“I would think you’d know.”

“But I don’t,” Steven shouted. “You need to tell me.”

He checked his phone, a half-hour since his dad called him.

“Dad, the ambulance won’t get in either,” Steven pleaded, grabbing the gate. “I need the code.”

“Maybe my birthday,” a soft voice said.

“Great, May 10th, no 15th? 0515?”

“That’s my birthday.”

Steven punched the keys, stepping back from the gate. It didn’t move.

“Not it, Dad. What else could it be?”

“Maybe the year your mother and I married.”

“Okay, what year was that?”

“What year?”

“Yeah, Dad. Don’t you remember?”

“Oh, I remember- 1963.”

“That’s not it either. You’ve gotta remember; I only have one more try. Punch in the wrong code three times, the system thinks someone’s breaking in.”

“I think it’s your birth year? You know that don’t you?”

Steven punched in the same code as his ATM pin.

“Not it, Dad. Now you’re screwed, I can’t get in.”

“I remember, the code is today’s date. Try that.”

“Today’s date? I can’t, I’m out of tries.”

Steven’s father adjusted his pillow. Reaching to place the phone on the cradle he knocked over the pill bottle, startling as it fell until he remembered it was empty.


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Considering the Ants by Thomas O’Connell

Go to the ant, thou sluggard. Consider her ways, and be wise
-Proverbs 6:6

If every unbaptized baby becomes an ant, why are there so many ants? Could so many babies be lost? The hospital intensive care units are always full, keeping them wired to monitors lest they start growing antenna and their little bodies start to section away.

Ants roam the cracked asphalt of our driveway, searching for food to bring home to their associates working so diligently below. We try to trick them on a lazy Sunday afternoon. After skimming through the newspaper, my daughter and I lie on our stomachs by low edged cups of sugar, salt, and honey. We observe the ants, waiting for them to discover the substances, speculating as to which they will choose. My daughter marks each ant’s preference on a sheet of loose-leaf paper, each hash mark building statistics that will be included on a science fair tri-board. The ants do not know they are part of our experiment, poor babies being tricked again.


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Perhaps it is Time to Forget After All by Thomas O’Connell

Frank took his wife’s car. His was in the shop. It seems that the whining squeal he would hear while stopped at traffic lights was not always some other car after all. Becky stopped him at the front door before he left, as if she wanted to tell him something. When he paused she seemed to forget, or think better of, what she meant to say.

“I was just wondering if the car had enough gas,” she said. “It, it does; never mind.”

Frank let the car warm up a while. He had thought he might need to scrape frost from the windshield but it wasn’t too bad and he decided to let the defroster do the work. After adjusting the mirrors he turned on the radio. He didn’t recognize the radio station. It wasn’t a station he had preprogrammed to one of the buttons. It wasn’t a station he thought his wife knew about. Frank wondered how she had discovered it.

It was some mellow station, playing the hits of the 80s, 90s, and today. They liked to talk about the weather. ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ came on the radio.

“ Awright,” Frank said, aloud. “Excellent song.”

He sat in the idling car listening to the song, enjoying the memories it evoked, no longer wondering where Becky had discovered the station.

In the glove compartment, beneath the registration and insurance card, was a pair of wooden chopsticks in a red paper sheath. Frank didn’t know about the chopsticks.


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