by Jen Corrigan

The day they pulled Gary’s body from the grain bin, Lydia called in sick to her summer job at the ice cream parlor. On the other end of the line, Lydia’s coworkers shouted shake orders back and forth, and the soft serve machines whined. She could tell her manager didn’t believe her, but he said, “Okay, if you have to” and then hung up.

The sun a hazy lemon swinging low in the morning sky, Lydia pulled her bicycle out of the garage, pumped air in the back tire, and took off down the road to the Branson farm. The ride was peaceful, the only sounds the whir of her wheels turning, birds screaming in the trees, and the thud inside her chest. She took the gravel road she had driven months ago the day she brought Gary his homework, careful to ride slowly and keep her balance on the shifting rocks.

As Lydia pedaled, she tried to cry, because that was what you were supposed to do when someone died, especially in a tragic way. She had known about Gary’s death for hours, and she wondered when the wave of sadness would come. News traveled fast in a small town, and her mother had woken her up at dawn to tell her.

“Dottie from down the street called,” she said. Her figure glowed gray and fuzzy in the bedroom doorway. “A boy in your class died.”

“He was a year ahead of me,” Lydia replied. It didn’t matter, but she felt compelled to say it.

Near the farm, two news vans were parked on the side of the road. A bearded man stood next to one, aiming a camera at the house. The property was marked off with yellow tape, and a large machine and a truck of materials rested next to the bin. Three people, two men and a woman, pointed up at the bin and consulted one another. From the road, Lydia couldn’t hear what they said.

Lydia hopped off her bike and shoved it into the ditch. Looking around to make sure no one saw her, she dashed into the cornfield. The corn was high, the stalks about a foot over her head. The alternating days of rain and sun had made it a good season.

She couldn’t see through the thick stalks, but she heard the three voices and followed them, walking between the rows to make less noise. She Who Walks Behind the Rows, she thought stupidly, remembering the old Stephen King movie she had watched on basic cable one night when she couldn’t sleep.

She jumped when she saw Matthew, a boy from Gary’s grade, in the field, peering at the grain bin from the edge of the corn. He heard her gasp and turned to look at her, startled. When he recognized her, he relaxed his shoulders and beckoned with two fingers.

“They’re discussing how to get his body out. They’re not sure how far down it sank,” he whispered. “I’ve been reading about it. They have to construct a retaining wall that separates the grain.” He pointed. “That’s what that truck of wood is for.”

Lydia nodded, although she wasn’t that interested in the how part of it. But then she wasn’t really sure what part she was interested in.

“Do you think there’s a chance he’s still alive?” Lydia asked. “Maybe he found a pocket of air or something.”

Matthew shook his head. “Between the low temperature and the chemicals, he’s definitely dead.” His voice broke on the last syllable, and he looked down. As if hoping to distract Lydia from his tears, he pulled a bag of sunflower seeds from his pocket and held it out.

“No thanks.”

“He was my best friend,” Matthew said, tossing some seeds in his mouth and returning the bag to his pocket. His jaw flexed as he crushed the shells between his teeth.

Lydia wondered if Gary had ever told Matthew about her.

“Hey! You kids!” One of the men pointed at where they were standing in the corn. He was wearing sunglasses. The lenses reflected Lydia’s and Matthew’s half-hidden faces. “Get out of here!”

Lydia and Matthew turned and sprinted, deeper and deeper into the cornfield, the man screaming after them.


It probably wasn’t the first time, the day Lydia brought Gary his homework. They’d met up and did it several more times after that: in the back of Gary’s truck, in the school bathroom, on a blanket in a meadow which sounded more romantic than it actually was. The meadow was wet and full of bugs. Both of them went home with mosquito bites on their asses.

When Lydia peed on the stick, it was easiest to blame the first time. A Catholic girl, she had always assumed sex would happen later, after marriage. Not that she wanted to wait, but that seemed like the easiest choice, instead of getting birth control and condoms and trying to find a boyfriend.

Gary used a condom sometimes, not always. Lydia didn’t question it, trusted that Gary knew what he was doing. Health class had covered birth control options but not in any detail. No statistics, only vague warnings. “You can’t rely on condoms,” Mrs. Bernard cautioned, rolling one on a banana to a chorus of giggles. “The only birth control that’s one hundred percent effective is abstinence.” If you couldn’t rely on condoms, Lydia couldn’t see why anyone used them at all.

The mistake happened back in March, when Mrs. Mosley asked Lydia to deliver Gary’s homework on her way home. Gary had been playing truant the past week and was behind on his algebra.

“I’ll take it to him,” Lydia said, accepting the envelope of worksheets, “but I don’t think he’ll care.”

Mrs. Mosley pursed her lips and rested her clenched fist on her hip, her pale knuckles digging into her slacks. “Well, he sure as heck better care! The quadratic equation is important stuff. He’ll be sorry later if he doesn’t learn it now.”

Lydia smiled sweetly and zipped the homework into her backpack.

Gary’s family lived just outside Vinton on a gravel road. Lydia drove fast, the old Chevy rattling along the rocks. With a jolt, the gravel threatened to tug her off the road. Lydia put her foot on the brake, the Chevy fishtailing wildly. She got the car under control and slowed, her breath held like a keepsake in her throat.

She parked at the edge of the property, near the old barn. Dilapidated cars and tractors surrounded it, weeds growing over the wheels. A border collie ran to her when she opened the car door. The dog barked cheerfully, wagging its whole rear. Lydia patted the dog on the head and turned over its name tag: Steinbeck.

The last snowfall of the year had melted into mushy puddles. Picking her way around the worst of it, Lydia heard a clang from the barn and Gary’s voice utter a passionate string of curse words. She followed the sound, marveling at Gary’s creativity, a trait he rarely displayed in class. Steinbeck trotted behind her, panting happily.

Despite the damp chill, Gary sweated shirtless, a cigarette tucked behind his ear. He leaned over the open hood of a vintage car, the engine naked and bare. A toolbox rested near his foot.

When he looked up, he didn’t seem to recognize her. A smug smile crawled over his lips. “Martinez,” he said. He drew out the syllables like he was savoring it. “You miss me?”

“You should put on a shirt or you’ll catch cold. Then you’ll really be sick from school.” She unzipped her backpack and took out the envelope. “Here’s your algebra homework.”

He yanked the envelope out of Lydia’s hands and tossed it on the ground. Steinbeck galloped over to sniff it. Gary stood too close to Lydia, looking down at her. He smelled like sweat and oil and AXE body spray.

Gary took the cigarette from behind his ear and offered it. Lydia nodded, although she’d never smoked. He popped it in his mouth and lit it before tucking it between her fingers. She put the cigarette between her lips and imagined it a kiss. The filter tasted salty from his sweat.

She took a big drag and choked, smoke puffing out her mouth. Gary laughed and shook his head. “Never smoked before.” It wasn’t a question. Lydia swallowed to quell the burn in her throat. “Here, we’ll start you off easy. We’ll shotgun.”

He plucked the cigarette from her lips and put it between his own. He sucked in deep, his cheeks hollowing out. With the other hand, he put his hand behind Lydia’s head, his fingers intertwined in her hair. Gary placed his mouth right by hers, not quite touching. Slowly, he exhaled the smoke into her mouth.

When Gary kissed her, she felt the solidity of their bodies against each other. Her arms around his shoulders, his mouth on her neck, his hand creeping up her shirt. Lydia’s skin prickled, and her gut tightened. It was how she felt on a carnival ride, breathless and anticipating.

Gary undid her pants and slipped her underwear down her legs. He slammed the hood of the car shut and pressed Lydia face down on the hood, her waist bent so her butt rose in the air. The cold metal bit at her thighs.

“Yes?” he asked. Lydia nodded, although she wasn’t sure. In her imagination, losing her virginity happened on a bed, in missionary position, with some faceless boy she had yet to meet.

Gary entered her roughly and thrust with deliberation. With each motion, Lydia’s forehead banged against the curve of the hood. As her insides throbbed with a dull ache that was more annoying than painful, she discovered sex wasn’t as bad as she had expected.

He pulled away and buckled his pants. Wetness dripped out of her. She looked down at her thighs and was surprised to see no blood. In the movies, virgins always bleed.

Lydia pulled up her panties and jeans. She smoothed her hair and tried to look nonchalant, like she did this all the time. She picked up her backpack and walked toward the barn door.

“I’ll see you around,” she said over her shoulder.

Gary didn’t look at her but he nodded. He opened up the hood of the car again and picked up a wrench.

“Sure thing. Thanks for the homework.”

Lydia walked to her car, her sneakers sinking into the soft earth. She took the long way home, weaving through the alternating patches of farmland and trees, trying to parse out what she was feeling.


Matthew called Lydia’s house the day of Gary’s visitation and asked if she wanted to go with him.

“Like a date?” she joked. Matthew forced a laugh, although it wasn’t funny.

“I’ll pick you up at three?” His voice was lower over the phone, less wispy than when they were in the cornfield.


At three o’clock sharp, a teal minivan rolled into the driveway, its exhaust roaring. Before Matthew could put the vehicle in park, Lydia leaped out of the house and into the van. She settled into the seat, smoothing her sundress across her knees. Matthew glanced at her legs.

“You look nice,” he said. Lydia looked at Matthew, at the too-small, baby blue button-up and the too-long checkered tie.

“You look nice too,” Lydia said with a smile. “I like the double Windsor. A bold choice.”

Matthew smirked and red seeped along his cheekbones. Lydia was reminded of when she had spilled cherry Kool-Aid on the carpet as a child.

“Thanks,” he said. “My dad tied it for me, actually.”

Matthew pulled up in front of the funeral home, a Victorian brick house with pristine white pillars. A cluster of people oozed up the steps as if being herded by their collective grief.

“You go in. I’ll find somewhere to park and meet you in there.”

Lydia considered protesting. She didn’t want to be absorbed into the blob of acquaintances, people she knew on a surface level. She didn’t want to talk to anyone. She didn’t want to think about Gary.

She glanced at her heels and reconsidered walking even just a couple blocks. “Sure.”

It was a bright, hot August day, discordantly cheerful for a visitation. The sun warmed Lydia’s bare shoulders as she joined the throng, the mourners’ voices rumbling like lowing cattle. She kept her eyes down.

Sandy Martin from the post office caught sight of Lydia’s posture and hugged her with one arm. “It’s alright, sweetie,” she said, rubbing her dry hand up and down Lydia’s bicep. “Let it out if you need.”

When the crowd had maneuvered into the funeral home, squeezing through the narrow doors, Lydia stood awkwardly to the side by the coat rack. An older man, thinking she was an attendant, handed her his hat which she dutifully placed on the rack.

Matthew sidled into view, hands in his pockets and slightly hunched. Lydia stepped back in line with him and let the people push her into the viewing room, closer and closer to the casket and Gary’s parents.

Lydia and Matthew didn’t talk on the slow trudge. Instead, she listened to the condolences that people offered a couple who had lost their only child. Gary was such a kind boy. He was always willing to do anyone a favor. He was a bright kid, sharp as a tack.

She wondered if the people saying these things believed them.

Gary’s parents stood at the foot of the casket. Lydia glanced at it, at the closed lid, the gleaming cherry wood. She deflated slightly, realizing that there was no Gary for her to see. Seeing his body, she thought, would have made it easier to convince herself that he was dead.

Lydia offered her hand to Gary’s mother and then his father. “I was a classmate of Gary’s. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you for coming,” his mother whispered. Her voice was hoarse and brittle.

“Yes, thank you,” his father added. “It’s so nice to see Gary’s friends here.”

Lydia nodded and didn’t correct Gary’s father. Although they had spent a lot of time together, there was never a closeness there, not even a friendship. It simply was whatever it was.

She stepped to the side and let Matthew speak to them. He spoke a lot longer, hugging both Gary’s parents. When he pulled away from the embrace, tears hung like crystals on Matthew’s cheek.

“You’re welcome at our place any time, Mattie,” Gary’s father said, patting Matthew’s shoulder. Matthew nodded but couldn’t speak. Lydia reached out her hand for Matthew’s, and they laced fingers. His hand was hot and clammy, and his pulse banged in his wrist. She squeezed twice and guided him away as if he was a child.


An early summer lightning storm flickered the morning Gary came to take Lydia to the clinic. She had made the decision, on her own, to terminate the pregnancy. Strands of her dark hair frizzed up in the humidity as she clambered into his truck.

Gary didn’t greet her, just backed out onto the street and pressed the accelerator harder than needed. The engine revved, lurching them through the neighborhood.

The ride was silent apart from Gary asking for directions to the clinic over in Cedar Rapids. She had printed the Mapquest directions on her mother’s color printer.

When they arrived, Lydia wasn’t certain they were at the correct address. The clinic was at the far end of a strip mall, next to an insurance office. She had been looking for a group of people waving signs, fondling rosaries, to mark the place where abortions were performed. Instead, the parking lot was empty except for a few cars. Gary pulled the grumbling truck into a vacant space outside the door. Black exhaust curled behind the vehicle.

“Do you want me to come inside or wait out here?” he asked.

“Come inside. I’m not sure how long it will take.”

She had thought about reading up on the abortion process, but she decided against it. Last spring, she saw Juno at a movie theater. She hadn’t liked the movie, but she remembered the part where Juno goes to a clinic for an abortion and a lone protester informs her that her fetus has fingernails, a fact that changes Juno’s mind. Lydia didn’t want to research anything related to fetuses, didn’t want to learn something that would make it harder.

Gary sat in the corner of the waiting room next to a fake plant. He crossed his boot over his knee and picked up a copy of Better Homes & Gardens from the end table. After checking in at reception where a friendly woman said, “A nurse will be with you shortly,” Lydia sat on Gary’s left, leaving one empty chair between them.

A nurse, another smiling, friendly woman, came to collect her within five minutes, even though Lydia was early for her appointment. The nurse took her medical history in a series of cheery questions followed by an ultrasound. Lydia was surprised at how normal everyone acted.

She had read The Cider House Rules when she was twelve, and she remembered the part where abortion is described as scraping the inside of the uterus with a spoon. When she imagined the procedure, that’s what she saw: lying back on a table with her legs propped up, a napkin-like hospital gown draped over her, while a faceless doctor scraped at her insides like trying to get the last bit of ice cream from the carton.

Instead, the nurse handed her a pill and a cup of water. “It’s very early in your pregnancy. When it’s less than seven weeks, we prefer to use the medical procedure instead of the surgical one. Fewer complications and much easier.”

Lydia took the pill and swallowed it with the lukewarm water.

The nurse took the empty cup with another smile. “You may experience some cramping while your body expels the fetus. The process can take between a few hours and a few days.”

She filled out a piece of paper and instructed Lydia to give it to reception on the way out and to schedule a follow-up appointment in a week. “And please,” the nurse said, guiding Lydia through the narrow hallway back to the waiting room, “don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions, any questions at all.”


Lydia and Matthew emerged from the funeral home, squinting into the brightness. Her eyes half-shut, she wondered if the same shapeless sense of light was what a baby saw as it was being born.

As they walked down the steep cement steps, Lydia realized they were still holding hands and gently unlaced her fingers from Matthew’s.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “My hand is getting sweaty.”

“That’s okay. Here, you stay here, and I’ll go get the van.”

“I don’t mind walking with you. Just walk slowly. My heels,” Lydia said, gesturing to her feet.

He nodded and shortened his strides so she could keep up. They walked down the sidewalk. A fat squirrel scampered ahead of them before turning with a start and scuttling up a tree.

“Do you want to get some ice cream?” Matthew asked when they reached the van. He blinked away tears that pooled at the corners of his eyes.

Lydia hesitated. She didn’t want ice cream, and she didn’t want to spend more time with Matthew. What she wanted was to go home and climb into bed and close her eyes.

“Sure,” she said anyway, caught by the glitter of his crying.

They went to the ice cream parlor where Lydia worked. She didn’t want to see her coworkers or her boss, who was still annoyed at her for calling in sick, so she hunched down on the floor in the back of the van.

Matthew paid for her chocolate shake at the drive-through without question and drove to the lake in Rodgers Park. He pulled into a space in a parking lot next to the water where a line of pickup trucks took turns lowering their boats into the lake.

He climbed in the back of the van to join Lydia, nearly ramming his ice cream cone into the ceiling as he wriggled into the space between the seats. They sat in silence next to each other, working at their ice cream. Lydia was tired of her shake halfway through, but she kept dipping the spoon in and licking it off just to have something to do other than talk.

Matthew finished his ice cream, cramming the bottom of the sugar cone in his mouth and chewing laboriously. He swallowed and then covered his face with his hands. He howled into the cavern of his palms.

In an automatic motion, Lydia placed her unfinished milkshake on the floor and wrapped her arms around Matthew, pressing her chin into his shoulder and whispering, “It’s alright” over and over. She remembered her second-grade parent-teacher conference where beaming Mrs. Lipinski informed her mother, “Lydia is such a joy to have in the classroom. She’s always very accommodating.” When she got home, Lydia looked up the word in the dictionary. She wished her teacher would have had something different to say, something better.

“It’s alright,” Lydia repeated. She rubbed Matthew’s arms as if trying to keep him warm.

“I just miss him so much,” he wailed, his words muffled by his palms. “Why did this have to happen?”

“I don’t know.”

Matthew looked up, his face red and wrinkled like an overripe fruit. When he kissed her, it felt both obvious and unexpected.

He pressed on her shoulders, nudging her to lay back. She let her body recline, and a stab of disgust swelled in her, mixed with the memory of Gary pushing her down on the car. Matthew lifted up her dress, sobbing, his tear-soaked hands running up her thighs and into her panties.

“Get off me.” She shoved his shoulders roughly until he rolled off her.

“What’s wrong?” His voice rattled with phlegm.

“Go cry to someone else,” Lydia said. She sat up and pulled down the hem of her dress, knocking over her unfinished milkshake with her foot on purpose. The melted mess pooled brown on the carpet. “I’m not your friend. You don’t even know me.”

She thrust the minivan door open and stepped into the daylight, the warmth of the sun dripping over her like honey. She felt like crying, so she did. The tears burned her cheeks with their salt, and they weren’t for Gary or Matthew but for herself. The voices of families buzzed as they clustered around the edge of the lake with fishing poles or sat at the picnic tables, eating McDonald’s out of greasy bags. A man said hello to her and waved, but Lydia did not oblige him with a response.

She paused to slip off her heels, leaving them in the middle of the parking lot. The gravel bit into the soles of her feet as she walked faster and faster toward the dock. A fat little boy in a red striped shirt swung his fishing pole back and forth impatiently.

Lydia’s feet hit the wood of the dock, and she began to run. Her heart thrummed as her legs and arms moved into a sprint. She leaped off the edge of the dock, and as her body propelled itself through the air she felt that it was hers.

Jen Corrigan’s story “Ursa Major” received first place in The Molotov Cocktail’s 2018 Flash Monster Contest. Her prose has appeared in The RumpusPithead ChapelSeneca ReviewElectric LiteratureThe Boiler, and elsewhere. She is a nonfiction editor and book reviewer for Alternating Current Press. Visit her at