We’d forgotten there was a war going on when Mom told us our cousin was killed in it. We were sitting on my bed, painting our toenails and skipping songs on Spotify. Mom knocked and stepped inside before we could answer. I thought she was going to yell at us about the smell—she’d always complained the ethyl acetate gave her migraines—but instead she said, Christian died today.
He was our age, born in the two years that separated us.
How? asked my sister. She looked up from her brush strokes and a droplet of purple lacquer fell from the tip of the brush and domed onto my sheets.
His fire squad hit an IED, Mom said.
Later, I learned it was the shrapnel that did it. A quarter-sized piece cut through his neck and he bled to death, alone in the desert.
My sister’s eyes turned back to the polish bottle and she dipped in the brush, swirling the tip into the viscous liquid. The color was called Plum Luck but it looked more like grape.
That’s awful, she said, globbing on another coat while Mom lingered at the door.
Our mom waited another moment, watching us with her arms crossed, and after she left we leaned back onto the pillows, pushing our feet over the edge of the bed, careful not to dent our fresh polish.
Notes from Guest Reader Shasta Grant
The way ‘In November 2017’ weaves the tragic with the ordinary is devastating and exquisite. It’s a marvel that this story says so much in so few words.