Rite of Passage

After track practice, an early dusk – I heard the sirens closing in, followed them down to the beach and witnessed my first death. Near the water, between a police car and Medic-Rescue van, a man pumped away on the chest of a small boy.

A crowd had gathered; flotsam sucked at the creosoted pilings of the pier. There was no breeze, no scent of the coming summer – only an odd stillness and the sick hiccupping sound of the man’s hands thrusting up and down against sternum and flesh. Policemen were talking soothingly to the man – he was the boy’s father, a woman near me said – trying gently to pull him away. But he was mired in grief, shouting at the boy to wake up.

I stood on the sand, heavy in my running shoes. Far off, the horizon seemed a long hyphen; sky and lake appeared as different shades of the same bruise. Ashamed to watch what was going on, I did my best to stare in that direction.

But in the end, my eyes reverted to the boy. His skin was vein-blue, his wet bleached hair swept all to one side, his small body limp, never to move again.

After the police managed to escort the boy’s father from the body, one of the paramedics lit a cigarette while awaiting the coroner, and stretched a gray wool blanket over the corpse.



In the sun’s last glint, the jar that once suffocated green olives was good enough to hold our father’s face. Seeing this final option, my brother planted it at eye-level in the mud of the sheared embankment above the gravel road.

It had become too much: for days our brains had whirled in confusion, his face behind us in every mirror. Even now, from almost ten yards, I could see scabs forming along lacerations the windshield must have caused.

I turned away, looked off over the brush at the distant shadow of my junior high fading into dusk. I tried to concentrate on a single crimson cloud that lay flat above the western horizon. But it did no good. Something began to rise in my throat. I thought of a blue heart that no longer pumped. I imagined dirt being crammed into my mouth, the everlasting darkness that would follow if I too were dead.

I was ready to run. I felt my feet itching gravel, my temples throbbing hot with blood.

Finally, my brother nudged me. His expression told me to be brave. We took aim, my arms taut as the barrel of my .22, and on the count of three we fired, in unison.

The reports echoing off into the woods sounded as one.

Blue diamonds of glass shimmered faintly in the fading light.


Greg Girvan grew up in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and received a bachelor’s degree in English from Slippery Rock University in 1993. Since then he has been employed at various positions, including social worker, bar manager, and co-publisher of an entertainment magazine. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Wisconsin Review, Plainsongs, Nexus, TPQ Online, Our Stories and a number of other periodicals. He currently lives in western Pennsylvania.