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Yinka Rose Reed-Nolan

Innocence

In the middle of summer, when it’s too hot for cargo shorts and the air is heavy to breathe, I let my mouth slide open into a slippery smirk, as I watch Michael Ritter, the boy you loved in 5th grade, on the local news.

“Dear Michael, I really, really like you…” your 5th grade love letter began. Against my warnings, you stuffed the tightly folded letter, a rainbow scrawl, colored pencil on notebook paper, into his cubby.

He fell to his knees laughing. His friends snickered at you: Dear Michael, I really, really like you… They whispered when you walked by.  You cried yourself to sleep at night, a salty puddle of pre-adolescent pain staining your Barbie doll pillow case.

It’s not until I see him on the news, until I want to tell you how much you didn’t miss out on, how lucky you are that he never loved you. It’s not until then that I start to miss you.

It’s almost been a year since last summer when your mother drove you off an Arizona overpass. Your car tumbled onto the shiny alloy of train tracks pulled tight against dirt and gravel like braces. You were dead before a train slammed into your car twisting metal and bones.

I like to imagine you asleep in the passenger seat.  The overpass a cliff, the desert orange rock of a winding road.  Maybe your mom falls asleep at the wheel; she’s been driving for too long. Maybe she swerves to miss an animal, a rock. Maybe she cuts a turn to sharply and loses control.

I like to imagine it innocent. That it’s nobody’s fault.

The car falls down the cliff breaking through a mile of air, but it only takes a second to slam into the ground, not long enough for you to wake up. Not long enough for you to know what happens next.

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Yinka Rose Reed-Nolan is currently a PhD student at Binghamton University. She earned her BA in Liberal Arts from Goddard College and MFA in creative writing from California State University Fresno. She has worked as an Editorial Assistant for The Normal School: A Literary Magazine and The Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. Her work has been featured in The Hoot and Hare Review, The Dying Goose, Niche, and Bloom. When she’s not writing she enjoys baseball, road trips and team trivia.