Vaughn by Erin Murphy



Erin Murphy’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Brevity, Memoir Magazine, The Normal School, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and elsewhere. She is the author or editor of eight books, including Creating Nonfiction: Twenty Essays and Interviews with the Writers (SUNY Press, 2016), winner of the Gold Medal Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award. She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Penn State Altoona. website:



A boy, a boy with pimples and a coltish gait, has died. A boy, the younger brother of my daughter’s friend, has died, has taken his own life. I watched him play in the pool, hour after hour of splat ball and Marco Polo, summer after summer, as he grew taller than his sister. Still, she’d spread his towel to dry in the sun and waited for him at the end of the day as he stabbed his wet feet into flip flops. White mother, black father in a part of Pennsylvania where pickups wave Confederate flags under a bruised sky. All four of them — parents and kids — have V names. Such hope in those names, their own little club of safety and love. Once Vanessa stayed at our house for a birthday sleepover. The next morning the girls were going to Galactic Ice, an indoor rink that blasts pop music. As she buttoned her coat, her $5 bill floated to the floor and our dog ate it, swallowed it whole. Everyone laughed except Vanessa who cried hard, as if she saw the entire day playing out — her friends skate-dancing backwards and eating French fries in the snack bar — while she sat home alone. I scrambled for my wallet and handed her a ten. Her sobs turned to deep breaths. Then: calm. How simple it was to ease her pain then.


(Next: The Going by Kelsey Englert)

(Previous: Her Hips Do Lie by Maura Yzmore)

Feel like submitting? Check out our submission guidelines


Image: Guinivere Pedro CC BY-SA 4.0