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by Jack Somers

On Monday mornings, Miss Vesia would give us each a gallon of milk. Then she’d lead us down the hall from the kitchen to the classroom where we’d store the gallons in the mini-fridge by her desk. The walk seemed like a mile, but I’m sure it was only forty or fifty meters. I remember hugging my gallon tightly, my body quivering, my back tilted at an obtuse angle so that I wouldn’t pitch forward. Sam was stronger than I was. He walked with a straight back and a quick, even step.

After the milk was stowed, Sam and I would go to the sharing circle and play with the big wooden blocks. We’d build spaceships and trains and wait for the other kids to arrive. We played together during recess, too. We’d race up the twisty slide, twirl each other on the swings, and shove each other into the monster truck tire sandbox.

One afternoon when we were both sitting in the tire, Sam pulled a tissue-soft five-dollar bill out of his OshKosh overalls.

“It’s for you,” he said.

“Why?” I said.

“Because you’re my best bud.”

The next day I pushed him off the high platform on the playground jungle gym. I had no reason for doing it. It was an urge, as sudden and inexplicable as the urge I sometimes got to yank the cat’s tail.

I was told later that he died instantly. That was some comfort to me when I got old enough to understand what I had done. At the time, I didn’t exactly know why he wasn’t moving. I thought maybe he was asleep. Or faking sleep like he did during naptime. I was preparing to slide down the fireman’s pole to tickle him when Rachel, the recess monitor, appeared below, her mascara-rimmed eyes bugging.

Lately, I’ve been dreaming about Sam again. The dream is always the same. He’s my age — thirty-seven — and, like me, he’s married with two daughters. He and his family are over at our house for brunch. Our wives are in the dining room trading gossip over mugs of coffee, and our daughters are in the backyard playing on the swing set. Sam and I are standing in the kitchen. I am making pancakes. I pull a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator and pour a few tablespoons into the batter. As I stir, I ask Sam how things are going. Things are good, he says — work is fulfilling (he’s a teacher), his wife’s business is booming (she’s a painter), and his daughters are thriving at school. Then I tell him what I really want to tell him, that I’m sorry. I’m sorry I took his life. There was no malice behind it. No premeditation. I would gladly erase the last thirty-three years and start all over again if I could re-do that one instant. And he puts his hand on my shoulder and looks at me with love. And he forgives me.

Jack Somers’s work has appeared in WhiskeyPaper, Jellyfish Review, The Molotov Cocktail, and a number of other publications. He lives in Ohio with his wife and their three children. You can find him on Twitter @jsomers530.