Alternate Histories: 7/1, 7/8, 7/10


[These two came up together.]

Person 1: Violence. Everything that’s happening in Providence. I’m worried about my family, people I’m close to.

Are you worried that it’s gonna harm them or that they’re gonna hurt someone else?

That they’re gonna be victims of something they had nothing to do with. It’s becoming so unpredictable.

Person 2: I think it’s both. It’s easy for people to be manipulated.

Why do you think that is?

Person 1: Nowadays it’s a trend. They think they have to prove themselves to other people to be popular, they wanna fit in, doing what the next person does. They wanna be seen as, “I’m down.”


A friend of mine’s son got shot and he died 15 minutes ago. And I have two sons, and one of them’s been shot twice. So violence and repercussions in this city. I just called the mother to say I have her paycheck, we work together, and she was still crying.



The next day, the murderer’s father, uncle, and two grown woman cousins walked him over to the house of the boy he murdered. This is your son now, they said. We’re still his family, we’ll give you money to feed him and all of that, but he’s going to do for you what your son would have done. He owes you and your daughters his life.

I can’t love you, the woman of the household said, looking the boy dead in the eyes.

I know, he mumbled.

Here’s my number, the boy’s uncle said. Call me if there’s any problems.

A vacant lot is not really vacant. The rockets of mullein and the bees fussing over them, the platters of Queen Anne’s lace and the ants traversing them, the bells of milkweed and the monarchs sipping at them; toadflax, viper’s bugloss, daisy fleabane; grubs and grub-hunting beetles in the lead- and antifreeze-laced dirt. By the time the goldfinches came through in the fall, eating the seeds in the vacant lot and making noises like squeaky bike chains, the new son had his understood pathways through the city and the house, all of them delicate and wincing. He helped his sister paint her shoes to look new; he cleaned the kitchen every day.

Each person in the house carried their heart in their mouth every day, and spoke around it, if they spoke at all. Not bitterly, but carefully. It’s hard to make your teeth into a filtration system, your lips into a bioswale.

The son shoveled the walk in the winter. The mother spread salt, and said nothing. The son worked and handed his wages over. The mother spent them on rent and food and earrings and dental floss and school supplies for the girls, and said nothing. Every day she longed for her born son. This boy was not a replacement. He was someone new. He ate what she gave him. She kept herself back from punishing him. This got easier as the months went by, although her grief did not grow less.

The boy’s born family didn’t go to church, but his new family did, so he went to church, which he didn’t like. His other sister said, I wanna wear a tie like you to church, and a suit. Will you help me talk to mom about it?

Five years later, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the monarch butterfly extinct in the United States. The boy was 22, learning to install gutters and downspouts and fix water damage to houses. His sisters were 18 and 15, and the younger one, face somber under her high-top fade, came home from school to tell him. My class is gonna have a funeral, she said. You wanna come?


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