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The Short Form

“The Inventor, 1972”

Bonnie Jo Campbell


The man and the girl share the thought that the sirens are too far away, that the ambulance technicians will never arrive. The girl sighs again, sighs like a grownup woman who has chosen badly in marriage. The hunter sighs, too. He thinks his body was once a vessel filled with hope for the future, ideas for inventions—as a teenager, he ordered an inventor’s guide out of the back of a comic book—but he long ago became a sack of broken glass. Now he has broken this girl, too, into shards of whatever her whole young self was. He has always been able to picture Ricky Hendrichson as a swollen body on the grass, covered with leeches, and he can see Ricky in his coffin, silent and pale, his freckles covered with makeup, but he has been unable to remember Ricky alive, smoking in that garage, building his homemade bottle rockets on concrete blocks beside the pond, with charcoal, sugar and saltpeter. So when he sees Ricky’s face in the girl’s face, he fears he is losing his mind.

“Please, don’t die,” he whispers.

We read it in American Salvage.

Originally published in The Southern Review: Winter 2008.