‘Unstruck’ by Mary Otis

Mary Otis is a personal hero of mine and a very nice person to boot. This story of hers I came across in a Hammer Museum podcast, and after hearing it I immediately ordered her collection Yes, Yes, Cherries, which I’ve read a bunch of times since. In ‘Unstruck’ eleven-year-old Julie is in love with her ‘supposedly eleven-year-old’ foster brother Pritchard, who could be leaving any day to join a new family. 

 Julie and her temporary brother, Pritchard, had been getting married every single day since they’d heard that maybe a family had been found for Pritchard, since school got called off for a week due to snow, since Julie’s mother insisted every afternoon that they eat four to six orange halves, which they did, sucking out the juicy flesh, grinding their teeth against the orange peel until their lips were on fire and they had burning red mouth shadows. 

Their love is so genuine and flawed and relatable that it radiates its own special power, perfectly capturing the kind of banal, thrilling panic of junior emotional discovery. It’s like ten episodes of Wonder Years suburban heartache compressed into 16 pages of perfection. 

First published in Tin House 24, Summer Reading, 2005 and collected in Yes, Yes, Cherries, Tin House New Voice, 2007