‘Wild Berry Blue’ by Rivka Galchen

Chosen by JL Bogenschneider

He was my first love, my first love in the way that first loves are usually second or third or fourth loves.

‘Wild Berry Blue’ is not a love story, although it is a story about love, the nine-year old unnamed narrator’s first. And being her first, she is adrift; lost in a labyrinth. She is drawn to Roy, a recovering heroin addict employed by a fast-food franchise. He has impossibly blue eyes and an impossible blue vein. He calls the narrator sexy and it doesn’t seem wrong but it’s not exactly right. Maybe she knows this and maybe she doesn’t. There are only three encounters with Roy, who the narrator likens to a beautiful monster. The first time is discombobulating, like being knocked over by a wave you never saw coming. The second is voyeuristically distant. But the third encounter is like being swept off your feet by the undercurrent whose total existence you were ignorant of. Pulled under, she blurts out that she will be at the Medieval Fair and Roy – unaware, not-even caring Roy – casually mentions how much he likes the wooden puppets they sell there.

Thinking about that puppet for Roy eclipsed all other thoughts … that puppet was going to solve everything.

The puppet is attained, but it is ugly, and cracked. No way can it be given to him under any circumstances. The narrator takes herself off to the bathroom to cry, and to let her love slough, and we arrive at the hopeless and defiant gut-punching last line:

‘I never got over him. I never get over anyone’

First published in Open City 25: High Wire. Collected in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009 and in American Innovations, FSG, 2014

JL Bogenschneider is a writer of short fiction, with work published in a number of print and online journals, including Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Island Review, 404 Ink, minor literature[s], Hobart, PANK and Ambit.