by Marcia Aldrich

And he was in the church youth group my parents made me attend. It was at the Christmas sledding party that we wedged together for a run on the toboggan and landed on top of each other in a snow bank at the bottom of the hill. He retrieved my mitten, which had slipped off when I tried to save myself. The way he pushed it back onto my hand, making sure to secure the thumb in the thumb hole, told me his feelings about me had changed.

His attentions didn’t amount to more than training his eyes on mine. But it felt like being watched through binoculars, and I did my best to avoid him. This tactic fended him off till spring, but John was persistent and smart about some things. If he asked me to the prom, he knew I’d say no. So one Sunday after church, with tact and respect, he asked my parents if he could take me. Of course they gave their consent.

When I protested, I got a lecture on charity. O daughter of small spirit, my father said.

John had a part-time job at Buckett’s Funeral Home. He called it “inside work.” On prom night he showed up in a hearse and presented me with loose white roses that dangled in his hands. When we left the house, he could barely get the hearse turned around in our driveway.

At the prom I laid my roses on the table, and we sat silently alone, watching other couples swerve about the dance floor. The hours mounted. Finally, another boy asked me to dance. I danced with him for one song, then a second, John glaring at us from his table. When I came back, he said we had to go. I picked up my roses, and white petals cascaded to the floor.

We did not speak on the ride home, nor was John at church the next morning, or for many Sundays after.

I did not see him again until the middle of July. Home by myself, I heard a car and spotted the long black hearse slowing to a stop at the bottom of our driveway. There our mailbox stood on a post, the red flag erect, telling the mailman to pick up a letter. A shotgun poked out of the driver’s window and blasted it point blank, and then the hearse sped away. The mailbox lay prostrate on the ground, the little red flag aiming directly at me.

When my parents returned, my father called the police. The next day, Sunday afternoon, John Smith’s father dragged him to our house to apologize. When my father asked why he did it, John said I needed to be taught a lesson in love, and that he was the boy to do it.

He was sorry for our nice mailbox, though.

That was enough for my father, who clasped his shoulder and said, “Son.”

Marcia Aldrich is the author of “Girl Rearing” (W.W.Norton) and is working on a book called “The Substitute Teacher, Notes of a Suicide.” She lives with her family in East Lansing, Michigan.