The following is an excerpt from the story Baron von Richtofen Flies Again by Ryan Call, appearing in Annalemma Issue Six. Image by Jenny Kendler.
The first two deaths, a pair of gerbils on loan from the school, had sent his children into outrageous fits of mourning. They wandered around the house that weekend, eyes bloodshot and noses runny from weeping, and bumped into walls, collapsed facedown on the couch, across chairs, flailed their limbs, refused to eat their dinners, whimpered in bed at night. His wife suggested he try to distract them with some fun activity, like maybe an arts and crafts project? So Gary led them in cutting armbands out of a pair of old, black athletic tube socks he found at the bottom of his underwear drawer, and these the children delighted in wearing to school the following week.
During the parent teacher conference, he offered to purchase a new set of gerbils. Maybe there existed a hardier breed, one better suited to the repeated, but no less affectionate attention of young children in the process of developing the finer action of their motor skills?
I’m afraid the issue is not one of money, but of morale, his children’s teacher said.
The entire first grade, all three homerooms, had apparently taken to wearing some form of black armband, and would he know anything about that?
Perhaps a pair of guinea pigs then, he said.
Ryan Call‘s stories appear or are forthcoming in Hobart, Caketrain, Mid-American Review, Lo-Ball, New York Tyrant, and elsewhere. He and his wife live in Houston.
Jenny Kendler was born in 1980 in New York City. She graduated summa cum laude with a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2002, and received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2006. She currently lives and works in Chicago.