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Will Cordeiro has work published in AGNI, Bennington Review, Copper Nickel, DIAGRAM, The and The Threepenny Review. Will won the 2019 Able Muse Book Award for Trap Street and is coauthor of Experimental Writing: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury, 2024). Will coedits Eggtooth Editions and lives in Guadalajara, Mexico. Discover more of Will's work here.


I smudged out my answer. Looked over the question.

The intercom crackled, coughed, paged me down to the office. I hoped I had a doctor’s appointment; I didn’t want to finish that history test. My new foster mom took me to a lot of doctors lately, saying they’d help me get over my “depressive” episodes. She really thought that would help. But no, when I got to the office, two cops stood in the waiting room by the attendance desk. They walked me to their car, drove me to the station.

I hung out with Tyler, who liked to boost things for kicks, smalltime stuff like candybars or drugstore sunglasses. Sometimes he’d make little bombs with Drano and tinfoil in water bottles or set garbage fires. Kick them over in some vacant lot. He wasn’t a miscreant or delinquent, really, or whatever label teachers liked to use, just bored, just lacking direction is all. He dreamed of escaping this crummy town. I didn’t want anyone else to know about our bond. He had a good heart, but everything he did was doomed. Still, knowing the pranks he liked to pull, I figured I’d have to answer for him one day. I wasn’t about to rat him out, but goddamn the police kept me in that room for hours.

The older officer, the skinny one with a ’stache, would go down the hall, saying he was grabbing a coffee. The other one just stared at me and rubbed his chin. He had a pimple. He kept irritating it until it shone an angry red, ready to burst. The skinny officer came back in, flopped in his swivel-chair, munching a donut in front of me—I hadn’t eaten since breakfast—while the other one took a smoke break or called his wife or I dunno. They kept taking turns babysitting me, making chitchat. What classes did I take? Did I like football? Stupid bullshit. They’d gone through my records already and knew all those facts about me anyway. They were quizzing me. Testing how much I’d lie or tell them straight, trying to break me down. Their game was transparent. They conferred outside; their silhouettes passed by the narrow, frosted window in the door. Their lips moved, muted, since the room was soundproof.

The skinny one came back in the room. White donut powder dusted his mustache.

“Quit tapping your leg, boy,” he said, hovering above me.

My leg knocked underneath the table. I stopped. A numb throbbing issued from some hard thing floating on my kneecap. He snorted, shook his head. A little donut powder floated off.

“Am I under arrest?”

“Look, are you going to cooperate with us?”

“Am I under arrest?”

“Your choice, kid.”

“Am I under arrest?”

“Not right now. But see—if you don’t cooperate, if you leave, if you feed us any hogwash, well then, son, that might become grounds for probable cause, at which point, yes, we could be justified in placing you under arrest.”

“But if I were under arrest, you’d have to tell me what I did.”

“You really don’t know why you’re here?”

“You’d need to declare what you’re charging me with.”

“Well. That happens a couple days later, at arraignment. But you haven’t been arrested yet. Shit, kid, you haven’t even been detained. We’ve been going off the working assumption that you’re sharing information with us of your own free will. Isn’t that right? Cause, if not, then we can up the charges with no chance to cop a plea. Your choice.”

I crossed my arms; slumped in my chair. The edges of my mouth pulled themselves down, twisting tactless and blank.

“Sure, son, I’ll leave you a little time to think it over.”

The door swung closed with a brief shush followed by a tiny click as the latch caught. An echo reverberated through the empty room. Reverberated until the sounds—faint and yet insistent—could have been a symptom of tinnitus.

A rubber lining edged the door, an airtight seal, and I wondered whether the oxygen in the room would eventually run out. I could feel myself getting lightheaded. I thought this idea might be hallucinatory, too, and I tried to calm myself by taking deep breaths, but each intake only reinforced my sense of constriction. The fluorescent light above me skittered. Dead bugs lay wedged in the busted panel. I couldn’t tell if one moth still fluttered or if the bulb shivered out for an instant. Then a moth crawled out from a crack in the light cover, lost its footing, fell to the floor. It hobbled on the dusty tiles. It dragged itself in a slow circle, one set of wings beating, helpless and strobe-like, the other wings dead and untrembling.

What was the likelihood they’d already picked up Tyler? Maybe questioned him in the room next door?

He’d done time in juvie. What if he sold me out?

I thought I could hear Tyler in the next room. Snitching on me.

But my interrogation room was locked airtight. Soundproof.

I closed my eyes.

A fire crackled in the warping air. A dry field shone wet with a trail of gasoline. Tyler emptied cardboard boxes into a barrel. The boxes contained a birth certificate, a child’s drawings, a family album splayed open. The photo on the page was my mother’s photo. My real mother. She held my six-year-old pudgy hand clutching at her blouse. Tyler kept dumping out more boxes.

In one box, a scrapbook of old school pictures. The flames spitting higher. The images shriveled and charred. My whole history in those documents crackled and burned. I tipped the barrel. Then the field, my house, my whole line of vision was swallowed in fire. I could barely see for the smoke. The wavering heat distorted the air. It smeared things away. I looked at Tyler, but his face was my face. I looked back at myself. I looked back—I saw who I was.


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