She crushes out a cigarette on the patio. Shakes her head.

“Trent’ll call soon,” I say. “You’ll see.”

But we both know he won’t. The plane went down in the Hindu Kush.

Over a week ago. Still missing. A celebrated pilot in the air force. That’s where we’d
all met, Pensacola boot camp in 2005.

Then Debbie and I both got pregnant. Return tickets home. We were lucky to score jobs at the Wal-Mart in Keene.

She still doesn’t know it was the same guy.


She lights another Marlboro.

I grab it from her. Extinguish it.

“It’s all I have,” she pleads.

“Debbie don’t,” I say. “Think of your kid.”


  1. Sarah Freligh

    Robert, I love that you don’t O Henry us and save the Double Daddy revelation until the end and instead drop it in the middle of the story. By doing so, it becomes a very different story, the story of two women who are in the same predicament and have only each other. The narrator’s kind gesture, her dialogue “Debbie don’t” is a wonderful rebuke to Debbie’s assertion that the cigarettes are all she has.

    Is the time reference — 2005 — important or could you omit it, thus letting this happen at any time.

    • Andrea Marcusa

      This is so spare and yet it does so much. My only suggestion would be to identify one or two details, whether clothing, a way someone spoke, a nervous gesture in how she smoked, to distinguish these two people from all the other people they could be.

  2. Len Kuntz


    This is a real lightning bolt. So lean, yet muscular. Every word does the work its supposed to. It’s a novella is less than 50 words. Fantastic.

  3. Koss Just Koss

    This is an amazing, gut-punching bundle of difficulty, Robert. It seems ready to go to me. I love how you distilled this into a few lines. Wonderful.

  4. Jayne Martin

    I love this, Robert. The way you deliver the big reveal is brilliant how it’s treated as almost an aside – a throwaway line. It makes the reader screech on the brakes and go Wait! WHAT?! If I’d seen this written in a book, I’d still be turning the pages wanting more of the story.
    Terrific piece, my friend. And I agree with Sarah. You don’t need the date.

  5. Anita Brienza

    What an economic and graphic use of words, Robert. And we both have Marlboros in our stories! (I never read anyone else’s until I post mine, so I have to think it was some cosmic cigarette thing…)

    I agree with Andrea – would love to see a few details to make these women pop even more. I love that they’re connected forever by this guy that’s no longer there. And that there’s such a huge secret only one person knows.

  6. Francine Witte

    Very wonderfully spare and yet so full. I love how we learn so much and then wham! the two women. Fascinating situation. Very well done.

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