“My One and Only” by Leah Browning

My One and Only

I hadn’t seen Amy in five years when I found out about her death the way one does nowadays, through a posting on Facebook. We had been coworkers at a small tech startup, once upon a time. Sometimes a few of us had walked to a sushi bar down the street for lunch.

Over time, my relationship with Amy became awkward because she was religious and I was less so. No matter how many times I turned her down, she continued inviting me to attend church services with her. At first the attention was almost flattering. Quickly, though, I grew tired of fending off her advances.

Now she had been murdered by an ex-boyfriend. I was relieved to see that he was no one I had ever heard of. In the photo online she was smiling and looked much the way I remembered her, with a stylish haircut and a big shiny-white smile.

The ex had kept a copy of her key and let himself into her apartment while she was on a date
with another man. He made himself a ham sandwich while he waited, and then he stabbed her 17 times when she got home, humming, after letting her date get to second base in the hallway. Or whatever had happened out there before she walked in the door. She was 35 and religious, so maybe not.

I sent a check for $50 to the local animal shelter mentioned in the obituary. She had volunteered there every weekend when we worked together.

The memorial service was a week later. My husband was at home with the kids, and I had two hours until my dentist appointment, so I stood in line to give my condolences to her mother. I’d never met her while Amy was still living. She wore a long-sleeved black dress with a cross on a gold chain. She looked like an older version of her daughter.

I never know what to say in these situations, and I stumbled through my lines. Because she was also religious, I thought she might say that now Amy was with Jesus, or take comfort in the idea, at least. But she was crying and seemed pretty grounded in the here and now.

Amy’s mother grasped my hands, a little too hard, and twisted my wedding ring in between her fingers. “All she ever wanted was to get married and have a family,” she said, “and now she’ll never get the chance.” Amy had a sister, and I knew that there were other grandchildren, but it didn’t seem like the right thing to bring up. I also had two daughters, and it had become clear to me, if there had ever been any doubt, that children are not interchangeable.

Two years later, in early fall, Amy’s ex-boyfriend went on trial. He had been offered a plea deal, but he had turned it down. In court, he pled not guilty. You almost had to admire the audacity. Police officers had found a wad of bloody clothing in a trash bag at the park near his house. When they tested the DNA, of course, it was Amy’s. His was mixed in there, too, since he’d accidentally slashed one of his hands. Photos of the injuries were shown in court. There was more evidence, too, but how much more do you need?

He was found guilty and sentenced to life, no parole. Amy’s sister spoke to reporters outside the courthouse and called the verdict a relief. She’d been videotaped every day walking down the sidewalk behind the D.A., both of them wearing sharp pantsuits, though the attorney carried a briefcase and file boxes and the sister characteristically had a purse in one hand and a Starbucks cup in the other. She could have done ads, she looked so polished.

The day of the verdict, though, she lost her composure. She was only able to manage a few words before she sagged against the podium and broke down in tears. It can help to focus on something. Now that the trial had ended, she realized all over again that Amy was never coming back.

Before turning away from the microphones, though, she dabbed her eyes. She leaned forward and said, “Thank you to everyone who supported us in this fight for justice.”

My husband had started picking the kids up from the after-care at their school. Sometimes he stopped at a drive-thru and got a bag of burgers on the way.

Amy’s sister looked into the camera without blinking. Our eyes met. I couldn’t tell if she was
talking to me. I had just gotten home from work and was sitting on the couch, barefoot, in a
threadbare T-shirt, with a glass of bourbon on the coffee table next to the remote. Here I was,
squandering my one and only life.

On the screen, she turned away from me and took the hand of someone waiting on the periphery. There were a million popping flashbulbs as she turned and turned and turned and walked away. Behind the podium was an empty wall.

I clicked off the television. In the dark screen, after a few seconds, I could see my own reflection, and I stared into it, waiting.

Leah Browning is the author of three short nonfiction books and six chapbooks of poetry and fiction. Her writing has appeared in Belle Ombre, South 85 Journal, Forge, Four Way Review, The Threepenny Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Watershed Review, Newfound, Random Sample Review, Superstition Review, The Homestead Review, and elsewhere.