Emily Rinkema June 2024 Second Prize

Driving my Seven-Year Old Nephew to Visit His Mother at Rehab

by Emily Rinkema

It’s his turn, and from the back seat he tosses out an easy one. “Would you rather eat a mile of garbage or a mile of worms?” I make eye contact through the mirror, ask some follow-ups: how fat are the worms? Fat. Are they alive? Yes. Would I have to eat everything in the garbage, or just the food-ish things? Everything, he says.

“Easy,” I say. “Worms.”

It’s a game we’ve been playing together since he could talk, since he started spending nights at my apartment, since he learned about worst case scenarios that didn’t involve choice.

I give him one I’ve been saving: “Would you rather drink a cup of your own pee, or half a cup of a stranger’s pee?”

He squeals. “My pee,” he says, and then, “Gross!”

We are a few minutes away now. I slow the car and turn onto an unmarked road. The first few times here we drove right past. When we get there, I’ll wait outside while he sits on a couch across from my sister, supervised, and she’ll cry and ask him questions that all end with the word me. He’ll spend the two-hour drive home silent and I will hate her for it, then hate myself for hating her, unsure which is worse.

“My turn,” he says, his voice low. “Would you rather have me live with you forever or have your arm chopped off with an axe?”

“Another easy one,” I say. I wink at him in the mirror, but he’s looking out the window. He looks just like her. I wonder which would hurt more, the blade severing the limb, or the moment just after, when you realize what’s been done.

About the Author

Emily Rinkema lives and writes in northern Vermont. Her stories have appeared in The Sun Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, Phoebe Journal, and the Best American Nonrequired Reading and the Bath Flash and Oxford Flash anthologies. You can read her work on her website (https://emilyrinkema.wixsite.com/my-site) or follow her on X or IG (@emilyrinkema).

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