We are thrilled to publish the winner of our Summer Short Story Award for New Writers, “Confirmation” by Alina Grabowski. This coming-of-age story will captivate you from start to finish as the girls from confirmation class wonder what happened to their missing classmate. Grabowski deploys the first-person-plural voice to masterful effect in this award-winning story.
“We lower our heads and continue to solve the quadratic equations in front of us. The older we get, the less energy we have for arguing with our mothers. We no longer care about being right or about being heard. We just want to be left alone, away from their attempts to shape us into girls we’ll never be.”
The day before our last confirmation class, Gemma Anderson does not return home from her afternoon jog. The four of us hear this from Ruth Jones at the Stop and Shop on Main Street, while we’re buying brownie mix for our sleepover. In the fluorescent light of the baking aisle she tells us that her cousin lives on the same street as Gemma, and that the cousin says a dozen police cars have been driving up and down the neighborhood all day, doing turn after turn in the dead end.
“They just went into the woods with the German Shepherds,” she says. It’s nine o’ clock now, dark enough that Sammy backed into a garden gnome when we left for the store. “Her parents brought out one of Gemma’s pajama shirts for them to sniff.”
“Where do they think she went?” we ask. A wrong turn in the Norris Forest, an unfamiliar fork on the McKinsey running path? Or was it more deliberate—a borrowed vehicle, a map with her route highlighted in yellow?
“Went?” Ruth’s eyes bug with the shock of our naiveté. “You don’t think someone took her?”
No, we don’t. It’s not where your mind jumps first, not here in Nashquitten, where there’s never anything more scandalous in the police log than a noise complaint. An anonymous voice announces a sale on Klondike bars. “Well,” we say, sounding like our mothers when they run into a mom that quit PTA, “Nice talking to you.”
Back at Sammy’s, we scoop raw brownie batter out of the bowl with our fingers and wonder if Ruth’s lying. Last year she spread a rumor that Vice Principal Douglas kept a dead tarantula named Precious on her desk. She’s also the captain of the dramatic monologue team, the origin of most gossip that circulates through school. We’re licking the tips of our fingers clean when all of our cell phones vibrate simultaneously on the kitchen counter. Our hands linger in our mouths as we lean forward.
AMBER ALERT: Nashquitten, MA. CHILD: 17. White F 5’5” 120 Bro/Bro.
The message fades from our screens and we feel a panic swirl through our chests, our hearts vibrating like the wings of the gypsy moths we captured in Lucy’s yard last April, their bodies beating against our caged fingers. We grasp for each other’s batter-splattered hands and squeeze, hard. No one says you’re hurting me but when we let go our palms are bone white and aching. “Oh my god,” says someone, maybe all of us, maybe none of us—maybe we’re all just thinking it.