SOMETHING LIKE A MAN
Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 11, Number 1
Copyright © 2016
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors
Fiction by Denise Tolan
He sat across from me, looking something like a man.
“You look great,” he said. “Have you lost weight?”
“I have,” I said. “My goal is to be healthy this year.”
He fist bumped me and I remembered all the running he liked to
“I still, I like,” he stammered, then shut down. I’d seen it coming
when he looked me in the eyes. He thought I was beautiful. I was
old enough to be getting too old to be his mother. Not really, but it
was weird knowing he looked at me as potential.
Once he had been my student. He was a young eighteen then.
Homeschooled. Testing his courage. “I wish you had a sister,” he’d
said, after the end of our first semester together. I smiled, knowing
he should have wished I had a daughter instead.
“I’m halfway through my life,” he said now.
I furrowed my brow. “You plan to die at sixty?”
“I’m not thirty yet,” he said.
We met, every few months or so, for coffee. He had a career
now and didn’t talk of dying as much as he once had. Eight years
ago I held him as he curled into the fetal position on the floor of a busy
Starbucks. “I can’t take the test,” he repeated over and over, hitting
himself on the sides of his temple. It was his final test of graduate
school. “They all know I need a psychiatrist. I’ll never be placed after
this. It’s all been a waste.”
The manager had walked over and leaned down to me. “Should
I call someone?”
I had shaken my head no. “Lance,” I’d said then. “You are going
to get up and we are going to get in my car. Now.”
He obeyed—a good kid. I took him to the emergency room and
left the decision to call his parents to someone else. He was twenty-two
A few months after that, he called me from Indiana where he was
working. “I’m coming home in a few weeks. Can we have coffee?”
“Sure,” I said. “How are the meds working?”
“Okay. I guess. I can’t sleep when I’m taking them though.
Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll fall asleep driving from work. I’m so tired
during the day.”
“Lance,” I said. “You have to be careful. The last thing you need
is to die in a car accident.”
“I don’t think you understand how depression works,” he’d said,
laughing. And I laughed too. And now we were here.
“I want to meet someone,” he said. “I think if I meet someone
they will make me want to live.”
“Don’t say that,” I said. “That’s a lot of pressure to put on a
person.” He looked genuinely confused and I realized he was thinking
“That’s what people do for each other,” he said. “Make them
want to be alive.”
We sipped our coffee. It would be too hard to say what needed
to be said next.
Denise Tolan graduated from the Red Earth MFA in Creative Writing
Program at Oklahoma City University. Her work has been published
in Reed, The Great American Literary Magazine, Empty Sink
Publishing, Quirk, and Magna Publications.
On “Something Like a Man”:
I wrote “Something Like a Man” after being overwhelmed by an
encounter that left me questioning the sense of responsibility we
have (should have?) for one another. I wrote the story as a flash
piece because the honesty of the final moment was too difficult to
sit in for long.
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