CNF: The First Wife

by Wilson Koewing


My brother’s first wife died sitting on a couch watching daytime television. Morphine and sleeping pills. She was with a different man by then and that’s where he found her.

The first time seeing her was seeing her white Civic. She drove by my parent’s house with a friend. Tempting my brother outside. I was back from my first college stint. I drank in the garage, which had large windows and a view of the road. Over and over again she drove by.

It wasn’t long before she became a fixture at family functions. My brother was all-in.

A baby came. My nephew. A good and decent boy.

I recognized her as a problem early, but I was just a level-headed guy without a future; I watched my brother destroy his future on the big screen.

I was living on the coast, only branching out in the Carolinas then. Trying to get states away but unable to figure out how yet.

I came home at Christmas.

When she received her present, she flipped; my parents were replacing her car’s tires.

“No,” she said. “I want the money.”

“That’s a great gift,” my dad said.

“You should be happy with a gift like that,” my mother said.

“I’ll take my baby and never come back if you don’t give me the money.”

“You know you can’t use your child to get money from my parents, right?” I said.

Crying, she sprinted from the house carrying my nephew. I have no idea where she went to this day. Probably to drive around in her Civic with bad tires.

I wandered out to my dad’s garage with a beer. My brother followed. I was concerned.

“You know you can’t talk to her that way, don’t you?”

“I’ll talk to her any way I please.”

He jacked me up against the wall by neck.

“You’re never going to change me, brother,” I said, gasping for air.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he said, releasing me.

I brushed myself off and lit a smoke. I exhaled in his face.

“The fuck is wrong with you?”


I was living in New Orleans when I got word. I’d been living there a while. I went to eat crawfish outside at a place on Carrollton. The Streetcar dinged to a stop at the light every half hour or so like it was stupid. I devoured crawfish and drank local drafts.

When I was finished, I staggered toward my car. There was a little girl dancing alone on the sidewalk. Real slow. My phone rang. It was my mother. It was unlike her to call.

I was the only one around to witness that little girl dancing; she was living and dying in space.

“Your brother’s wife is dead,” my mother said.

I felt a strange prickle over my shoulders. Relief. I didn’t like her, didn’t know her, and had long since gone away. We both said it all by the things we avoided saying. I was years and miles from my family but couldn’t quit them. They say you are where you’re from. I’m sentimental enough to buy into about anything. So, there I stood listening.

When we hung up, I started walking. I headed up to Canal street. I couldn’t stop thinking about that little girl dancing alone. As I turned the corner and headed in the direction of the Quarter, I glanced back to see if the little girl was still dancing, but I couldn’t see her; there was already too much distance between us.


Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. He received an MFA in creative writing from The University of New Orleans. He lives in Denver, Colorado. His work is featured or forthcoming in Five on the Fifth, X-R-A-Y, Pembroke Magazine, Ghost Parachute, The Menacing Hedge, Tiny Molecules and The Hunger Journal. He is a fiction reader for The Maine Review, Fractured Lit and Craft.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The First Wife”?

“The First Wife” was difficult to write, as it pertains to a bad holiday memory and an especially bleak moment in my recent family history, but the pieces that prove most difficult often provide the best catharsis and the most striking results. I labored over constructing the second section of the piece to accurately reflect the day I heard the news and to capture the chilling coincidental presence of the little girl dancing alone on the sidewalk. My first instinct, the wrong instinct, was to present the section with hindsight that served to question the nature of the coincidence. I quickly (and wisely, I believe) decided to present the scenario more or less exactly how I witnessed it, without commentary born of distance. To this day, I am haunted by the moment; it felt like the universe gifting me a tiny glimpse into the fabric of reality and time. Of course, it was almost certainly a mere coincidence, but such a pointed, eerie coincidence demanded further exploration and at the very least, documentation.


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