“A Dry Past” by Richard Zimler from Best Gay Stories 2009 (Lethe Press). Edited by Steve Berman.

The island of playground vibrated with the disjointed popping sounds of basketballs.

You’ve got the image perfectly now, don’t you? That sharp, hollow ringing sound the balls make as they impact the asphalt, a perimeter of chain link defining an oasis of relative calm.

The narrator of this story is looking back from a distance of many years. His thoughts arrive in seemingly random fashion, the way thoughts actually do — things in the present sparking memories, the mind making cognitive leaps backward and forward again in time as it puzzles out past mysteries using new clues. It speaks to the author’s considerable skill that this narrative never becomes confusing.

This piece is part of a collection of short stories apparently still only available in a Portuguese edition, a fact I find rather astounding. (Several of the stories are available on the author’s Red Room page.) The collection reportedly is autobiographical, and the narrator here is never named. This tale concerns a young man growing up in Mineola, New York (the author hails from Roslyn Heights), and the events that led to a tragic event between two of those in his social circle. The first is a skittish, bookish young man named Gregory Gill. He ran up against the charismatic, terrifying neighborhood bully Tony Silva and the result was unexpected and gruesome, yet also—regrettably—affirming.