A Big Brother

What is a big brother supposed to be?

Must he show you the way he since traveled?

Give you the answers you want happily?

 

They’re first, I respect that

I wish it were me, I could’ve helped him

Sometimes I wish he knew that

Jordan flying high above the rim

 

Looking up I saw Casanova

Someone I wanted to be

Always hard and tough to ya

Never looked back down at me

 

Where do I belong?

No brother to lead them right

Should that not invoke a bond?

Help a kid, teach him to fight

 

Won’t take it personally

We are linked by blood

Heart beneath the graffiti

I see him, as I should

 

There from time to time

Showed me how to be a man

Now I don’t pine, I grind

You should see what I can

 

Respect em’ as a little bro

But we deserve respect

I know things he doesn’t know

I’m  a reject

 

A brothers will, a brothers will

And if he grows to hate me

Fight the lies when he berates me

Be there with him to climb that hill

 

I’ll always look up to you

Were supposed to be great friends

Ignoring that’s a bullshit move

Lets shake hands and re-begin

 

Sometimes time is all it takes

To understand what is true

This bond is up to us to make

I will always be here for you

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The Day I Met My Uncle

Winter ran long that year, almost through April. My mom’s mental state had been going down hill in the third year after the divorce a week before Christmas. I was at my dad’s house setting up decorations for the holidays and planned to stay with him until the 22nd before going to my moms until the 27th. There was always subversive pressure about whom I should stay with. My mom would get angry with me for spending any time with my dad and said I was ignoring all the bad things he’d done, that I was giving him a free pass for his wrong doings. My dad reacted by ignoring the subject completely. Both of them were wrong in my opinion, but during the four years leading up to their divorce we all grew apart. I resented my father because of my mother and my mother because of my father. I got a text from my mom, December 18,

“I don’t need anyone, go to your dad, create a family with him and his new bitch girlfriend. I am used to being tormented and abused, it will never end, the sadness and heartache, your father is my Hitler. He won’t be happy till I am dead, I wish I was dead, don’t bother to call me or be around my house at all, go spend your time with the FUCK.”

After I got that text message I figured the dumbass decorations and blow up snowman could wait, so I decided to head down to Jerry’s Pub which is about a twenty-minute car ride from my dad’s place, forty by bus. I hopped in my black Nissan Altima with bald tires that was missing a side view mirror on the passenger.

Dad still lives at the very top of the highest hill in the neighborhood I grew up in. He never went out much anymore. He would sit in his castle of sorts and play the role of the old man he had become. Mom was the one who agreed to move away because she couldn’t handle living in the same house as my father under the mutual agreement of not speaking to one another. She went twenty minutes away from the house we’d all lived in for nineteen years. We had been in our own world up on that hill. The closest neighbor was acres away and I used to wonder if that still made them neighbors. Mom took everything she could fit in our family van believing she would never come back to get the rest.

My mother’s refusal to be ignored caused them to grow apart long before divorce was thrown into the mixer. She had brought up divorce once when she caught dad talking to a go-go dancer. They moved past that and my father never seemed to change. The issues lingered like stink on shit and my mom reacted by throwing temper tantrums of pent up emotion. Sadness bled through her as my brother and I looked on in awe while plates were tossed across the kitchen. I watched them argue at the top of their lungs, tit for tat, about each thing that changed their marriage into the Rubik’s cube it had become.

My dad was a risk taker. All my life I watched my mom cry about our financial situation and she would preach to him about saving money and having a frugal disposition. His response was, “you never know when your numbers up, so live every day, and moment, as if it were your last.” I can appreciate that mentality, but the ideal ran to deeply in my father. He was very successful but spent all the money he made. Every month he was paying our $4,000 mortgage, car leases on four BMW’s and a convertible, season tickets to the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Cavaliers, Cincinnati Bengals, extravagant vacations to Aruba, Jamaica, Costa Rica, the list just goes on and on. Someway or another he always managed to keep us afloat, but caused a lot of stress on my mother while walking the tight rope of financial security.

One day six years ago my mom found out that he was gambling. We’re not talking about a hundred bucks at the horse track or a thousand on the Tyson fight, but twenty to fifty grand on the NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA, MMA, you name it, he probably bet on it, a Pete Rose protégé. Dad grew up in Cincinnati and the Reds, “Big Red Machine” were one of his biggest idols. His favorite player was catcher Johnny Bench who once caught a ball barehanded from the pitcher just to prove a point.

When my dad was in his twenties he got a job opportunity managing a car dealership. He met my mom a few years later and they were married. After working at the dealership for over twenty years, the owner retired and handed it down to my father. Ironically, the financial security we could never fully count on came six months after the divorce was finalized.

Mom’s life was a little different leading up to the day she met my father. She grew up in an orphanage with her two younger brothers, Ronald and Joseph, and took care of them until they were split up into foster homes. Ronnie was the youngest and was my mom’s best friend. I think they got along so well because he was a really loving person. Joseph, on the other hand, was a troublemaker, and he filled the confused shoes of the middle child as good as any. He was in and out of prison for ten years before I met him. I saw Ma try to help him countless times before she decided he shouldn’t be apart of our lives anymore. By the time her younger siblings were old enough to be independent she married a person she felt she had a connection with. Once they were married they birthed my big bro, Tom, and they were very happy together for a time.

Four years into my brother’s life, his dad, my mother’s first husband, died. Looking back it seems rather strange because mom had lost her mother at that very same age before her father abandoned her and her brothers. Mom told me Tom’s dad was taking him on a fishing trip. He had a heart attack at a stoplight when my brother was sitting next to him. Ever since she told me that I think about pretty regularly. If he didn’t die than I wouldn’t have been born. If he didn’t die my brother would still have a father. If he didn’t die my parents would never have gotten a divorce because they never would have met, would they? Would they be a happier family together than my family has become now? If I had the chance to give up my life, so my brother’s dad could have lived, would I take that chance?

Mom was now left with a four-year-old son and a choice to make. She could abandon Tom, like her father had done to her, or she could find a job. At least that’s the way I perceive it. I think when your abandoned as a kid it scars you deeply. You feel robbed of a parent and I am not sure if that ever heals. I respect my mom for not giving up on Tom, but more so because she didn’t let the way her father treated her define who she would become.

After about four more years she met my father. She said she thought he was funny and determined, but really saw a role model and someone who could be there for my brother. After being together for almost a year my mother became pregnant. My parents scheduled to get married and a few months before the wedding my mother had a miscarriage. That would have been my second older brother or sister. They decided to continue with the wedding for their own reasons. Perhaps my father’s conscience made him decide against abandoning my mother and brother. Perhaps my mother’s fear of abandonment latched onto the first person that she felt cared about her and her son. Once they were married I was born just under a year later.

Once I got to the bar I parked around back and pulled into a spot next to an unusual old motorcycle. When I got out of the car I was intrigued with the bike because it had some style. It made me think of a bike my brother had been riding the last time I saw him. There was no indication of a brand on the bike, but it was all black except for the rims, which had intricate metal work with little skulls gold-plated in chrome. The exhaust was a snake with ruby plated eyes that seemed to glow like smoldering embers and the handlebars were sharp chrome extensions that sat perpendicular to the tip of each bar.

As I passed the dumpsters a statue of a mouse holding an olive was pointed towards the entrance. I realized I was about to get falling down drunk and had driven to the bar. Didn’t seem to register with what was on my mind, so I supposed I’d make a decision when I had a few drinks under my belt. It wasn’t very crowded; maybe a handful of people in the booth along the far right wall and two people seated at the bar. When you looked up you could see blue and white tiling that was reflecting off of the ground. A few years back the bar was held up at gunpoint by some thugs who knew about a safe in the office behind the kitchen. By the next day they had security cameras and mirrors installed, haven’t had a problem since.

The bartender was a middle-aged man wearing a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops. His face was red and his lips were purple and you could tell he liked to throw a few back while on the clock. The tethered green stools were faded and went dark brown in the creases. I sat three seats down from the edge of the bar.

“What can I get you buddy?” said the bartender.

“Let me get a pint of weissbier.” I always liked Jerry’s Pub because they had German weissbier on tap. “Also, hit me with twelve shots of Jameson.”

“You sure chief?” His eyes widened, then he twitched his head to the side as if to say, ‘alright, if you want it, you can have it dipshit,’ “Twelve Jameson coming right up.” He brought the shots out on a tray arranged in a circle. I wanted to get my drunk started and I didn’t want to wait. I sipped my weissbier.

Across the bar there was a black gentlemen in a tuxedo and his bow tie was hanging down undone. I noticed he was staring at me before I glanced down and saw the whiskey stains on his shirt collar. I assumed he was drunk due to the six empty glasses in front of him and his pupils seemed to radiate black. I ignored him and focused on the television above the bar. The local news was talking about how a local bride’s mother died during a wedding ceremony at a nearby church.

It made me think of a picture my parents kept in the foyer of our house of them on their wedding day. Growing up I would look at the photo and wanted to believe more than anything that they cared about each other. Ma cut my father’s eyes out of that photo.

I threw back two shots of Jameson.

During their two-year divorce my mom would get depressed and take sleeping pills. She would put herself so out of it that she said things to me she didn’t mean. I would yell at her and also try to sympathize, but my efforts never changed anything because it wasn’t up to me to fix. I think they got divorced because dad was “The Big Red Machine,” but mom never even got in the game. Dad should’ve expressed his love and affection more than the average husband because of her fear of abandonment. He should’ve been prepared to make these changes when he married her. He just never recognized that she needed a strong reassurance of his love to make her feel like she was worth it. After twenty-four years they called it quits.

I threw back two shots of Jameson.

I looked around the Jerry’s pub then closed my eyes. I thought about how the bar had changed over the years. How it had been a family friendly restaurant once and not just a bar. My family would always sit in the same red corner booth because my brother and I were convinced that its springs had more bounce than the others. We would go around dinnertime and there was a window you could see the highway from. My brother and I would always end up watching bumper-to-bumper traffic pass by while our parents talked. I would get a chocolate milkshake and he’d always order a Shirley Temple. Eventually a highway exit was built a few miles away from Jerry’s and there was less traffic passing by that corner window. Jerry’s Gelato and restaurant turned into Jerry’s Pub, which is now ridden with middle-aged drunkards.

I threw back two shots of Jameson.

When I opened my eyes I looked at the corner booth. I stood up with another glass and walked to the empty table before I sat down. I looked out the window, there weren’t any cars passing by. There was a quarter moon in the sky and lots of clouds were traveling towards the pub. I looked down and placed my hands flat on the red booth leather; I bounced up and down.

I threw back two shots of Jameson.

When I walked back over to the bar area there was an old white man sitting where I had been. His black silver-plated boots rested on the gold footrest that traveled along the bottom of the bar. The back of his black vest had a silver snake perched, waiting for its prey, and above it were these words written in red, ‘death frees us all.’ When he heard my footsteps he turned and I saw a thick white beard that seemed to cover some affliction on his left cheek. I sat three seats down from the old man. By now I was really starting to feel the whiskey because my vision was like looking down the wrong end of a telescope.

To my right, the old biker was now smoking a cigar and twisting the hairs on his face. “Is that your black bike in the lot out back?”

He didn’t look at me right away. His head seemed to turn slow and steady like he hadn’t moved it in a while. “Used to be. I sold it to a guy who owned this bar a long time ago. I was sick and needed money for some hospital bills, and always told myself I would buy it back some day, hell, I new he’d never ride the damn thing.”

“It reminds me of my brother’s bike and I always appreciate a good one when I see one and that is really strange though because I have never seen that bike here before and I have been coming here since I was a kid.”

“I just bought it back from him tonight, he had it on display in the foyer of his house before he drove it over here. I was able to bargain with him because I had sold it to him years ago and he was surprised I actually came back for it. We left the bike here while I drove him to the bank and he caught a cab from there. Now I don’t have any way of getting my car and bike out of here at the same time so I thought I’d stop in for a drink,” the guy seemed a little sketchy, but my personal problems pushed through the initial awkward start of the conversation.

“Well I guess that makes sense. Did you love to ride that sucker when ya had it and what do you mean you didn’t have anyone to help you with the bills and so why did you have to sell the bike?”

I threw back two shots of Jameson.

He grabbed the cigar and secured it against his thumb with his pointer finger, smoke exited his nostrils, “I loved to ride. There is nothing quite like being on the open road, possessing complete control of your bike, pushing the limits of yourself, and knowing how,” I was intrigued with what he had to say. “People don’t appreciate the little things or respect them.” He tugged his left earlobe and scratched his jawline. “But about those bills, my sister was there with me. She could have given me the money, but I wouldn’t let her. I didn’t want her to help me and not be able to repay her.”

“Why wouldn’t you pay her back?” The drunk began filling my brain.

“Well, I wasn’t quite sure whether I would…see her again.”

“How old were you and why weren’t your parents around? And why wouldn’t you see her again?” I was happy to hear about someone’s problems besides my own.

“We were orphans, we didn’t have parents.” He ran his fingers through his thick white hair. “I had looked for answers to my problems in the wrong places, and I didn’t trust myself to survive. If I couldn’t survive, I wouldn’t be able to repay that debt to my sister.”

“Well you may have lucked out because I have parents and they hate each other and what is the point of having them if all they do is fight and they are more concerned with their bullshit than they are about me and why do I have to be pulled into their fucking mess?”

He looked at a picture hanging on a column that separated the middle of the bar. It was a picture of the bartender’s son pinned next to a crayon drawing of what I assumed was them together riding on a lion, or maybe it was an elephant. “Love, kid.” He paused and puffed his cigar. “It has no bounds. You must be willing to take everything you have inside and connect with other people, you can’t be afraid of opening up. Sometimes we can see the best qualities in someone and believe in the future. We are who we are, but both individuals have to be willing to sacrifice.” The news was running sports highlights on the television above our heads. I starting having trouble concentrating on what the old man was saying. “In life, if you truly love someone, you are willing to do whatever you must to be with them against all odds, and you never quit.”

I threw back two shots of Jameson and closed my eyes.

It was the day I was heading back to school and my father was driving me to the airport from his house. I was told my mother was sleeping in her room and I shouldn’t bother her unless I wanted a battle. Since I had a long way back to school, I wanted to say goodbye to her, so I decided to go into her room despite the warning. Dad didn’t live in the master bedroom at the time because Ma claimed that space. She was sleeping on the king sized bed my parents shared for years that had stained wooden pillars at each of its four corners. Between the pillars at her feet there were speakers mounted on the wall; she was listening to gospel music. I approached her, looked at her close; she was breathing. I remembered when I was a little kid I would always inspect her because I was worried she was dead or something. I would get really close to her face and examine her nostrils and the pores on her face.

I whispered, “Mom. Hey mom. Wake up. I am going back to school and I want to say goodbye. Mom. Mom.” The decibel level of my voice was rising with each word, but she wasn’t responding so I started talking louder and louder. “Mom, wake up, are you ok? Wake up!” she had no reaction. I got on top of her and started screaming in her face, “MOM, WAKE UP, are you ok?” My heart started beating faster than it ever had before; I started shaking her.

I think about my mother all the time, about that moment. About her unconscious and lifeless body on the bed she had once shared with my father. I see the event in third-person, from the middle window on the wall across from her bed. I see myself on top of her screaming bloody murder, willing her to wake up. I can’t get that image out of my head.

Her eyes finally peeped open a quarter inch and she said,

“What Steve?” It was more of a groan than words.

“Are you okay mom? I am going back to school and I wanted to say goodbye and tell you that I love you.”

“I love you too, goodbye,” and just like that she rolled away onto her hip and was back to sleep.

When I got back to my dad’s car I didn’t tell him what I’d seen.

We’d all witnessed my mother in a fragile state before and I wasn’t sure what he would do. After driving for a few minutes I text messaged my brother and told him what I had seen as I was still trying to understand it myself. My fears continued until my brother agreed to go home and check on her. It took some convincing because Tom seemed to know my mom on a different level than my father or I. I always thought of him as a turtle because you can almost never penetrate his outer shell. I never stopped believing that there was a great person inside him trying to break out from the inside. Tom tried to wake her and later told me she vomited over the edge of her bed before he called 911.

When Tom told me what happened I was sitting in an airport alone. “Steve, mom is going to be okay. The paramedics were able to pump her stomach on the way to the hospital and save her life. She is going to be okay Steve,” I felt nothing; I was empty and confused, why was I leaving?

That day my mom was given thirty minutes to live. If I hadn’t told Tom she would have died. Sometimes I wonder why I decided to go into her room that day. I was compelled to enter that room and I didn’t care how she would treat me. I was driven because I knew what it felt like to be depressed like my mom. Most of all I began to understand what she and my brother felt when they lost the important people in their lives. I rode the two-hour flight back to school.

I threw back my last two shots of Jameson.

I felt a debilitating grayness begin to rise up my body like mercury in a thermometer. I stood up and felt the alcohol bubbling and burning in my stomach so I went to the bathroom. “I’ll be out in a minute,” but the old man didn’t respond. I’m not sure why I thought he’d care, but I stumbled to the urinal and started to take care of business. I had to pee so bad that I let my head fall back. Half way through the piss the black man in the tuxedo was suddenly at the urinal next to me. I was pretty drunk so I blurted out,

“Where you come from dressed in that tuxedo man?” I was slurring and laughing at him.

He turned and looked at me with those piercing black eyes and I noticed a long scar trailing from his jaw line that continued under his collar. “A wedding bound by a marriage with no love.” He let out a deep chuckle then smirked at me. “Until death do them part,” he muttered and began to whistle while walking out of the bathroom.

Next thing I knew I was on the local bus system. I awoke sitting against a window in the back portion of the bus and my face was pressed against the glass. It had started snowing since I was at the bar. The seats on the bus were arranged so the front half pointed towards the rear and the back half towards the driver, with a gap in the middle where you could stand. I started to look around to see who was on the bus. There was an old Asian woman knitting a yellow sweater two rows behind me on the right. Directly to my right was a black woman with two children and a big red bag that must’ve been dirty laundry. I was still groggy and wiped my eyes to clear my vision.

Standing in front of me was a white man in a leather jacket. He had a thick brown beard and was wearing a blue baseball cap. There was an affliction on his left cheek. In the front half of the bus there was a middle-aged blonde whose mascara had run down her cheeks. To her left sat an American-Indian man with long black hair that was flowing down the sides of his face. He was looking at me with piercing black eyes. I looked away and saw an electronic ticker that illuminated our destination. It read, ‘Ricks River road,’ in effervescent blue. Ricks River was only one stop past my dad’s neighborhood so I figured I must’ve realized I couldn’t drive home and hopped on the bus.

We had a few minutes before my stop and I was still feeling pretty drunk. I placed the back of my head against the top of the seat and shut my eyelids. Just as I was about to doze off, “Bark, Bark, Bark.” A gentleman entered the bus with his dog. It was then I knew the snow and wind was going to be hell once I got off the bus. The man sat in front of the blonde woman. His yellow Labrador retriever did not sit but seemed to look up past the woman towards the Indian man.

“Rick’s River rd,” said the bus driver.

By now the dog had lifted its upper lips and it’s teeth were exposed as a growl trembled in the back of its throat. The Indians eyes crept down the back window to the dog, as if intending to provoke it, inviting its discomfort. The doors of the bus opened and the hiss of the hydraulics broke my train of thought.

The Indian fellow exited and as he turned out I saw a scar leading from his jaw line leading under his collar. I got off through the middle bus door and felt a strong chill, as my clothes seemed to stiffen and freeze; it must have been ten degrees by then. I started walking home and noticed the quarter moon was floating between the scattered clouds. It seemed so bright that the streetlights became distant and I could see thousands of snowflakes parachuting down.

I reached the bottom of the hill that lead to my father’s house and sized it up before beginning the ascent. It had been a while since I walked through my old neighborhood. Leaves were crackling beneath me following every change in wind patterns as if they were one. Snow was sliding along the ground like the breath from my mouth. Once I made it half way to the top I tripped over something. I pushed the snow around and saw a dead buck that was completely frozen and buried just off the sidewalk. I could see its dead eyes gaze with purpose. I finally reached the top of the hill when I saw the Indian man from the bus running down my driveway.

Once I passed our mailbox I could see my mom’s convertible. It looked like it was crashed into our steel basketball hoop planted in cement. I started to run as fast as I could down through the peach trees my mother had planted when I was a boy. The driver door was hanging open and the lights were on so I started to panic. There was music still on and a song was playing, Wind Beneath my wings, by Bette Midler.

When I was two years old, my uncle died of Aids. My mom told me the new treatment for the disease came three months after he died, and it could have helped him, maybe even saved him. She said she held his hand as he took his last breaths inside the cold white room at the hospital. After he died, my mom was heartbroken, and whenever that song would play she would start to cry. When I asked why she was crying, she’d say his spirit was around when the song played, and it reminded her how much she missed her little brother.

There were a bunch of sleeping pills scattered on the floor of the convertible. I looked over the bushes into our back yard and saw the outline of something moving. I sprinted down the cobblestone path that winded around our pool and saw them turn the corner around our shed. I jumped and dove on the other side of the shed in an attempt to tackle the trespasser, but hit nothing but air before sliding face first into the snowy ground. I got up and screamed her name as loud as I could, looking everywhere around me. I collapsed to me knees and put my face in my hands. I looked through the cracks in my fingers and saw black silver-plated boots. It was the man from the bus with the blue baseball cap. I got up and screamed,

“Where is my mom? What did you do with her? If you don’t tell me right now I am going to kill you.”

He looked into my eyes. His arms were behind his back. I swung my right fist as hard as I could, aiming for his upper body. All my weight took me forward and I fell flat onto my stomach. When I got up, I thought I was still hammered because the man was behind me.

“What do you want? Where is my mom? What is going on? Who are you?”

He took his right hand out from behind his back and waved it towards himself as if I should follow. We walked half a mile to the end of my father’s property before taking fifteen paces into the woods. We were standing in front of two trees and he pointed at them. One was a peach tree that had lost all of its leaves in the winter, it looked dead, but it had so many branches that had grown in different directions and some branches were clashing with others. When I approached the peach tree I saw the stalk had my mothers name carved into the bark.

He pointed at a pine tree a few feet away with branches that were equidistant and consistent. It was nothing like the peach tree. My father’s name was carved into the bark. Each tree had grown in the opposite direction of the other like they were trying to pull away. I turned and looked at the man.

He looked through me and said, “Your mom is gone.”

“What do you mean gone? What do you mean? Did that Indian guy from the bus take her? If she is gone then where did she go? Who are you? I don’t believe you I am leaving.” The wind had settled and the smell of crisp burnt firewood was traveling from surrounding chimneys. I turned and started towards the edge of the forest.

“I made a deal to be here for you because your mother was there for me.” I turned around. He had my mother’s eyes. That’s why I kept listening, why I followed. He took off his baseball cap and ran his fingers through his thick brown hair.

“In life, each person’s fate is rooted in mother earth, just as these trees. Only you can choose how to grow.” He smiled at me as the moonlight peered through the trees and illuminated his face. It reminded me how my mom looked at me when she was proud I even existed. “Love, kid, it has no bounds. Sacrifice for the ones you love.”

I awoke in a hospital from the subtle touch of someone’s fingertips; I thought it was my mom because whenever I was in the hospital growing up she would never leave my side. When I opened my eyes I was lying down on a bed wired up with all kinds of tubes.

A nurse, about half my size, was standing in front of the wooden double-hinged doors. “Hey where’s my mom?” I started to pull the tubing out of my arms and stand up. “Where is my mom? I need to know right now.”

“Sir, you need to relax. You have been in serious condition for a while, just calm down, get back into bed. ” I inched towards the exit and the nurse began to reach for a walkie talkie clipped to her waste.

I made a break for the door and knocked her backwards while sliding into the hall. I sprinted barefoot towards the exit signs and dove into the only open elevator, which was traveling up. Inside there was a man talking on a cell phone so I tore it out of his hand and threw him off on the fourteenth floor. I got out of the elevator on the twentieth floor and headed for the stairwell towards the top of the hospital. I dialed my mothers phone number as I walked to the corner of the roof. There was no answer on her phone except for a voicemail recording; I started to cry when I heard her voice.

I found my little brother on the roof of the hospital. He was screaming and shaking and crying while he stood on the edge looking down twenty stories. I saw him running down the hallway from his room, but I couldn’t catch him before he got to the elevator. Once I got to the roof I pulled him off the ledge, “What are you doing Steve? Are you okay buddy?”

“Where is mom, Tom?”

I could sense he was aware of what happened, but he wanted me to say it. “She is dead. She crashed her car into the old basketball hoop and wasn’t wearing her seatbelt. They found her body in the bushes beyond her car.” The amount of pain I saw in my little brother’s face was tough to ignore. “You have been in a coma for a month Steve, that is why you have a beard right now, we thought you were going to die too. I have visited you every day to see how you’ve been progressing.” I took a picture of him on my phone and showed it to him.

He rolled his fingers through his thick brown hair while I passed him my phone. His reaction was like he had seen someone other than himself in the photo and then he threw my phone off the roof.

“What happened?” He kept repeating it under his breath while staring off the roof.

I told him the rest of what happened, “the night of mom’s accident I was headed to Dad’s to see what you were up to. I tried to call you but you forgot your phone at home when you left. I called Dad and he told me you were there alone because his flight got delayed. When I got there your car was gone so I started to check places around town where you might’ve gone. I finally found you at Jerry’s pub, but you were really drunk when I got there. We talked for a few minutes and I told you I rode my new motorcycle to the pub, but I don’t think you knew you were talking to me. You went to the bathroom and came out a different person. You were uncontrollably drunk and you kept trying to tell me to give you the keys to my motorcycle. The bartender said you had like twelve shots and three beers. Since you wouldn’t listen to me and you even took a swing at me, I put you on the bus and figured that you would sober up by the time you got to Dad’s house.

“The next morning I got to Dad’s house and discovered everything. I followed your footprints in the snow starting at mom’s car and ending at the woods. I walked into the woods and found a doe with a baby fawn lying in the snow near a fallen tree so I scared them off. Behind the deer, I found you underneath an enormous peach tree. The tree hit you in the face and cut you from your cheek to your chest, putting you in a coma, and leaving you with that huge scar on your jaw that leads underneath your robe to your chest. There were several branches that punctured your throat, jaw, and ribs.” Steve grazed his hand upon his left cheek and followed the healing wound down underneath his collar.

“I ran back to the house and got a chainsaw to cut you free. I started cutting the tree as quickly as I could and the saw zipped up a branch and gave me this affliction on my left cheek. Once I cut you free I carried you to the driveway and the paramedics took you to the hospital. The doctors told me that the pressure from the peach tree was the only thing that prevented all the blood in your body from pouring onto the ground.”

A Man and His Dog

A man and his dog walk through a forest. The air was cool and a tail wind trickled through the night sky. Above, fall trees twisted together hindering his view of the overarching atmosphere. The moon, at its waxing gibbous point, seldom peered its white light through the trees. Moisture filled his path from an earlier rain and clouds passed between him and the moon, lighting his way only when allowed. Rodents crackled through the leaves left behind by the trees. The man’s dog was a mutt wielding the power of a pack. A cross between an uncivilized wolf and domesticated purebred, she was an extension of the man’s disposition. Ears perched through every step listening for any shift in Mother Nature, collarless and free, the man believed the dog was not his tool, rather his companion. He thought of them a team with no hierarchy of dominance.

A shadowed creature scurried over branches and under bushes a few paces ahead. Without hesitation the mutt galloped in unison dodging the variations in the environment. The two were linked and any change in mood or movement brought the other to a soldier’s attention. Nervous angst shot through his spine as his muscles clenched watching her every move. Beyond the distance of his sight he made out her shadow as it shook relentlessly from side to side.

Seconds later she trotted back like a victorious horse who’d won a race, hopping over logs with conviction. A limp rabbit hung down on either side of her mouth, blood dripping through her teeth.

“Good girl,” he said knowing well they now had dinner. The man gathered loose tinder and wood to start a fire as she sat with her triangular ears perched towards the distance. The man skinned the rabbit with the knife he’d crafted himself years earlier. A seven-inch blade long enough to kill and short enough to filet with flawless control. His father, a craftsman, taught him the trade and that a perfect blade must be crafted with endless attention to detail. Every millimeter counts, he would say, and every ounce. Perfectly weighted and serrated, the blade could only be crafted better by Hephaestus himself.

The fire radiated as he pushed a sharpened stick through the rabbits rear and out its mouth. “You like rare,” he patted her on the head which made her drop her ears in content of his approval. He collected another branch and broke it in two places before pressing the remains into the soft soil on both sides of the fire. He then rested the rabbit on his makeshift skewer above the fire to cook.

He reached in his satchel and pulled out a bottle of wine he made from berries and a clay mug his father had given him. He sipped slowly as he looked up through sprinkled cracks in the trees. Very few stars were out this night, but every once in a while if he squinted and the clouds had dissipated long enough, he could catch a glimpse of an infinitesimal diamond in a sea of black. Stars comforted him. He thought they were beautiful and wondered how far away they could be. He thought of them as little fires that God had made when he stopped to rest along his journey to infinite.

He dragged his knife around the center of the rabbit and pulled the rear end off the stick and dropped it on the ground. She came over from the edge of the firelight and picked it up before returning to the same position. She ate slowly pulling each bite with her front teeth. When his was good and crispy he removed his share from above the fire and held each end of the skewer eating the rabbit like an ear of corn. He always split their food evenly.

When the wine took effect he finished his food, wasting nothing, and lie down. She came over and curled up next to him, her feet facing his and her body curled around his head. He shimmied a foot closer and used her belly as a pillow. Feeling groggy and euphoric he slowly dosed off.

When first light rose he was awakened by her springing to her feet. He rubbed his eyes and sat up before rolling over his knees then backwards into a crouched position. He watched her black nose twitch from left to right against her white snout as she gazed south of the forest. “Stay,” he waved his finger in front of her face and turned south staying low below the bushes. He crept about fifty paces skipping tree to tree before he could see movement through the gaps in the woods.

White figures, he thought of them ghosts, traveled in rows. He continued behind them until they came to an opening where he counted seven figures surrounding a man colored black. The man had his hands tied by rope behind his back and was wearing terribly torn pants without a shirt. His body was very scarred especially his chest and back. Dark bumpy lines connected in random order and looked like the result of freshly healed lacerations.

The ghost in front of the colored man began speaking a language he did not understand. The other ghosts threw a rope over a sturdy branch fifteen feet above the ground. The colored man clenched his throat as they fastened one end of the rope around his neck. The other ghosts pulled the rope raising him into the sky. His legs kicked and flailed as the ghosts tied the rope around a distant tree. The ghosts then returned to their formations and walked north into the forest.

The man crawled to the tree where the ghosts had tied the rope and cut it clean in one slice. The colored man dropped to the ground and landed on his feet then collapsed to his back. The man cut his hands free and looked him in the eyes.

The colored man pulled the noose from around his neck and gasped for air. “Who are you?” The man looked at him strangely. “You speak English?” The colored man realized he was a red skin. He remembered his mother said she knew a great Indian once and she’d taught him how to speak Cherokee before they were captured in the north and sent into the slave trade. She later died in the cotton fields from heat exhaustion. He spoke in Indian tongue hoping the man was Cherokee, “Hello, thank you for saving me.”

The man spoke, “Why those ghosts trying to kill you?”

“Those not ghosts. They the fingers of the devils hands.”

“Why do devil want you dead?”

“Because God want me to live.” The colored man explained he was a slave and was forced to work at their whim. He then spoke of how he watched his wife get raped days earlier by the plantation owner. He told the white men he would not work for them any longer and they whipped him for many days for his insolence. When he still refused they brought him to the woods to be hung from a tree in the forest.

“What is slave?” The Indian had never left the forest. He was raised there by his father who’d told him many stories of life, but never about wretched things such as slavery.

“Someone who do what they told.”

“Why white man have slave? They not work themselves?”

“They have slaves so someone do work for them, so can sit and watch, then collect earnings.”

“What good earnings if you not earn them?”

“Give them money which gives them power.”

“Power come from within.”

“When you have money can buy things and gives you power.”

“What is ‘buy’?”

“You give money to man and get something in return.”

“A trade?”

“No. I am his property, he give money for me.”

The Indian inhaled deeply listening to the sounds of the forest. As he exhaled he looked towards the sky and saw a flock of geese flying just overhead of the tree line. Of the dozen geese he could see he made out one that was all white, an albino, leading the group at the apex of the formation. He then turned his eyes to the colored man.

“I no understand.”