Fiction by Donald Ryan
Headlights interrupted the young buck’s breakfast. With his head alert and body frozen, his close-cropped, sprouting points were as clear as a positive afterimage on the first blink. As the road veered, the beams, straight with the car’s speed of light, yielded the trance. He thawed. Another blink. He was gone, leaving the banquet along the road’s edge for the trees. The pines and elms maybe. The safety, maybe, of somebody’s front yard.
Dex was an ******. This was how my family—our parents—acknowledged this; with a blind eye, a change of subject, the noticing of only what they wanted to see. The skip in the record when I spun the obvious. A glossing over a cry for help. For him. For me. For us. So quick to change the subject.
I didn’t blame them; or him; therefore, I could only blame myself (the least rational). We were all enablers enabling with our good intentions.
He was at my front door. He said he was looking for a place to crash. I didn’t question the going-ons at our parents. I said, “I’ll make up the couch when we’re done with our show;” “there’s leftovers if they appeal to your sensibilities.”
He peeked in the fridge but didn’t make a plate. From the chair, he watched a little over an episode of our current binge.
My husband faced the screen but watched him.
When it was obvious we were more interested in the political drama than giving him the money his interruptions hinted about, he remembered he had to meet a friend. It was late which meant he was late.
My husband wouldn’t comment on my offer. He never did. Never needed to rage against my family’s, my, irrationalities or how we, I, tolerated them. But I knew he knew he was relieved and that he’d now sleep soundly.
Our parents referred to my brother’s behavior as his problems; as his “you know how he gets.”
They, our parents, had let him move back in. A duffle bag of dirty laundry. A black, Hefty sac of jagged bulges tied at the plastic strings. A hardbound edition of Crime and Punishment.
I said something once but then not again because “where else would you have him go?” and “at least here he’s safe.”
He didn’t get his old room, though. That was now an office.
He stayed in the guest room.
I snuck the pills he left unattended, un-ingested, from the oversized, hollowed out book. This, a futile gesture. Sure, these few he won’t take. We both knew he knew there was always more he could take. And that he’d never by choice read a book in his life.
He threatened me.
Said he didn’t like the sounds coming from around the house, that when I enter a room I must announce myself. As if he had the right to scold the rules; then again, he had the right to the gun he was holding.
I said, not brave despite how I sounded (acting), “fine, I’m in the kitchen.”
The doe looked as if she was sleeping, pulled from the road and laid up on the construction site, propped supine, her broken neck tucked along her shoulder. Workers, vests and hardhats lined with reflective tape, walked around her quiet body, as if not to wake her. Their day just getting started.
Dex made a joke only he understood: some gist of we’re all fucked up because we’re all maggots crawling through death. His moist chuckle dried me to the bone. “The only difference between us corpses above ground and those corpses below ground is air.”
I smiled to not heckle him. No need to spoil his good mood. This was his stage now. He’d used.
My mother did not know my brother made my husband uncomfortable, or she chose to not see this. She invited us all for dinner.
Why do I subject the people I love to the people I love?
My brother brought his girlfriend. A girl friend. A wiry girl I didn’t and won’t trust. Their current flavors were mutual encouragements. She made me uncomfortable.
Mom was pleased he had a friend. She set an extra place at her good table.
A joke about tweaking amused his guest.
My husband resituated in his seat.
Dad with his dad joke grin hoped to connect with his son through the humor they once shared: “You’d think they’d be better contributors in this 24/7 society.”
Dex’s what the fuck is that supposed to imply was countered with a please don’t speak that way in front of your mother which set off the “Fuck this” before Dex and his guest fucked off.
I scraped their untouched servings into the trash so my mother doesn’t waste the food, so she can instead waste another “You know how he gets sometimes” on me.
Dad, who usually helped jovially with the dishes, remained at the head of the table. Not knowing where his son had gone, he faced the cold window too dark outside to see anything but reflections from within the house. Through the dark glass he looked further away than ever.
Smeared blood, our two lanes painted red. A soft, tan patch centered over the white lines was all that was left behind intact. “Splayed like that the poor thing never stood a chance,” my husband said, swerving around the football of flesh that remained. There was no avoiding going through all the blood.
My parents still won’t say ******. They prefer problems; they prefer demons. Comprehending like Revelations, wars tangible in the ethereal, battles unseen. Their connotations allow for any name when they never see the devil, swallowed like an apple, digested within.
It was Dad’s job to deal with the Hefty bag.
The house was cold and stiff. As if it knew I didn’t want to be here. Here with no intention of helping. Was only here because I was too numb not to realize when I convinced myself Mom needed me what she really needed was me with him, the way it used to be: her babies remembered in the memories cradled.
Dad came out, silent footsteps, empty hands. Found Mom in her chair, me on the couch, both with cups of now tepid coffee. He won’t traipse through with the bag. Not where she can see.
I couldn’t have been there more than a few hours, but I felt like I overstayed my welcome.
Dad walked me to the door, out to the porch.
He asked if I wanted anything of his before he finishes. A keepsake.
Before I could say I don’t know, wouldn’t know, he finished what I can’t think: “What he had in there was like stuff from a stranger. Nothing recognizable. Just—well—just keep the value not in the recent memories but rather in those far off memories, those are the ones you keep.” Then, interrupting his own pause, he made vocal to the only confidant that wouldn’t pass judgment on the freeing of such a thought, “We knew he was going to die. Your mother and I accepted this a long while back. But just because a future’s obvious don’t mean you’re prepared for the present.” His eyes didn’t need to find me. They were descrying somewhere off in the firmament. He’d be out here awhile after I left. I could only hope he ended up finding what he needed out there in the air.
Despite intentions of driving straight home, I saw myself veering into the parking spot at the supermarket.
Saw myself aimlessly shuffling through aisles of cereals and soups as a pretense for no other soul than mine.
Saw myself find what I’d knew I’d find and balanced more bottles of wine than I had hands to the register.
I had, tranced from somewhere as unconsciously conscious as an out of body experience, organized a plan. Of which a hangover was the first, the hardest, and the easiest step. I’d blend whites and reds and my stash of Dex’s pills, whatever I must to get me sick. It was all contingent on being the most sick I’d ever been.
Because maybe then, and only then, could I maybe start to recover.