Loving Brother

The man is silent in his home. A mug full of cold, dark liquid rests on the edge of his coffee table. Today’s paper is open on the table, splayed with no modesty. It’s a wonder that he can read it at all at his age. His finger slides along the passage another time.

Loving brother. Dead. Yesterday. He’s not alive. Not anymore.

But he doesn’t feel different. He wonders, briefly, if the paper might be right. Maybe he really is dead.

He gently pushes his cold cup of coffee to the ground with the back of his hand. Could a dead man do that? No. It was a silly thought.

The man watches as dirty water sinks into his carpet. The pool seems to stretch out beyond its means. Each tendril wants to get away. Let that be a problem for the living.

The man gets up and looks at the mess in his sink. It’s terrible, and he won’t let it be his problem. He should have left when he had the chance. The man slowly revolves, peering out of the kitchen window into his sun-soaked garden, brown from negligence, green in spots out of heavenly defiance. His cupboards are simple and clean. They’ve never been a problem. The dining table is set for guests as it has been all these years, although these days he wouldn’t know what to cook if anyone did come over. The tile was scratched in places like placards of existence standing stoically in a forest of equally traveled paths. He should write a book. He should tell people about the paths he didn’t go down. Roads not taken. A spider crawls its way along the wall, and it continues past his foot and around the corner. Finally the mug on the carpet. It hasn’t gone anywhere.

The man grabs a rag off the counter and sets his knees against the ground. Childish to think it would go away. He bends over the spill and drops the rag to the ground. He picks up the mug and feels a creak in his back muscles as he lifts it. The muscles around his neck contort as he sets it on the counter. Then he presses his palms into the rag. He can hear a raggedness in his voice, deep in his throat that he remembered hearing from his own father, and grandfather before that.

He wonders what they’ll do when they all figure out that they don’t have a body to put in the ground. When they realize they bought a coffin for nothing.

He rises to his feet and decides that something has to be done. He picks up the phone and dials his sister. He gets some sort of sound he doesn’t recognize coming through the line. No, wait, he does recognize it. It’s happened before. He must have forgotten to pay. Maybe it’s best if she figures it out the hard way. He sets the phone down on the counter and lets the sound run. He can hear it cycling as he walks away.

He munches on his teeth as he watches his sports. He doesn’t do much, never really had, he knew that, but he could keep track of his teams. His mother had always told him not to grind his teeth like it was going out of style, but he knew better. He liked to think about what the boys did in the dugout. He wanted to know if they talked to each other, or if they just sat there each in their own thoughts too worried about the game to talk. He liked to think that they shared pictures of their babies and wives and grandparents. He liked to think they talked about which was the better soda: Pepsi or Coke. He bet big baseball stars had big opinions. He liked to think they shared industrial sized bags of sunflower seeds of all different flavors. There is a lot of time to think about little things during a game.

The camera went careening after a ball as it flew into a blue, silent sky. He looks out his window and saw his own blue, silent sky. He gets up and walks out the door. The air outside nestled into the crooks of his skin and found a way to comfort him in its touch. Small hairs on his lip drifted along with the wind up his nose and into his lungs. He kept his steps small and gentle, the way he’d always walked with others. It was just him now.

He squints against the day’s crowded beams of light. Couples, no more than outlines, walk past him smiling to each other, and he smiles at them. A boy plays fetch in his front yard with a small brown and white dog that never actually catches the frisbee in its mouth. His eyes follow this dog and this boy for a few minutes. He counts four cars go by behind him, and the smell of his own car returns to him like an old friend who got put in the gound when he wasn’t looking. His driveway was empty now. So was his wallet. The frisbee falls to the ground at the man’s feet and the dog runs to him. He bounds and leaps, nothing but a ball of thin, shiny skin. It retrieves the frisbee, dragging it along the ground as heavy as it was. The man’s eyes lift to the boy, but the boy only has eyes for his dog.

The man smiles and makes the return journey to his home. The baseball game was still on in the living room, and he could still hear the slight drone of the phone off the hook. He chews on his teeth a little and walks to the kitchen. He finds in his drawers a package of chocolates all for him.

He sits again in front of his game and munches on the chocolate. His mother had always told him not to eat chocolate like it was going out of style. With a flick of his wrist he turns off the sound and just watches. A slight, heavenly glare smears the part of the screen with the scorecard so he can’t see the score. His team was winning.

At the commercials, the man rises and checks on his coffee spill. He retrieves the rag and tosses it into the sink. Remaining is a dry, light stain. A mark unlike any other. He welcomes the spot to his home. Then with scissors in hand he cuts out the small chunk of newspaper with his name on it. He then carries it to the corkboard he’d hung over the fire and pinned it up so he would remember. Yesterday he’d died. And from where he was standing, things weren’t too bad.


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