Things My Brother Once Said

Things My Brother Once Said

Things My Brother Once Said 1920 1242 Kip Hanson

My feet dangle, scuff the cracked dirt below. Clots of red dust cling to my faded Supergirl socks, impeding her flight. I swing, and swing, the once comfortable arc of the tire beneath me grown too small since my last visit here. It now pinches like a cruel dance partner. I clutch the chains on either side in a convict’s grip and lean back to stare at the autumn sun as she floats overhead, a fiery orb, burning my face.

On the edge of the playground crouches the merry-go-round. It spins slowly. Alone. The wind catches underneath its fiberglass shell and it moans, the mournful hoot of an owl in the gloaming. Beyond that, on the far side of the field sits the house where my brother once lived, a breathless sprint of five-hundred feet from here. It broods over a cul-de-sac littered with hastily parked police cars.

Injuns coming, Caroline, better run for the hills, Steve would have said in his best John Wayne voice, and then smiled at me, his little sister.

The wail of an ambulance echoes among the chipped-paint horses of the seesaw, shivers the spidery legs of the kiddie slide. My father’s car arrives, its first visit since Memorial Day. Like the ambulance, it’s too late; too late by years. Go away, Dad. Mom said you lost your parking privileges the night you banged that fat-assed broad from the office. Dad runs through the front door, heedless of the frowning curtains drawn against him, the unmowed lawn and the bicycle lying stricken on the walk.

The sun overhead smiles down on this five o’clock news story, oblivious to all that’s transpired here. The light gives the house an ugly brown hue. Shit brown, Steve would have called it. My breath hitches at the memory of his voice. Maple leaves clatter down the street, trespassing through the next-door neighbor’s yard to swirl about my stockinged feet. I mash the dead leaves one by one against the warmth of the dirt below. They crunch like June bugs beneath a beer bottle.

After a while the awful boy from the next street over climbs the chain-link fence separating the playground from the rest of the world. Michael Martin, the kid who blows up frogs with homemade firecrackers, and makes farting sounds in math class. Steve just called him that goofy stuttering bastard from Second Street. Muh, muh, muh, Mikey, he’d say, and we laughed.

Mikey starts across the field. He’s bigger than I remember. Man-sized, almost, but that’s impossible: he’s no older than Steve was. Sweet sixteen, my Mom would say, then pour herself another drink. A cigarette dangles from the edge of his mouth and he attempts a smoke ring, but manages nothing more than a shapeless streamer of smoke. An ineffectual dragon. He steps rudely into the foot-carved rut below to inspect my face. The fitful breeze tugs at my shirt and the pervert tries to snatch a quick look. C’mon, Mike. I’m only thirteen. I half-expect him to take his thing out of his pants and start whacking away, like Tommy Morrison did back in fourth grade.

He lowers himself to the ground and attempts another look, this time up my shirt, then reclines against the base of the swings. “It’s Caroline, right?” He nods at the cop cars. “Your brother in trouble again?”

When I don’t answer, he scowls like I owe him an explanation.

“Give me your cigarette,” I say at last, and he hands it over. The filter’s wet but I take a drag anyway, then another.

“My brother’s dead.” I might as well get used to saying it.

He laughs, tittering like a girl, and I know now why Steve never liked him. “Yeah, right,” he says.

I stare at him until he looks away. “My Mom and I came home from the grocery store. He was hanging in the dining room. From the chandelier. He used the dog leash.”

Eventually, he pulls out another cigarette and lights it for me. “What did it look like?” He grins like he’s keeping a secret.

We’re interrupted by the wail of the ambulance as they take Steve away. I wonder why they’re hurrying. “Didn’t you know? Your face turns black when you hang yourself.” I try to say it matter-of-factly, as though reading a report at school, but my voice catches on the last word.

He kicks the dirt with his heel. A tiny crimson tornado appears, formed of the same red dirt a girl and her big brother once tracked through their parent’s house, before it became a wasteland. Mikey looks confused, as though he’s not used to talking to people. “Are you okay?” he says.

The tornado swirls, tugs at my mind. Maybe Steve was wrong about Mikey. It doesn’t matter though, I want to be alone, and so I say the one thing that will make him go away. “My brother called you a stuttering bastard.”

Mikey leaps predictably to his feet. “Nuh, nuh, not anymore,” he cries, and a sudden tear forms at his eye. For a microsecond he looks like Steve, before the leash turned his face black.

Stuttering Mike slouches toward home, hands jammed firmly in his pockets. I call to him. “I’m sorry, muh, muh, muh, Mikey,” and laugh.

The kid’s okay, really. He’s just a victim, like the rest of us. Maybe I’ll make it up to him someday. But not now. Right now I need to think about Steve. Before Mikey can say anything he’ll regret later, I lean back, release the chains, and let the tornado carry me away.

Header photograph © Mitch Marty.

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