They don’t talk to me, not really—haven’t since the accident when it was just Caleb taking care of me—and sometimes I’m there floating above them, hovering around them and, sometimes, even inside of them. Helping them form their thoughts, the words rolling lazily out of their mouths. The things they wish they could say to us but just can’t.
Beyond the gathering crowd two mutts scamper through strands of tameless cotoneaster, pissing on beech trunks every few laps. One looks back at me—always the same one, brown with white spots—as if calling for me to join, then disappears into the brush.
Then I turn and see Caleb wrestling the rabbit ears, turning the largest knob until the box spits up electric fizz and blasts those chunky zigzags on the screen. Someone in the audience—some neighbor—squeals with delight, this ritual everything to them, but Caleb moves on undeterred, adjusting the antennae and the knob with deft precision until a faint voices breaks through followed by blurry picture. He removes his hands quick and steps back, arms still hovering out, careful not to mess with a thing, grinning big, those thin lips almost invisible as they press satisfyingly into one another.
Everyone, everything, goes quiet. Caleb takes his seat up front, motions for me to join. I do, and he says, looking right at me, through me, “You ready for the show?” and that’s when I wake up—always—and I have a hard time breathing and it takes me a moment to realize where I am, years later and long-gone from those rabbit ears, from that backyard, the mosquitoes as big as jays. From the cherry-faced neighbors crowding around a nineteen-inch just hoping to catch a glimpse of the evening’s entertainment. Of the show that’s about to begin and that never, ever seems to end.
After shaking off the sleep I tell myself I should call Caleb, see how he is. That it’s been too long and that brothers shouldn’t go so long without talking. That it isn’t right and whatever’s happened between us is far away now, like that dream, and that maybe, older and wiser now, we can get together, start over. But instead I lie back down and think about those loose floorboards and that sweltering August heat and that smell from the attic and the horrible quiet that settled there after our knock-down drag-out. I still remember every hurled word and thrown punch, the bruising under my eye that wouldn’t go down for days, the blame he assigned to me for them being gone, for all of it going to shit, and I remind myself that leaving was the best thing I ever did.
Robert James Russell is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominated author and founding editor of the literary journals Midwestern Gothic and CHEAP POP. His work has appeared in Great Lakes Review, Squalorly, Buffalo Almanack, Pithead Chapel, Crime Factory, WhiskeyPaper, and The Collagist, among others. Find him online at robertjamesrussell.com.