by: Myron McGhee1
In the throes of pain and loss, an unexpected love exposes itself….
He’d been missing for two weeks, at least that’s what Dad told me when I got his call. And now, here I am, back in front of the old house I had sworn never to return to. Everything was still the same, even the rotted door, its paint peeling like an orange just as when I had left all that time ago. My hand trembled as I scratched my knuckles against the doorway, too softly to be considered a knock. Too short to be considered the calling card of a visitor. Even my feet felt as if they were leaving no prints on the mat that said “Welcome.”
And yet the door opened….and there he stood in the doorway.
“Dad.” I didn’t even recognize my own voice.
“Chase.…it’s great to see you.”
My father stood there in the shadowy light of the doorway, his shirt hanging out of his pants, his socks mismatched, and his eyes the color of a sunburn. Had he been sleeping these past few days? His face was pale as spilled milk. He pulled his lips to the corner of his mouth, as if he were trying to smile but had forgotten how, or was simply too tired to.
“When I got your call I rushed over,” I darted my eyes to the dying shrub in front of the door, I couldn’t even look him in the eye. “H-has it really been that long since….“
“Yes Chase. I’ve been so…..” My father’s voice trailed off. He shook his head and his shoulders slumped against the door frame. “Come inside. It’s cold out here.” He turned his back and led the way. Back into the world I had left behind.
The house was still exactly the same as when I left. The throw-rug with the beer stain still took up half the living room floor. The creaky arm chair still took up space in the corner, and the hole in the wall from when I was a kid still hadn’t been fixed. My father was never really good with change. None of us were.
“Where was he when he.…went missing?” I asked nervously.
My father led me into the kitchen and sat down on the nearby stool.
“He was out at a bar.”
It took everything I had not to roll my eyes. Of course, Good ol’ Gil out at a bar. That son-of-a-bitch was probably out drinking all night and fell asleep on some burn-out’s couch and went out to do the same thing again the day after. Rinse and repeat.
“And now you think he’s gone?” I tried to hide the frustration in my voice. “He’s probably just crashing at someone’s place.” I closed my eyes and washed my hands over my face like a towel. This was so typical of Gil. Even now he was still so irresponsible. Staying out, making father worry, dragging me back to this town, all for what? So I could search around his old hide-outs to track him down? Shit, he’s supposed to be the older brother….so why is it that I’m always the one being dragged into his shit?
“Chase, he’s never been gone for this long.”
I turned to the sink and began to wash my hands. My fingers were beginning to turn white. I shook my head. He’s fine.
“Haven’t you tried calling the police? Or….”
“I did that Chase. They said they’re on the case but…” My father rose from the stool and rubbed his fingers against his loose shirt. “I know that he’s not their top priority.”
“Chase, that’s why I need you here. To help me look for him. Who better than family?” His voice cracked like an old chalk board.
I heaved my shoulders. “Fine Dad. I-I’ll help.”
For days my father had been putting up “Missing” posters all over town. There were still plenty of places he had missed, like the baseball fields, or the area around our old school. The old buildings Gil and I used to smash beer bottles in or the lake he used to take his girlfriends to.
I carried a stack of “Missing” posters underneath my arm. The wind cut through my jacket like a chainsaw, crude and without grace. I pressed a poster up against the streetlight. I had been out for hours. I managed to stick posters on railings, on gates of townhomes, in windows of bars and liquor stores. Shit, I even asked around.
The picture my father chose for the poster captured Gil perfectly, his hair shagged into his face, his eyes sunk deep within their sockets. His shirt was wrinkled to the last stitch and his face displayed a smug sneer that almost made me want to throw the posters to the wind and be done with the whole damn thing. But I couldn’t. Not with my father worried sick. Not with him going days without sleeping. Not with him begging to come with me to hang up more flyers even though he needed to eat.
“Damn it Gil.”
The wind was blowing harder, almost too hard to stand up right. Just a few more and I’ll get back home. I’ll wrap a warm blanket around myself and settle into an old chair. I’ll brew coffee and imagine myself punching Gil in the face. Yeah….that’ll be sweet.
Exhausted, I decided that was enough for tonight. Tomorrow I’ll start again. When the wind subsides and the streetlamps slumber under the light of day, I’ll begin again. I hugged my jacket over my stomach and the flyers under my arm flailed in the wind like bike tassels.
I turned and walked off into the night, back to the house that never changed, and the father too worried to eat. Gil should have called. Gil should have gotten off his drunken ass and found a taxi to get him home. That dumbass is fine. I shook my head and gazed off into the distance, Gil’s picture burned in my memory; a shadow that would not rest.
It was late when I came back to my father’s place. I walked through the rotted door and placed the flyers on a nearby table.
The house was quiet.
He must be asleep, I thought. My shoulders began to slack as I pulled off my jacket and tossed it aside. I walked into the kitchen, being careful not to trip over the dirty rug, or bump into the stool that sat by the entrance.
The kitchen was perfectly dark, even when I turned on the light to chase the shadows away there was still a lingering presence that made the light dim. I looked to the corner to see an old coffee mug gathering dust by the fridge.
“Thing probably hadn’t been used in years.”
It almost made me glad my father had kicked the habit of late night coffee binges. For as long as I could remember he always had a mug in his hand, no matter the time of night.
The kitchen floor was dirty, it looked like it hadn’t been swept in years, which wasn’t surprising as Gil wasn’t much of housekeeper, and neither was my father. Dishes were piled up in the sink like mounds of dirt. Bowls half-filled with soup, and chicken bones that never divorced their plates littered the counters.
I walked over to the sink and turned the knob until water slipped from the faucet’s mouth. I moved the dishes and stacked them, one by one, on the kitchen counter. The water rose, warm and heavy, in the sink. Just like old times.
When we were younger Gil and I would always fight over whose turn it was to wash the dishes. Sometimes my father would intervene and make us flip a coin, but as we got older he would get involved less and less, until he just grabbed a cup a coffee and walked out of the kitchen muttering “You two, work it out.”
“Damn it Gil, it’s your turn,” I remember myself saying. “Not now Chase,” he would snap back.
I never understood how Gil could act like such a brat, but still manage to sound as if he were curing cancer. House work was always too trivial for him. He had other things to do.
“I’ve been doing these damn dishes for three days, man,” I would continue, trying to talk some sense into him. “Then doing them for a fourth isn’t gonna kill ya,” Gil retorted. But then his tone changed. “Just do this for me. Please,” he said. His voice had softened like fallen leaves. Soft, like a small regret.
He then rounded the kitchen door and walked to his room, but he didn’t stomp off in triumph, or march with his back straight like the victor of a great war. He slinked, almost, his footsteps carrying no sound and no weight, as if his body wasn’t really there.
That was such a long time ago. I dipped my hand in the water and pulled out the last dish, it dripped onto the counter, still dirty.
“Chase?” My father stood in front of the kitchen doorway, his face shrouded against a cold darkness. “I was going to head off to the police station to check up on their status. You wanna come?” He looked too tired to move, his hands slid up and down the wall like a slug. A brown jacket hung over his arms like a dead corpse.
“Dad, shouldn’t you be asleep? It’s late.“
“Do you wanna come or not?”
My mouth ran dry.
“Yeah. I do.”
Silently we slipped into the night, our jackets wrapped around us a little too tightly. Our shoelaces tied a little too loosely. The police station wasn’t far away, and in no time we were there.
When I was a kid the police station always seemed to be a place where heroes went, but now, looking into the deep eyes of the men who were sworn to serve and protect, I felt unsure. My father pulled his jacket around his chest, took a deep breath, as if he were going into battle, and walked up to the front desk.
A man, a blue hat upon his head like a crown, looked up from a stack of papers. His badge glowed like a dim flashlight. His shirt stretched across his biceps, making him look bigger than what he was.
“What?” he asked, as if we were wasting his time.
My father placed his shaking hand on the desk “I wanted to check up on a missing persons investigation. Gil Braxton.”
The man banged his papers on the table to organize them.
“Oh yes, Mr. Braxton. He disappeared a few days ago. Is that right?
My father’s posture deflated, as if those words punctured a hole in his stomach and was slowly draining him of everything.
“What?” I heard myself asking.
“Well, it is typical, when dealing with an adult, to allow some time before we grow concerned. We went over all of this before Mr. Braxton. We are doing all we can to find your son, but at the moment he is not our top priority. I mean, lately there’s been a string of murders across the county and we need all of our manpower on the case,” His eyes tightened. “I’m sorry.”
My father looked towards the roof, his eyes shaking like a frozen dog. “Thanks,” he mumbled, and turned away. I followed him.
“Wait,” I heard the policeman say from behind the counter. I turned and saw his eyes lighten, trying to show a little sympathy, to prove, to himself at least, that he wasn’t all bad. “I wouldn’t worry. He’s probably just at a friend’s house.”
Those words summed up Gil’s personality: irresponsible, self-centered, and as carefree as a child. Anyone who had known the guy for even half an hour could make that assumption. But hearing that hard phrase come out of that man’s mouth made my skin feel like a used toilet seat.
He’s probably at a friend’s house.
My father and I walked out into the cold air. He didn’t speak the entire way home. The only sign that his heart was still beating was the motion of walking. I wanted to say something. To ask how he’s been, convince him to have a cup of coffee at some cheap restaurant. Hell, I even thought of making him angry so he’d punch me in the gut. Something to let me know he was still with me, that he hadn’t disappeared into a deep void. But there was nothing to say. Nothing to plug that stupid shit-faced hole that someone left behind. So instead we just put one foot in front of the other, step by step, trying not to be swallowed up by our own jackets.
I remember Gil and I used to share a room when we were younger. Our beds lined up against the wall, with stuffed animals arranged lifelessly around the room, awaiting our attention. We never could get that place cleaned up before bedtime. My father used to get so upset with the both of us, but eventually he just stopped noticing. I never could remember how old Gil was back then, old enough to ride a bike, but still young enough to cry when he saw blood. Old enough to help me steal cookies from the jar, but still young enough to shake when the lights went out.
Sometimes, when the moon was hidden by the clouds, my father would come into our rooms, place blankets over our bodies and say goodnight. Gil would sink underneath his blankets, and I never heard him move. For a time, I convinced myself that each night he died underneath his blankets, and in the morning, he would come back to life.
“Dad?” I would ask, my voice small as a star’s light in a field of sky. “Can you tell us about Mommy?”
That would make Gil stir. I would hear his body rub against his bed sheets. I would hear his head poke out from under his comforters. And would feel his eyes burn into my skin.
“Well, both of you boys look like her,” my father would smile and then stare off into space, trying to recount something he had lost. “Gil has her hair color, and her nose.” He placed his hand on my arm. “And you have her eyes Chase.”
And like a ghost he would leave our room, leaving nothing but the smell of coffee wafting in the air.
My jacket felt too heavy to hold. When my father and I returned through the rotted front door the first thing I did was slug that piece of cement off of my shoulders. The place was still quiet, a part of me had hoped something would be there when we returned, but a quick glance at the coffee table made me want to sink. Those damn missing posters.
No sooner had we walked through the door then my father turned right back around and declared, “I’m going back out.”
“Wait,” My voice filled the room like smoke. “Dad, it’s almost morning and you haven’t slept at all,” Even through the closed curtains of the living room I could see the light of the sun creep across the night. The day was already starting, but the scary part was, I didn’t know if that was a good thing. “You need sleep.”
“I need to find your brother,” His voice was dry like a cigarette’s ashes. “You can come or not, but I’m going out there.” His voice dripped from his throat like mud. Shit, he was so tired he couldn’t even sound like he meant it. His face was pale, and even in the whispered light of dawn, I could make out how his body slouched, waiting for the command to sleep; begging for it.
There on the coffee table, sat the posters. Curled on one side and ripped on the others. Gil’s face hardened, from some kid who scurried under his covers, to a man who disappeared without a trace. Gil, are you listening?
“I’ll take care of it.”
Morning was creeping nearer and the light stung my eyes. I packed the posters underneath my arm and walked out into the world. I tacked the posters upon light posts. I hung them up in supermarket windows. I asked around to anyone who would listen.
There was still no trace.
Through some strange irony, I found myself walking past the Old Inn Bar, one of the many places my brother used to frequent. Even before he reached the legal drinking age, he’d stagger home late, smelling of Tequila and spit. My father never knew about Gil’s late night runs, or why his head ached every morning. I could never work up the nerve to tell him, or maybe, I didn’t want to.
I thought about going inside and searching for some lost trace of him. A name carved in a barstool, a broken light fixture he knocked over, or a bill that had yet to be paid.
Forget it, I thought as defeated, I tucked tail and wandered home.
It was nerve wracking for me, that night. That one stupid night. The night countless teen movies, and commercials told me about: Junior Prom. In my head, I had this fantasy of pink and blue balloons, spiked punch, and ribbons that tried to hide the fact that the school was too cheap to hold the dance in any place that wasn’t the school gym.
And there, on the far side of the living room, in a chair that was so torn and tattered it should have been thrown out, sat Gil.
“What the fuck’s your problem?” He sat with his legs crossed at an arch, as if trying to protect his junk while at the same time showing it off. His fingers were stained with cheese sauce from the nachos he had been eating moments before.
I rolled my eyes, I didn’t need my brother fucking with me. The tux I had rented for the night was too large, and my car had been acting up all week. “Gil, I don’t need your shit right now.”
Gil smirked, the kind of smirk that made you want to walk over and punch the guy in the throat. “You’re right, you don’t need my shit. You’ve got enough of it with that damn tux,” He leaned back into his chair. “It’s way too big for you.”
I fumbled with my bowtie, and moved side to side, trying to remember the dance steps I watched from that old movie. One….two, three. One, two….three.
I was so busy trying to make everything perfect that I had forgotten one important thing. I couldn’t dance. Every time I moved to music it looked like I was having an aneurism. Once someone even asked me if they needed to call a doctor.
”One, two….” I slipped over my own foot and fell to the ground; the pictures on the wall shook with my landing. “Damnit!” I had scraped my wrist against the carpet, and began to bleed against my white sleeve.
Everything was falling apart.
And then I waited for the snide remark, the jokester glare, the toothy grin that came along with anything my brother did.
But it never came. Instead I heard the sound of my brother’s weight leaving the chair. I felt the pull of a strong arm bringing me to my feet.
“It’s like this,” he said, taking my arm and wrapping it around his waist. He began to sway back and forth. His fingers stained my tux yellow, his breath smelled of cheese and salt, and yet he swayed.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m showing you how to dance.”
“And you learned to dance, where?”
“Just pay attention. It’s easy.”
I looked down to the floor. My neatly polished shoes against his crusty feet. My ironed slacks against his torn boxer shorts.
“You payin’ attention bro? I’m only doin’ this once.”
One. Two. Three. Swaying to the music of a softened T.V. set.
One. Two. Three. As easy as dragging a drunken brother to his room.
One. Two. Three. As easy as posting a picture on a streetlamp.
One. Two. Three. As easy as disappearing without so much of a trace.
Whose voice was that?
I awoke with my head feeling like it had been spliced off by a speeding boat. My eyes burned in the rooms light, and I saw my father’s face, sagging to his chest. What time was it? Had we found Gil yet? I propped myself onto my elbow, my tongue tasted like dirt. The old rug was underneath me, and the flyers were scattered all over the living room.
“Son, what happened? You slept on the floor all night?”
I shook my head. “I guess I was more exhausted than I thought.”
It had been weeks since I had come back home, and even longer since Gil went missing. My father grabbed my arm and helped me to my feet.
“Look Chase,” my father said, his voice sounding like a swamp, froggy and damp. “I went back to the police station, they still haven’t heard any news about Gil,” He took a deep breath, trying to steady himself for what was to come next, “It’s been far too long since he disappeared. Some of the officers are beginning to think he’s….I mean….some of those murders happened near Gil’s hangouts and.…”
My hands began to shake, and my legs felt like they were filling with phlegm. I cracked a smile and laughed. “Come on Dad, don’t say that. Granted, Gil’s a pain, and he’s probably just off somewhere being a jackass like he always is.” I gathered the fallen flyers and stared down at his picture; smug and with no thought to anyone else. Same old Gil.
We’ll find that asshole.
“Chase wait, what about your job?” My father placed his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “Chase, it’s been weeks since you last went back.”
I stacked the flyers one on top of the other. I had never been away from work this long.
“It’ll be fine Dad.”
He was right, I hadn’t been back in a long time. I had told my boss I’d only be gone a few days, and that was weeks ago. I could call, try and explain the situation, but something told me it wouldn’t do any good.
“I’m gonna go back out, you know, see if I can find anything we might have missed.”
It wasn’t hard for me to rush out the door and into the morning air. I needed to go somewhere, I needed to escape. My body felt like it was sinking beneath a sea of fresh shit. I remember after high school I couldn’t wait to start college. I had chosen a university in a town so far away my father had never heard of it, and neither had Gil. It was perfect, a secret place that was only for me.
“You gonna be alright?” Gil asked as he helped me finish packing. My car was filled with suitcases and shit that I probably wouldn’t need.
“Yeah man. I’m good.”
Back then, the air smelled of pumpkin, and the leaves were abandoning their branches, drifting off to a world that no one had access to. Gil stood in the doorway, his big foot rubbing up against his hairy leg. It didn’t take long to pack my shit.
“You’ll call us when you get there, right?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yeah. No sweat.” I hopped in my car, and drove off. Not even a goodbye exchanged between us to seal the moment.
All my life I had wanted to escape this place. To fly off into a world my family could not follow me to. Back then my biggest fear was never being able to escape, being trapped inside that home with a lifetime sentence and no chance of parole. And I was in such a hurry to leave, I never thought about returning, and now I’m home again, and it seems as if I am trapped once again.
I stapled the last of the flyers onto an old telephone poll. Why had I been in such a hurry back then? All through college, I never really thought about going back home. Even during vacations, when I returned to my own town and my own family, I wasn’t really there. I saw Gil, I talked to him, but I wasn’t really present and neither was he. It was as if he had moved out to a new town that I did not have access to. But the fucked up thing was that I was okay with that. We had drifted so far apart that we were strangers who talked about the weather whenever My father wasn’t around.
And I just shrugged it off and went along with it.
I looked at Gil’s face plastered on the poster one last time. Jesus Gil, what happened to us?
I headed back to the house, and after fumbling with the keys, I shoved the door open and nearly tripped over the loose rug.
“Dad,” I called out, “Have you heard anything back?”
I stomped upstairs and gripped the railing so hard, my fingers left marks. “Dad?” I called out again. There had to have been something. A phone call from the police, a sighting, hell, maybe someone had heard something.
Anything. Just let there be something.
“Dad?” I opened the door to his study. When I was a kid that door seemed to be much more imposing; almost as if it were a guard dog barring me from entrance. Gil and I knew better than to enter my father’s office without his permission, but now, that time seemed so far away.
The room smelled of cheap wood chips, and discount furniture. His arm chair was ripped, the desk had a stain from a coffee mug. My father always looked for the cheapest things to decorate with. Maybe that’s why the house always seemed so.…humble. Even his office, which I always imagined as grand and ornate, was merely a reflection of my father’s own countenance; straightforward with no flourish, humble enough to go unnoticed, but still strong enough to be relied upon.
He wasn’t there.
I leaned against the door frame. Don’t tell me you’ve disappeared as well?
I shook my head. Don’t be a dumbass. He probably went out looking for Gil again. Nothing to get concerned over. Why would my father leave so suddenly?
Why did I leave?
After all those years, trying to break away from this town, from this life.…from my family. I left without ever looking back. I was finally rid of the crap dishes, the ragged jokes, the squeaky door. I was gaining something.
But what had I lost in the process?
When Gil and I were kids we liked to play cowboys. Stupid kid shit that passed the time when we couldn’t watch television. I’d be the sheriff, and he’d be the bandit who had just robbed the bank. Now, movies had taught me that the sheriff always wins. Good against evil. Happy endings all around.
But not with Gil. No, he would cheat. He’d wrestle me to the ground, tie a jump rope around hands, and pull my cowboy hat so far down my head I couldn’t see.
“Better luck next time sheriff.” he’d say, and then he run off into the trees, pretending to disappear beyond the horizon.
And then I’d cry because he cheated and he would just laugh in my face, untie me, and we’d play again.
“Maybe I’ll even let you win this time.” he told me.
But it was always the same. He’d win, disappear beyond the horizon and we’d play again.
This whole thing, these flyers, his disappearance, making me run around the whole damn city looking for him. It was just his way of fucking with me, disappearing beyond the horizon, and returning just long enough to laugh in my face.
Gil always came back.
.…he always comes back.
“Dad,” I shook my father from his arm chair. “Dad,” I said again. I felt bad waking him up. He had spent all last night talking to policemen and looking for Gil’s old friends, but it all led to nothing.
My father awoke with a slow inhale, and a small crack in his eyelids.
“Chase?” he asked.
“Look Dad,” I said while showing him a few more pictures of Gil I had found in our old scrapbooks. It all made perfect sense. The reason why Gil hadn’t been found yet was the picture. It had to be the picture.
“Look, check these out,” They were old photos of Gil back when he used to shave, his hair was slicked back and his shirt was pressed. It was one of the rare moments when Gil actually looked like a person. “I mean, the reason why no one’s found him yet is because they don’t want to find him. I mean the picture we have on these flyers don’t look like Gil. Like the way he is now.”
I felt my tongue sway under the weight of my own words.
“Look at these!” I shoved dozens of Gil’s old pictures into my father’s hands. Pictures of his prom, pictures of his high school graduation, pictures of him at the park. The one from when he and I went canoeing down the river. The one where he took me to the mountains. The one where he showed me how to fix my car’s transmission.
“Chase,” my father began.
“And maybe once they take a look at these, some headway might actually be made.“
“And the we can find Gil and….”
“Chase,” my father placed his hands on my shoulder. He leaned in close to me.
“Son….take a breath. You’re shaking.”
I looked down to my hands, and saw my fingers twitch.
“I-I.…” I couldn’t breathe.
“I know son.” My father’s voice was low, as if trying to calm a frightened child. “I went to talk with the police the other day, and they said they’ve finally found some kind of lead on what happened to your brother.”
I felt my heart lighten. “Yeah?” I clenched the pictures tighter. “What did they say?”
My father took a deep breath, and bowed his head. “There’s been a string….of murders recently….and,” he paused and wiped the sweat from his brow, “They believe he’s.…he might have been.…”
“They think he might have been one of the victims.”
No. That was bullshit. That was a lie. Were those fucking pigs really so damn lazy that they had to make up some bullshit excuse to keep from looking for my brother?
“Chase, they’re looking into every possible way to….“
They haven’t been doing jack shit to look for Gil.…and now they give us this shit?
“Dad, he’s not dead,” I snatched the pictures out of my father’s grasp. “He’s just missing, alright,” I held the pictures up again, “I’m just gonna go make some new flyers, ask around some more.”
He’s not fucking dead.
“Chase.…I don’t want you going out there alone,” He stood from his chair, arms spread out open, “Just stay here. I….“
“He’s not fucking dead, Dad.” I shoved the pictures into my jacket. “Just because those cops are too damn stupid to find someone doesn’t mean they’re dead!”
He’s just fucking with me. That’s what Gil does. He fucks with people, and then he jumps out at you with a stupid grin and laughs. It’s not funny Gil. It never was.
“I’m going out Dad,” I called back.
“Chase,” my father called from the hallway, “Don’t go out there.”
I didn’t listen. I was going to find Gil, punch his face into the concrete and grin.
It was my turn to have the last laugh. It was my turn to win. No more fucking games Gil. I’m done.
New flyers. That’s all we need. Just a few more pictures posted everywhere to get people to notice. The sky above me turned grey, it was going to rain. Hell, I bet even the sky was on Gil’s side, trying to keep me from finding him. Well, it wasn’t going to work.
I stapled a few more flyers onto the telephone pole and moved on.
He wasn’t dead. That was impossible. That was stupid. That was….just not right.
Gil couldn’t die. Brothers don’t die. Brothers grow old enough to shove you to the ground, and ruffle your hair. Brothers are the best men at each other’s weddings, they make stupid toasts and drink too much. Brothers grow old enough to be goofy uncles and give their nieces and nephews loud annoying gifts that bother their Dad. Gil and I hadn’t grown old enough to do any of that shit. He couldn’t be dead. Not yet.
I stapled more flyers across town. Flyers by the gun shops. Flyers by the libraries. Flyers by the barber. Flyers by the playgrounds. Everywhere.
And the rain fell. Down onto my flyers, distorting every image of Gil I had. Soaking the papers, ruining the ink, damping my hair. Shit. Shit. Shit.
“Just a few more,” I told myself. “Just a few more.”
And the rain fell. Water was everywhere, kicking itself into the air like mist. Rain fell like daggers, piercing and shredding every flyer that it touched.
“Damnit!” I screamed, “Just stop!” I couldn’t even hear my own voice over the sound of the falling water. Deaf. It was as if I were deaf to the sound of my own feelings, and blind to the sight of anything but water. Where had Gil’s face gone? Had the rain distorted my memories of him along with his pictures?
Who was I even trying to find anymore?
Where the fuck where you Gil?
And out of nowhere, I felt strong hands wrap around me like a rope. My arms pinned to my sides.
“What the fuck?” I thrashed my head, and all of my flyers dropped to the wet ground. Fuck. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t see. I didn’t even know what the fuck I was doing anymore.
“Just calm down.”
The rain fell down and soaked my trembling shoulders.
“Just calm down,” With each word that was spoken, the grip on my arms loosened. Little by little. “It’s going to be okay son.”
“He’s not dead,” I said.
“He’s not dead.”
“Chase, just calm down.”
I wanted to thrash my entire body until my father let go of me. I wanted to grab the soaked remainders of my brother’s image and continue on, down a rain soaked path that wouldn’t end.
But I didn’t have the strength to keep going.
My father loosened his grip, and pulled me close to his chest. He smelled like coffee and wood chippings. “I know.”
I saw them, the last remains of my brother’s face, distorted pictures of long ago times, wash away into the gutters.
My brother was gone.
When the police came to our home they told us that they had caught the man responsible for Gil’s death, as well as the string of murders in the county. In fact, it was Gil’s passing that helped them nail the bastard in the first place. The officers told us this in hopes it would make us feel better.
“We are so sorry for your loss.”
That was a lie.
Even as they spoke, my father only watched with an even stare. He nodded when asked a question. He feigned a grin when they complimented his house. He offered them coffee when the conversation began to die.
But he wasn’t there. Not really.
“If there is anything we can do to make….“
Dad raised his hand and shook his head. “No,” he said, “You’ve done quite enough already.”
Which was nothing. Nothing at all.
When the cops left, my father turned back into his office, floated up the stairs without so much of a word. He told me he needed to start planning for the funeral.
“Let me help you,” I said.
He shook his head, “No Chase. Just lemme do this,” He spoke in a weakened tone, as if his vocal chords had shrunk. “Maybe you should call work? Let them know about.…” he took a deep breath and exhaled, “….the situation.”
I called work. I had missed too many days. Even with my family emergency, there was going to be a disciplinary action. At least, that’s what my boss told me. I never really listened to what he said, my mind was too focused on the stack of flyers that stood next to me.
Flyers plastered with a face that I would never see again.
The funeral was small. My father said he didn’t want anything too ornate. “Just keep it simple, for both of our sakes,” he said. My father decided on a closed casket, something about wanting to preserve the memory of Gil’s face. I didn’t argue. The last thing I wanted to see was my brother’s mug ripped from his bones. The bastard had done a real number on him, barb wire against his chest, knife marks clean across his throat.
What the fuck? Who the fuck could do that to someone else’s son? Someone’s brother?
“Thank you all for coming,” my father said as he stood upon the small podium. The church was filled with faces I had never seen before. There was a woman with tattoos that crawled all the way up her neck. A man whose head was shaved so close to his skin, you could almost see his skull. There were even police officers sitting in the far back on the room, too quiet to be noticed.
Who were these strangers? How did they know my brother? And why the fuck didn’t they help find him? All this time, and they were nowhere to be seen. No call to ask if he was alright. Not a damn word from any of them.
My father cleared his throat, “Would anyone like….” he paused again, and took a deep breath. “….to come up and say goodbye?”
I didn’t move. I didn’t want to. Funerals are how you say farewell. When I was a child, goodbyes were just words that never meant much. You say “Goodbye” and then you say “Hello” in the same breath.
Goodbye was nothing but a trick, something too ephemeral to be real.
And yet here it was, as real as a broken nose.
“Chase?” My father tapped me on the shoulder. The funeral was over. “Are you ready to go?”
I loosened the tie from my neck, and stole one last glance at the closed casket. He’s not coming back, is he?
I returned to work a few weeks later. My grey cubicle hadn’t changed. The was the same stupid telephone that never stopped ringing. The same chair that squeaked every time I sat in it.
I typed on the computer.…and then stopped just as suddenly. I rubbed my face and stood.
“I’m going out for a bit,” I told no one in particular.
The outside was cold, and the wind invaded my body like a virus. Even now, I could still feel the bitter chill of my failed search. How long had we been searching for him? Days? Weeks? As I stared out into the emptiness of the city, I felt as if I were mourning a stranger. I searched for a lost loved one, and yet all I found was an empty regret.
I had left so much behind, I had become lost, missing from my brother’s life.
Somehow, we had lost one another. Perhaps he too was looking. Looking for the little brother he taught how to dance on prom night. And perhaps he too, had tried in vain to reconnect with a lost part of himself. A brother he never knew.
I closed my eyes, and lifted my hands in front of my chest as if I were wrapping them around someone’s arms.
“It’s like this,” I told myself.
I stood up straight, took a deep breath.…and I began to dance.
Was this how he felt when I left? How long had he been searching for me?
“One. Two. Three.”
Back and forth.
“One. Two. Three.”
Just like he showed me.
We had never been close, but goodbyes were never meant to be spoken, were they?
“One. Two. Three.”
I danced out in the sun’s light, and the shadows moved against the backdrop of the city, out into the emptiness of a whispered farewell.
- Header art, entitled The Tenth Sentiment, is the creation of Japanese artist Ryota Kuwakubo. The installation was exhibited at the NTT InterCommunication Center in Tokyo. [↩]