Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Embers (A Short Story)

     "The stars are missing; nothing but fog," said Finn. "Makes you wonder why we are still staring at the sky," Connor replies. "Because you never know," said Finn. Finn spits up into the air and watches it disappear into the fog. Connor shouts, "Idiot!" as they both scramble get out of the way of what gravity will inevitably bring back onto them.


     Connor shovels in spoonfuls of "Frankenberry" cereal while sitting in front of the television in the living room. Connor loved autumn, in part because this cereal became available. Finn is getting a spanking in their room down the hallway. Connor knows he deserves it. The kid never listens and always says stupid things that he knows will get him in trouble. He stills says them anyway. But Connor has never liked to see Finn hurt. He tries to drown out the sound of his little brother crying, so he looks down at the aluminum TV tray over his lap and pretends. "Darth Vader is here!" shouts a storm trooper. Darth Vader walks into the room and everyone knows he is in a bad mood. "When is he ever in a good mood?" asks a different storm trooper, "It's like someone pooped in his Wheat.." The storm trooper is lifted off the ground and slammed into the wall beside the large control panel. He can see only through his peripheral vision that Darth Vader has gotten him with his hand beams of dark sided invisible matter and is choking him to death. By the time the storm trooper dies, Finn has stopped crying and has entered the room with his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV tray.


     Finn sits in a small jail cell on a hard bed looking cement riser. He looks down at his fingers and watches blood coagulate in between his knuckles and open back up when he bends them. He shakes his head, "Damnit," he says. Hours later the cell made a loud click that echoed all the way down the hallway of cells. An officer stepped into the doorway. "Time to go, lucky you missed dinner, tonight was Salisbury steak fresh from the Lean Cuisine menu," the officer said. Finn gets up and walks shoeless past the officer and through the doorway. Once in the lobby, he is greeted by Connor. "You idiot!" he said. He continues, "Do you know what I had to go through to get the money for this without mom and dad finding out? What the hell is wrong with you?" Connor grabs Finn's head and kisses him on the forehead, then pushed his face away slightly so that he could see his eyes. "You just can't lay off it can you? That poison is going to kill you." He looks down at Finn's hands, then follows his mangled veins back up to his forearm. "Look at your arms Finn. Look what you've done to yourself." Connor grabs hold of Finn, pulling him in and hugs him.


     Connor sits on the couch holding an empty jewelry box that belonged to his late wife. Before the cancer had sunk it's teeth into her breasts, this box was her favorite possession. It held various relics of diamonds, silver, and gold once held dear by her grandmothers. Now it sits empty. One day after Finn had dropped by for a place to crash for the night. One day after Finn asked for more money and Connor declined. "I can't help you kill yourself Finn! I don't have anything for you. If you want some food, come to me. If you want a job, come to me. If you want to talk, come to me. If you want to shoot money into your arm, go elsewhere," said Connor. Finn apologized for asking again and said that he understood. He got up from the couch and put out his hand for Connor to punch. "No hard feelings?" said Finn. Connor shakes his head at him. "Never kid." Finn makes a stop into the bathroom before leaving out the front door. In the bathroom is where she kept the jewelry box.

     Connor picks up the phone and dials Finn. "Hello brother," said Finn. "Where are they Finn? I'll only ask once," Connor said. Finn replies, "I don't know wha..." "One time Finn. I will ask you one time. Where is my wife's jewelry?" asks Connor. Silence on the other side of the line. Then Finn replies, "Gone." More silence, this time the quiet radiates from Connor's side of the line. Finn continues, "She doesn't need it anymore Connor. She's gone. You have to accep..." "Shut up! Just shut your lying mouth. Don't say even one more word to me. Don't you ever mention my wife again, don't...just don't!" shouts Connor. He continues, "My entire life I've taken care of you. I've bailed you out. I've fought for you. I've always invited you into my home. My door has always been open to you unconditionally. You are a parasite Finn. You take and you take and never give anything to anyone. You lie around all day in that broken apartment, sticking needles into your arms. You are pathetic Finn. You are a loser. As of right now, I don't want to hear your voice anymore. We're done here. If one day, you find yourself in trouble and looking for family, you won't find any here. You've killed me Finn." Connor hangs up the phone and throws it across the room, shattering it against the wall. "Damnit!" he shouts.


     Connor sleeps alone in his king sized bed. He still sleeps on the left side of the bed. His wife would always ask him, "How do you know which side you are sleeping on? If you are laying here, you're on the left, but if you are standing up, it's the right." Connor would always say, "My better half is always on the right." He would wink at her as she would always repeat, "Always right." Connor sleeps soundly until his phone rings. He hears it and dreads looking at the screen. He has been dreading this moment in the back of his mind. He reaches over and sees the screen and knows that his brother Finn is dead. After listening to his mother wail over the phone, he gets up and puts on his clothes in no hurry. He would love to put life off for a while and pretend.

.... 1 Week

     The room is full of people from different places. Some his family, some his friends, and some Finn's friends. Finn's friends were easy to spot. Connor was nauseated by the stench of funeral flowers. A concept that he never understood. What were the flowers for? They were obviously there to mask something. Maybe they are meant to help people forget that the person in the coffin is dead or that death doesn't smell bad. Or that the afterlife is some quiet room where everyone whispers in front of picked flowers while listening to organs playing sad bastard music. Connor sits down and listens to the pastor rattle off his death march speech. Another thing he didn't understand. Why have a stranger come in and talk about someone they had barely known? Why does he try to make people that actually know the dead person feel better about the fact that he isn't coming back? Why do they do that? The loved ones would be better served today, if he were to get up and say, "See? This is what happens. This is what happens when you poison yourselves to feel better. This is what happens when you are so spoiled that you think you are unhappy...so unhappy that you need to also kill your family with heroine."

     While the pastor was talking, he remembered the last time the pastor had seen Finn. Finn had to be in the 4th grade. They were in Sunday school and the pastor was filling in for the teacher. Finn was talking and flicking paper footballs while the pastor was teaching on some felt board with these stupid paper people dressed in blankets. The pastor kept telling Finn to behave. Finn had told the pastor, "This is boring. Can we go outside?" The pastor said, "Sure, you can go outside, but the rest of us are staying put. You aren't allowed back. I'll be talking to your father after church." Finn shrugged, then left the room. A few minutes later, we all heard the squeal of the rusty chains on the swing set and Finn was laughing and swinging alone on the swings. The entire class looked outside for the rest of the hour. We all wanted to join him on those swings.

     When the pastor stopped mumbling through Bible verses, he asked for anyone that wanted to say something about Finn to come up. Connor hadn't prepared anything, but he couldn't get the image of Finn laughing on those swings out of his head. He stood up before noticing that he had done so. He let his legs carry him past his little brother to the podium. He got to the front and looked out to the room full of quiet people, all staring at him and realized what a terrible mistake he had just made. He stood in silence for an eternity. Everyone just started to cry harder every moment he stood in the headlights. It was about to become worse than the words of that pastor. He realized that he was ruining the funeral and that the pastor would be looked at as the highlight. So he opened his mouth and spoke.

     "I said some things that I don't mean," Connor said. As he spoke those words, he felt the most overwhelming urge to throw up. The words were so true that they made him sick and hate himself." I never understood my brother completely. I'm not sure there is anyone that did fully. I saw him in the way I wanted to see him and ignored the rest. Finn's friends knew the ignored side of him and ignored what I saw. So in that, none of us knew him very well, but we all knew some part of him very well. I remember when we were little kids, I used to watch out for him. I guess I lived much of my life exerting some sort of big brother pride in being better than him. I got better grades. I went to college. I made a family. I gave him things and I guess, in some way, I liked having him need me to take care of him. But there was a time when Finn saved me. I had gotten into a shouting match with some wannabe gang member in high school. The next thing I knew, there were 7 of them on my front lawn after school. I saw them once it was too late. I turned the corner walking home and they saw me and started chasing me. It didn't take them long to catch me. One of the bigger ones held my arms down on the ground and the little one I had the shouting match with started punching me in the face. I thought they were going to kill me until I heard the boom of my father's shotgun. I looked up as everyone else did and there was Finn now pointing the gun at them." "That was a warning shot. The next is going to his ass and then the other one's nuts," Finn said. Connor continued, "Finn always had a way with words. The idiots ran away and my mom started us in private school the next day. Finn never spoke of it again and neither did I. I think he knew that I needed to be needed. But I think he took care of me sometimes. He did these crazy things and said these crazy things. He would put himself in the most unbelievable situations. He always had this hope in his eyes that would shine bright, then fade out. He used to tell me whenever I would ask about his craziness, "Because you never know." I think that maybe he got hurt by finding out too many times that there isn't much real magic in this life."

     "Everyone keeps asking me how I'm doing. Until right now at this very moment looking at Finn sleeping, I had no idea. But I think I do now. I think he had the right idea all along, but was too impatient with the outcomes. I think that maybe I'll take some chances and wait it out. I'll give the magic a little more time to work." "Because you never know."






Thanks for reading...Z