Deliver Us From Mary

On the day Mr and Mrs Forester plan to have a family lunch with their daughter, Kitty, and meet at a diner near his firm. Plans go array when little Kitty’s excitement gets the better of her, leading her to snatch her hand from her mommy she then runs across a busy intersection in the hopes of reaching her father. Meanwhile Mrs. Forester is forced to run after her except, unlike her daughter, she was unsuccessful in reaching her husband.

This day is cloudy-overcast with dismal gray blankets, disabling the sun of its warm luminous rays. Days suchlike this one tended to have a formidable effect on me; like a warning telling me to stay at home; close the curtains; protect your child from the wanton ways of this foreboding day. But, I feel, it was nearly impossible to avoid. This was the week my husband started working longer hours at the law firm, where he was basically consumed with several cases at a time for no discernible reason besides the fact that there were fewer lawyers available since the massive cuts they had to make in the past month. I hardly every saw Keith, I missed him so much and so did Kitty, my daughter, she is two years old and claims my world in the most miraculous of ways.

My husband and I made it a rule to have lunch together, as a family, every Wednesday in this little cafe/diner near is firm. The time of day would be five, my most hated time of day; too much traffic and drivers never have the sense to slow down. They keep moving-never stopping the pursuit that dominates their life cycles.

“Mommy, are we going to daddy?” my little Kitty asked me. I held her soft hand in mine as we walked along the sidewalks surrounded by screaming horns and screeching tires.

“Yes, darling.” I replied.

The biggest smile lights up her face and I know she is happy. She hasn’t seen her father in four days because of the late hours and the early morning departures. Her happiness is palpable and I feel myself feeding off of it-letting it enter me through our intertwined fingers.

I see my husband before Kitty does and I wave at him and he waves back with his tired smile and handsome eyes. He is a fairly tall man so he was not hard to miss in the after work bustle. His body was wide with the muscles of a surprisingly fit man and thick luxurious chestnut hair smoothed back into a wave. I thought it made him look maturely boyish, adorable.

Kitty sees him now and she does something that shocks me out of my mini musings. She yanks her hand out of mine and darts into the street daring the passing cars with her naïve challenge.

“Kitty!” I hear Keith scream. He shakes me out of my shock and I run after her. Cars are screaming and swerving, hitting each other with the slightest maneuvers because of the narrow lanes. I try not to scream her name for the worry of her stopping in the middle of the street. So I run, as fast as I can for what seems like forever to catch her even though it may have been no more than three seconds. I hear Keith scream her name again and he has already run into the street after her while Kitty continues to run towards him flailing her arms ignorant to the fact that her life was in danger.

Keith reaches her before I do and scoops her up. I slow my pace a bit to let my heart slow down its painful pounding.

I hear the loudest blare of a horn I have ever heard.

And I am knocked off of my feet into a darkness so bleak. I cannot breath and I feel the worst pain in my neck and thick liquid is everywhere from what I can feel.

There is light, everywhere there is light.

Screaming.

Horns blaring and screaming with indignation.

I feel nothing. I see only light. I smell burnt skin and old pennies.

“Oh dear… she was such a lovely woman. Pity….” said a light voice, male. Elderly? “Such a shame… so pitiful.”

I open my eyes and I am standing on the sidewalk where I was before I ran. Everything is bright in contrast and soft around the edges. The passing bodies of passersby leave speed trails behind them, like a fastly passing car you can still see the car’s body trailing behind it despite the fact the it passed by that spot only a nanosecond ago. It is like the world is going too fast yet I am seeing it in slow motion.

“It is amazing isn’t it?” said the light voice. I look to my left and see a short elderly man in baby blue robes observing what looks like an accident in the middle of the street.

I do not answer the old man, I only stare at the spectacle before me. There is a large rig with a tanker on the back-maybe a petroleum tanker. And there are spectators everywhere- all looking in the same direction; not looking at the truck but below it. I move-or rather glide, as it seems, closer to the scene and I…I see body, wrangled and bloodied- her neck is twisted in the most grotesque way. But I feel nothing and it is only when I recognize the woman when I see lying on the unsubtle concrete stage.

It is me. My body. Ruined and dead and horrifying!

I felt a little pull in my stomach that suggest nausea but it goes away almost instantly and I glide closer. My eyes are still open-nobody had the decency to close them, protect my spirit.

I kneel down and reach out towards my face- wet now from the rain that must have started falling while I was in the dark- but my hand went through my face, touching the concrete instead.

A hand touches my shoulder and I look over it to see the old man staring down at me, sympathy-pity in his eyes, the palpable fix is obvious to me and I shrug his hand away.

“It is ordered of me to send you away from here.” he said.

“Why…” I said bitterly, non questioningly. I am angry-yet I am scared now because a thought just trickled into my mind.

Kitty.

I saw Keith scope her up but I did not see them in the messy blur of the people.

The hand touches my shoulder again, this time pulling me up, back, away from the scene.

I let him.

He told me to be calm, be still. I am okay, he says, I am but a spirit in purgatory.

“Purgatory?” I asked.

“You have not passed on…unfinished business.” he said.

He never told me his name only that I was to call him the Elder and that he was my chaperone until I figured out what it was that kept me from passing.

I stayed in this white box for some time listening to his preachings- knowledge of the deceased. The purity of natural demise.

It felt as if I were in school again as a child, listening to my teachers go on and on about a particular subject that would never be useful to me in the real world. I felt just like that now. I felt like I was receiving useless information, I felt restrained. I wanted to know what happened to Keith, and my little Kitty. He would never tell me, he only said that I was not ready to see them. He told me the power that I have as a ghost were to tempting to leave me with alone, even as an observer of the living world. I barely understood his protest but I made myself content with it. Hardly.

He was teaching me the rules of moving solid objects when I felt my patience for pedantic lessons in special ed ghost living reach its peak.

I snapped.

“I have to see my daughter!” I screamed at him.

He hardly flinched and merely smiled as I continued on with my outburst.

“I need my baby! I want my husband! I need- do you hear me?!- need my family! I don’t care if I can’t touch them or speak to them! I just want to see my family, Elder!”

He nodded his head once and clapped a slow rhythm as if he was proud I finally stood up to him.

“What!” I demanded.

“You are angry.” he laughed.

If I weren’t dead my face would have turned a heinous scarlet.

“Elder…” I said exasperated by his nonchalance.

He holds his hand up to stop my demands.

“You are ready.” he said. “But I must warn you: several years have passed- no no, listen- several years have passed and things are not like what they used to be. They may even frighten you. Their light is gone and their world is now in a dark place.”

“What happened?”

“I will let you see for yourself. But let me remind you now,” he said sternly, “you are not to play guardian angel or interfere with their lives in any way, you will be stripped completely of your ghostly inheritance and sent to a place very close to another where, trust me, you would never want to be.

I nodded.

“Please take me down.”

“You will be tempted…”

“I promise, I won’t interfere.” I said quietly.

He waves his hand the white box falls away to a dark starless night. No luminescent moon to shine light upon the dreary world, not a wishful start blemishing the face.

Elder and I are in front of a one story house with a weed infested lawn that begged to be cut and trimmed and treated to with flower bushes here and there and a small apple tree. The shingles were old and rusty on the roof and the spots that lacked a shingle now lay in the overgrown lawn lost to the world as they passed it by.

There were lights on in the house even though it had to be close to midnight. The air was cold and trees lacked leaves. It has to be winter.

“Go on.” said Elder. “I will follow.”

I walk-glide unsure up the badly paved driveway and through the old paint chipped walls.

The TV is blaring gun shots from some action movie and since the TV is on I go to that room first. I enter a small living room and it wreaks of old food, mold, and sweat. There is a Lazyboy recliner in front of the TV and a loveseat against the wall diagonal to it. The coffee table is littered with plastic cups and pizza boxes and- and a….a box, opened, inside are several syringes.

In the recliner sits Keith, he is no longer the handsome man I had fallen in love with and died with his image in my mind. His stomach overlapped his waistband by several inches and he now had a full beard and his beautiful chestnut hair is now streaked with a little gray and is disheveled. His brown eyes are glassy and dreamy and I wondered if he was dead for a moment before I noticed that his chest rose and fell still.

“Keith…”

“He lost his job two months after you died.” Elder explained. “He couldn’t focus and he-he had a nervous break down, nearly went to an asylum diagnosed with insanity. His mother got him out though, Mrs. Forester, a lovely woman.”

I nodded.

“Yes, she was a wonderful woman, I miss her dearly. I should see how she is when I am finished here.”

Elder holds his head down.

“She died two years after you, stroke.”

I squeeze my eyes closed knowing still that I would never cry again. Kitty…without a mother figure for who knows how many years and her father…. a j-j- oh I can’t even think it. I never would have thought this would happen to him. Not my Keith, not that man.

“How long has it been, Elder?”

“Fourteen years…”

“Fourteen!” I shouted and I could have sworn I saw Keith flinch, his eyes became more aware and he tried to mumble something.

He jumped out of his recliner and turned violently around in circles.

“Mary?”

My breath caught, though I haven’t had a breath in years.

“Mary!”

He said my name that night, called me in the night. Begged me to come to him and hold him, rock him to peace again.

I wanted so badly to cry that night but times frozen for me and it is impossible. I glided towards him and reached out to him. Elder took my wrist before I could touch Keith and pulled me away.

“Keith…” was all that could escape my lungs before Elder had us back in the box again.

“I told you.”

“I don’t want to hear that… I want to go back.”

He shakes his head. “You need to calm yourself first.” he said, “He heard you. That!- was not supposed to happen! They are not supposed to hear you.”

I smirk.

“Since when were there rules about what is supposed to happen or not?”

He glared at me and turned away, his robe turning with him in an elegant swirl of blue.

“I want to go back.”

“No! I need to speak to Him first. You stay and calm yourself before you get us both in trouble.” he snapped, he was shaking so badly and his forehead was surprisingly dotted with beads of perspiration.

He left me in the box alone. And it seemed like the light went with him. I was alone and my heart ached the faintest ache I had ever felt in a long time.

It was some time before Elder let me out again.

He made me swear not to speak above a whisper and to keep my hands to myself lest forcing him to bind them behind my back, he would have been happy to do that, what with all the trouble I had cost him the last time.

“How long?”

“Not long, only five months.”

I nodded and went through the wall.

The day was a bright and cloudless afternoon and the house felt empty.

“Where is he?”

“They are sleeping.”

“Doesn’t Kitty have school? How old is she now?”

“She dropped out last year. And she is sixteen now. She works at DC Burgers part time. But Mary-”

There was a crash behind a closed door, like something falling onto tile, glass.

Elder and I glided over to the sound’s destination and a door swung open on the right before I passed it and a young girl stomped out and down the hall to another closed door. I stop moving and just watch her. She bangs her fist on the door.

“Keith!” she shouted, she bangs on it again.”Keith, get your fat ass out of the bathroom! Are you messing with my stuff again!” She bangs on it again only this time she shoves open the door herself and Keith is on his hands and knees, blood on his hands, picking up the broken glass.

The girl scoffs and shoves Keith out of the bathroom and slams the door behind her.

Keith’s hands are cut with deep gashes from the glass and I can see his veins under his pale hairy skin.

I glide over to him as he lay still on the floor. I want so badly to touch him but I can feel Elder’s gaze burning into my head threatening me with images of tightly bound wrist in chains.

I restrain myself.

Keith coughs and brings himself slowly to his feet and starts towards the kitchen. I let him go and instead stare at the closed door of the room he was just evicted from.

Kitty is in there.

My baby.

She has grown so much- looks so different. Her hair is a dark-dark red and she is so pale and thin. I hear the toilet flush and Kitty comes out of the bathroom wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. That is when I get to see her face. I glided through the walls into her room and see Kitty for the first time in fourteen years. She looks just like her grandmama: little mouth, big green eyes, high cheek bones. My beautiful baby girl.

But she is sickeningly skinny now that I see her. She starts to change and I start to turn away to give her privacy but then I see a cut on her waist, and her arms and her chest. I glided over to her so fast I disturbed the air and a paper fell. She turned around and faced me head on with me only a foot away. I see the cuts more clearly now as she stares through me at the fallen paper, knowing there is no breeze in the stuffy room.

Some of the cuts are self-self inflicted. Others are-they look like battle scars.

Kitty…what have you been doing, baby.

She turns away and so do I and face Elder with a questioning look.

He shakes his head sadly and turns away as well and glides out of the room. I follow him but he has gone. He left me here alone or only made himself scarce to me.

I turn back to Kitty’s room but decided against going in. I don’t want to see those scars again.

I, instead, go into the kitchen and see Keith with a band around his arm and a needle in his hand. I stop suddenly and watch him. He stabs his arm with the vile concoction and I try- I really do try- to hold in my shriek, but I can’t, and I let it go.

Keith drops his needle and Kitty runs out of her room half dressed.

“What the hell?” she said.

“Mary?” said he.

“She’s dead, you idiot!” she yelled at him, only making me want to scream again.

“Shut up! Just shut up!” Keith yelled back, covering his ears with his hands and rocking back and fourth.

“You crazy old bastard!” she screamed.

I flinch at her language and I can feel the shriek building inside me. Kitty slams her door again and Keith sinks to fetal position and rocks back and fourth still covering his ears.

Kitty yanks her door open again and stomps down the hall into the kitchen, Kieth is blocking the refrigerator and she kicks him out of the way. And he lets her, only to roll into a ball on the floor.

It is still building, I can feel it, I know it’s coming.

“Bye, Keith,” Kitty quietly said.

Before she was out the door Keith yelled after her, “It’s all your fault!”

I’m in the box screaming until the need to scream finally ceased and all the while Elder watched me, arms folded, and leaned against the wall with a weary expression and a hint of annoyance.

“I think you underestimated the situation, Elder.”

He shrugged and continued to stare.

“What happened to their guardians?”

“She was vanquished when their world was consumed.”

“By what!” I demanded.

“By free will, darkness, bad choices. She couldn’t survive there, Mary.” he said quietly.

“Kitty…”

“Kitty is…disturbed. Keith is hopeless, He lost his mind years ago,” he said, “a broken heart will do that to a man in love…”

“He wasn’t suppose to-”

“Fate is odd sometimes, what happened has happened and you are only a spectator of these current events. You seem to forget that when you are around them.”

“What do you expect! They are my family, Elder!”

He glares at me, forcing it, I know he never wishes to threaten me unless it is truly necessary.

“They were your family, not anymore,” he said harshly, his voice cracked and I knew he wanted to hold me, heal the pain he had just inflicted upon me.

That was the first time I felt a tear stain my face.

“I want to go back.”

He sighs and waves his hand.

“I think it is time you come to the realization that they are doomed. Beautiful humans consumed by dark fate. There is nothing I can allow you to do and you are not to help them. They are not your family anymore.”

“I know that!” I hissed at him,“I just want to see them…”

He nodded his head and the walls fell away.

We stood alone in the kitchen, the house was dark and quiet, the smell was not as pungent as it had been the first night I arrived and I wondered if that was because they cleaned or I am just immune.

I glided down the hall, taking my time to ingest my surroundings. The house was still a wreak and there was a dried puddle of blood left behind in the kitchen from where Keith had lain in fetal desperation. And Kitty just left him there. I hoped fiercely that he hadn’t lost a fatal amount of blood.

I continued on to the back of the house towards the bedrooms and spotted a closed door. I went through.

The room was painted black and the walls were covered with photos; drawings tacked up; armature paintings hung.

Photographs framed.

I saw a drawing tacked and I knew immediately who the artist was. It was a drawing of Kitty and her daddy holding hands in what looked like a little garden. And there was another next to it of a dark haired woman lying in a box with red smudges on her face. My stomach knotted and I turned away it.

A photograph caught my eye and I see myself, and Keith and Kitty all squeezed together so Keith could take the picture with his free hand, the other being around my waist pulling me closer while squishing Kitty to the point where she squealed her sweet little laugh. I could hear her laugh echo in the silence of the night.

I looked away and started to leave before I saw the picture hanging across from me. It was Keith and I…our wedding-smiling happily with bright love in our eyes. I could literally see the sparkle in his eyes from where I stood and I moved closer to it. His smile was so beautiful, boyish and handsome like the last time I saw him with my living eye. And myself-with my arms wrapped around him- I have never seen myself so happy.

“Pity..” said Elder as he gazed at the photo over my shoulder.

I can’t do this.

I can’t forget my family and leave them here like this. Leave Kitty here with those marks. Leave Keith here with his pain.

I went out of the black room and into Kitty’s, she lies asleep in her full sagging mattress. Her sheets are filthy and the odor is nearly impossible to ignore. Her lamp was still on and a book was laid out over her belly. I looked more closely and found that it was her journal. I inconspicuously glanced over my should to find Elder but he was nowhere to be seen. I lifted the book, without touching it, off of her belly and flipped it over so I could scan her recent entry.

I needed to know what was going on and how this happened.

I can never forget. I will never forget. No matter what Elder said.

Dear Diary

Today is Wednesday and I can remember everything- everything from that day so many years ago. I Hate Wednesday! Why does this day have to exist. I just want to forget, but God won’t let me. Keith won’t let me. He still screams at me that it was all my fault; that I was so stupid, that I was so stupid, that I was so stupid!

Why won’t you let me forget! Or kill me yourself! I have tried so many times but I just can’t do it. The blade wont go as deep as I need it to. I need to just suck it up and do it. Keith wont miss me. He will be glad I’m dead, one less thing for him to deal with. Not that he deals with anything anymore, the crazy bastard. I want to kill him sometimes, make him feel the pain he causes me. Let him join up with Mary in hell where he belongs. They both can go to hell! Oh! It well never be Keith’s fault… it was always mine. Why did I run? Why was I so stupid! Why did you make me do that! I just want my mommy; I want my mommy; I want my mommy.

I’m sorry mommy.

I’m so sorry.

I looked up- away from the contents of the journal and into Kitty’s eyes as she sits up in her bed staring, frightened, at the floating book.

She can’t see me.

But she can see the book in the air. She watched it move as I moved to her nightstand, take her pen. She continues to stare as I write in her journal:

IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT, DARLING…

“Mary!” screamed Elder. Kitty jumped and I drop the book in her lap before I whirl around to see him facing me, a look of disgust and indignation plastered on his face. “What have you done…”

I hold my chin up.

I owe you nothing.

“Answer me!”

I hear Kitty squeal… she is trying so hard not to scream.

My brave baby.

I turn to her and reach out my hand. She does not see it, instead she turns her journal over and sees my message.

Elder clutches my wrist but I yank it out and push him away somewhere through the wall. I turn towards Kitty again and I touch her cheek gently with my hand.

Kitty looks up, her eyes widen, she touches my hand.

“Mommy…”

She sees me. A tear streams down her cheek.

“Kitty.”

She chokes on her tears which are now pouring and she tries to clutch my hand tighter but it only falls through and touches her own cheek.

“Mommy!” She squeaks. Her voice is still sweeter than sugar, easily broken by broken love. I’m sorry, baby.

Elder yanks me away from her draggingme back into his white prison.

“You have gone too far!” he bellowed

“I haven’t gone far enough!” I screamed at him, “Let me back down!”

“No, you’re done.” he glared at me. This old man I have never seen so full of hared and disgust. He looked neither hurt nor sympathetic.

“I had to do it, Elder.”

“That was not your job! You upset their fate!”

“I. Had. To.”

“And you knew your consequences…”

“She needed to know!”

“She was meant to suffer!”

My heart ached more painfully than I had ever felt, even when I was alive.

“She is a baby, Elder.”

“Babies need to suffer too.”

The ache came again.

“You… are so wrong.”

“I’m not the one going to Hell, Mary.” he looks me up and down and turns around shimmering away.

The ache in my heart is unbearable and I fall, face first, and roll onto my back clutching my chest. I hear his voice, so far away, from the day I died and so many others.

“Pity…”

“Sad…”

“Poor lady…”

“Oh my God!”

“Somebody help!”

“Mary!” Oh! Keith.

“Stand back!”

“Mommy?” Oh!

“Mary!”

“They are no longer your family, they are doomed. I think it is time you face this realization…”

“You… are so wrong.”

“I am not the one going to Hell…”

I rolled onto my side and I see Elder with the man in Red come to me take into his dread, never leaving an ounce to shed for he does not care for what is said…

“I’m already there.”

The night Mary Forester revealed herself to her daughter was the night the fate of the remaining Forester’s lives would change, for the better.

Kitty never told her father what happened that night but the weight of the blame was lifted miraculously from her shoulders enabling her to change her perspective on life and her future. The dark overcast of shame and regret simultaneously shimmered away as the bright light of love and expectations filled her cylinder.

Kitty Forester continued to work at DC Burgers but only to raise money to help her father cleanse himself, and with that cleanse her father’s mind seemed to slowly rotate back to natural reality. He no longer shouted his wife’s name nor did he scream at his daughter.

A chain reaction had been set by the brave risk Mary Forester took.

She healed her family as much as she was able to and even then the healing that she procured made a dramatic change in her husband’s life.

He changed himself, for his daughter as well as for his own well being. He was able to work into getting a degree in psychology so that he could become a mental health doctor for widows dealing with the deceased lovers.

By the time Kitty turned twenty-five she had her first child, a little girl named Mary, and a job she cherished being a social worker; working most cases involving troubled teens who lost their parents to drugs. She was married to a doctor Mathew Jade; she met him in her third year of college and couldn’t stop herself from falling in love with him.

Although Keith was clean and working again he still occasionally fell into reveries his wife and himself had made together over the years. He would hold her picture in his hand and cry tears of joy or sadness depending on the reverie that overtook his thoughts. He praised Kitty’s marriage to Mathew and was overjoyed when he was named Godfather for little Mary Jade. He loved Mary more than anything, as if she were his own baby girl. Mary seemed to be the only living being that could make Keith so happy and sedate.

Mary Forester never got to see her family after that night. She was condemned for eternity for her disobedience. But she felt the elation in her family’s lives. She knew she did what was right, and would do again without hesitation.

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Kin (short story)

The is a story I wrote for a contest recently. It is based on a song ‘s music video  “Devastator” by For Today. If you want to know if I captured in relatable contents to my story from the music video check it out for yourself and then decide.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gJHf95Iz4k

Synopsis:

 James is the only surviving brother after the end of the war in Vietnam. He finds himself unable to cope with his brothers’ death after forty years and hasn’t gone to his two brothers’ graves.  His son then persuades him to go and James reluctantly concurs. Through out his journey to the cemetery James begins to reminisce with himself about the memories he and his brothers shared together. Good and bad.

“No matter what happens, we are kin…andwe always will be.”

“No matter what.”

“Higher than brothers.”

“Higher than ourselves.”

“More than kin.”

“We are one.”

Kin

Dad, you need to do it.” my son says to me.

We are sitting out on our back porch, waiting on Mrs. McCabee to come home to me. The sun is shining today; beaming down on our heads in its haughty wrath. I love the sun but that joker makes a mess of my skin if I stay in it too long.

My son is twenty-five years old. A man in is prime. He is the oldest of three… boys: James Jr.; Victor who is twenty; and Thameson, he’s seventeen. I wanted the last one to have a more…creative name. But that boy is more ordinary than the sun itself.

Jr. (the one I am talking with) is my closest son. Almost… like a brother to me.

And that is exactly what we are talking about.

I… can’t, Jr., I can’t bring myself to go down there.” I say.

He looks at me with a mixture of sympathy and anger.

He sigh.

You’re not going to feel any better if you don’t go. Forget about what Granma and Granpa used to say. You know that none a those things were true. You deserve to be here. I’m happy you’re here-in fact- I wouldn’t even be alive if it weren’t for you. I could care less that those old folks didn’t want to see us. I don’t care, Dad. But. You. Need. To. Go.”

My hands are shaking- with age as well as nerves- because I am looking at my Jr. for the first time and seeing that he is no longer the little boy that used to play in the dirt but a man with so much more sense than his Pa that I could cry and have no problem with him seeing me.

I am so proud of him.

I shake my head.

Dad…”

No, not that,” I say, “do you know how proud I am?”

He smiles wearily at me.

Probably not. But!- your praise is not going to get you out of this.” he laughs.

I sigh and laugh a little myself because he is right.

Alright…” I say as I wipe those stubborn laughing tears away from my eyes. “

James’s face brightens and he clutches my shoulders firmly.

You are sure?” he ask.

I nod.

Do you want me to go with you?”

I think about it for a moment. It would be nice to have him along but this was something I had to do alone.

I grab his shoulder just as firmly before answering.

No, thank you, but… this is something I need to do on my own.”

He nods. His face is content but disappointed is clearly there.

You know I would love for you to come with me,” I say, “ but this has gone on for forty years. I have to go alone.”

He nods again, this time with more understanding in his eyes

You will call me if you can’t handle it.” he says. And it wasn’t a question.

I smile at him and clap him on the back.

Yes, Sir!” I laugh.

~

This is what men are supposed to do!” my father bellowed. I was nineteen at the time, my oldest brother, Scott, was twenty-two. And my youngest brother, Travis, was eighteen. We were all standing in front of our father listening toCaptain C. McCabee; veteran of world war 2, explain to us the importance of serving our country. “No sons a mine will sit around this house while there is a war going on!” We had been trying to avoid the subject for several years. It had been a few years into the Vietnam clash and at the time it seemed like it would last forever.

Pa, we could die,” said Scott as he rocked on his heels, “and you’d still have us running around out there?” Travis had been quiet the whole time and so pale mama had thought he had fallen ill. The truth was; he was afraid of Pa. So afraid he would try to do everything just right. Pa didn’t care how old we were, he’d beat us at thirty if he lived to see the day.

My Pa’s face had gone hard with anger.

You will go there,” Pa said, slowly enunciating each word, “you are gonna serve this country.”

But Scott didn’t hold back and nod like Travis would’ve done. No, Scott bared his teeth at our father and cursed him to his grave.

Pa looked at Scott with this look so horrible I was afraid he would kill his son.

Charles, I need to talk to you.” Mama said. I hadn’t even noticed she was in the room. I thought she had gone to fix supper.

Pa got up slowly and rammed his shoulder into Scott; scowling at him before he left the room with Mama.

You. Are. Crazy!” Travis hissed. He was shaking so hard I had to grab hold of his shoulder. He jumped a little before glancing to see that it was just me.

‘This boy is not going to last in the military.’ I thought.

Scott didn’t look at our brother, only at the swinging kitchen door Papa had just walked through.

I wanna kill him.” was his curt reply.

W-what?” I said. I wasn’t really surprised, just taken aback because he had the guts to say it out loud.

Hell maybe we all outta go up there,” Scott continued, “at least when we get back it would be an equal fight.” He scoffed and stomped out of the room.

“Jesus,”Travis whispered. He finally stopped shaking but he was still paler than snow. “Scott is losing it.”

I nod my head and take Travis by the wrist leading him to through the front door to find Scott. He was sitting in an old rocker our Granmama had given to us. She died some time ago but that rocking chair was still as sturdy as it was when it was new.

Scott,” I said leaning on the old white railing with my arms folded, “we all know he’s gonna make us sign up and go.”

I sighed, hating the realization in my words.

I continued.

I know… Scott?” I started feeling worried. Scared.

He looked up at me. He hadn’t really been looking at me while I was talking. Just gazing out at the hills and the sunset.

What if we don’t survive?” I asked

He shook his head.

No.” he said. “We will. We are brothers, James, we’re gonna protect each other no matter what.”

I heard they like to separate kin…” said Travis.

Where did you hear that from?” I asked.

He shrugged.

Bobby Jordan said his cousin and his brother signed up a few years ago. Said they separated them and and Bobby’s cousin’s brother died in combat.” he said quietly.

Bobby J also likes to make up stories, Travis,” Scott said, “I wouldn’t bet on that story being true. And even if it was?- I wouldn’t let them separate us.”

Travis relaxed finally, and little color returned to his cheeks.

I was about to tell Travis that I had gone to the brother’s funeral myself but Scott gave me the “Don’t you even think about it” look so I backed off.

I patted Travis on the back instead.

Boys! Suppers ready!” called Mama.

I glanced quickly at Scott and he gave me a hard look.

I shook my head slightly so that only he could see it and he raised his eyebrows at me.

He started to smile.

I didn’t.

Travis never saw our silent discussion. He was busy staring at the sunset just as Scott had been doing moments before.

I was worried about Scott; he’d been acting out with Pa and lying more often than Mama would’ve been happy with. She was one of those “True Christians”. The kind that judged everyone who didn’t believe what they believed.

I despised her more than Pa sometimes. I had seen her treat a gay couple as if they were walking shit. I had seen her treat a Negro woman like a disease.

‘Those times are over, Mama!’ I wanted to scream at her after witnessing that. I never had the gull to stand up to either one of my parents. I was ashamed of them, yes, but they were still my one way ticket to life.

But Scott- Scott was different now. Since the war started he could feel Pa’s eyes on us. He knew what he was thinking. He knew it was inevitable. Pa wouldn’t rest until he screamed “Cowards!” at us. And even that was unlikely to happen because Pa would’ve hated to announce that his seeds were cowards. That would’ve been the end of him.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that had been Scott’s plan.

Scott was clever like that.

We all walked into the kitchen to have our supper. Pa was sitting at the head of the table glaring at Scott. Mama was staring at Travis. She was just as worried as I had been.

We took our meal quietly. Careful not to make too much noise chewing or moving forks and spoons around.

Later that night Pa had us go to bed early.

Boys need to get up early and head down to the office,” he said, “see if they still taking some back up.”

I cringed when he clapped Travis on the back right before we went upstairs. It was loud and overbearingly enthusiastic.

Travis nearly fell over when the weight of his hand hit him.

Scott just kept walking, unfazed by the noise and what the clap meant.

When our door was closed Scott let us have it.

That sonofabitch!” he hissed. Throwing his shirt in the corner with vehemence.

Travis jumped. He hardly ever cursed himself and hearing it always made him start.

Keep it down!” I hissed at him, “I’m not in the mood for a beating tonight.”

He scoffed and shoved his way past me.

‘What is wrong with you?’ I silently asked.

And, as if he’d heard me, he looked over his shoulder and rolled his eyes a little before shaking his head.

I’m sorry, Trav,” he said, “I’m just so sick of this war. I’m sick of Pa encouraging death! This is ridiculous! What if I don’t want to fight!

He’ll call you a coward-” Travis started

I don’t care!” Scott cut in, “I’d be a coward with a life!”

Travis shrugged in defeat and got himself ready for bed.

After Travis left I spoke up.

Stop yelling.” I quietly said.

He was about to protest but then just decided to sit down on his bed.

Why did you lie to him?”

Because if I didn’t he’d be scared to whole time. He’d probably die of a heart attack before we get there. You saw the look on his face. He is terrified. It’s bad enough Pa is making us go but the fact that he knows Trav is that scared- and still making him go? Why do you even wonder why I hate him so much?”

You can’t just lie to him like that, Scott. He would’ve gotten over it when we got there. As for Pa? You don’t hate him, don’t say that-”

I’ve always hated him!” he laughed, “You mean to tell me you didn’t notice? Wow- I’m a better actor than I thought if I fooled my own brother. You think Trav could tell?”

I just shook my head.

It’s not funny, Scott.”

What’s not funny?” Travis had come back from the bathroom. His face was swollen and pink.

He’d been crying.

That Pa fell down the porch step a few years ago,” I lied, “Scott still thinks it’s funny but I said it’s not since Pa gashed his leg open from that.”

Scott looked at as if to say “Who’s the liar now?” and quietly walked out of the bedroom to take his turn in the bathroom.

Travis looked at me skeptically.

Alright.”

I sighed.

I never liked lying. Especially to Travis. But it felt like he always knew when we were lying. He’d give us that look as if to say “I’m not stupid, I can see the truth in your eyes.” it was a scarey thought.

But Travis just kept on staring at me.

Jesus!- will you stop that.” I laughed

Tell me the truth, James.” he said quietly.

I had almost forgotten he was eighteen. Nearly a man and no longer a child.

Trav,” I said, “do you hate Pa?”

He cocked his head and looked off in deep thought.

Then he straightened himself and looked me straight in the eye.

Yes.”

Why?”

Stupid question.

Don’t act like you don’t hate him too. I see the way you look at him. You look disgusted, sometimes downright hateful. You’re very bad at hiding your feelings, James.” he said with a bitter laugh. “Whatever though. He wants me to go to Vietnam?- I’ll go to Vietnam. It has to be better than staying here with them.”

He threw the towel he had hanging over his shoulders in the corner along with Scott’s shirt and blew out a heavy sigh.

Look at the bright side,” he said, “Scott gets to let out all that pent up anger.”

I was shocked.

I didn’t know he noticed Scott’s attitude.

But of course I’d been underestimating Travis for awhile now and it suddenly seemed a lot less surprising that he did know.

~

You’re sure you don’t want me to go?” my wife, Annalynne, says to me We have been married for twenty-seven year and I still love her to death. “It’s a long drive and we wouldn’t have to stop much if we took shifts.”

She is the sweetest woman I know. Always looking out for me; making sure I’m fed; loving me when I needed loving; cursing me out when I acted like a fool.

I love that woman more than anything but I can’t take her with me. I love her but I don’t want her to see me struggle with what I have to do. What I’ve been needing to do for forty years.

Yes, I’m sure.”

She frowns at me and takes my hand in hers.

You be strong for me, okay?”

I nod and kiss her forehead.

I pick up my bag and load it into my old friend Dellie. Dellie is my 86 Silverado. Got her a little before Jr. was born. This girl has gone through a lot with me; pot holes, broken fenders, thunder storms. I love this truck more than I’ll ever love any expensive sports car.

Be safe, James.” says Annalynne. Tears are gliding down her puffy red cheeks. I kiss her and hold her for a moment.

Where’s dad going?” I hear Thameson ask.

The grave yard.” Jr. whispers.

Oh… crap.” I hear Victor mutter.

I nearly laugh at them.

‘Am I really that bad?’ I laugh to myself.

I give each of my sons a long hug goodbye.

Be careful.” says Victor, clapping my back.

Be safe.” says Jr.

Be strong, okay?” says Thameson.

I look at him and see that worry is written all over his face.

‘How much do you know?’ I silently ask.

He blinks and I see his eyes start to well.

He is so much like Travis; so emotionally connected to his family. So smart.

I grab hold of him for another hug.

When did my sons get so grown?” I ask no one in particular.

Annalynne smiles but tries to cover it up with her fingers. I love when she does that yet I hate it because I can never see her smile. The tears are still there and I wish I could brush them off. But I know she wont let me. She loves her tears and she’d want to shed them for me.

I let go of Thameson and get into my truck.

I live in about eight hours away from DC and I have to trips: one at a warehouse to pick something up; the second at motel for sleep.

I drove down to the abandoned warehouse where my brothers and I would go to get away, share secrets, hide secrets. It was our sanctuary.

Two hours later I’m surprised to see the old building is still standing.

It has to be sixty years old now. Old brown bricks finely chipping away with age. Some of the windows were broken, gone, or just plain filthy.

But I love this building.

It holds all the secrets in my past. It holds my whole past. It holds my brothers’ past.

I rode the old elevator to the top floor; its old chains creaking with the weight of the metal box as it rose higher.

~

Hey! I found these bandanas on sale at that old Stop N Shop,” Scott said, “We can take em with us when we go in. They are red so we know who is a brother and who isn’t”

Aren’t we all supposed to be brothers?” I asked. I was sitting in an old plaid chair in the corner of the run down room on the top floor the abandon warehouse. “Military personnel and all? We have to treat them as brothers as well, right?”

Trav nodded in compliance while he sat on the floor fixing his uniform.

That doesn’t mean they are blood though, James.” Scott said a little too darkly.

I like them!” Travis burst out. He knew bad energy when it traveled the room. “It gives the three of us a personal-homey touch. And it would be nice to be able to separate my real brothers from strangers. Makes me feel better knowing we can tell each other apart.”

They would also make for fantastic targets as well.” I mutter. I never liked the idea of having red scarves hanging from our uniforms. They looked like some kind of betrayal to me.. and targets for the enemy.

What’s that, James?” Scott said with a mockishness to his tone.

I shrugged and played with my fingers.

He scoffed and tossed one of the scarves at me.

I’d love to wipe his filthy blood up with this thing one day.” He uttered. He was talking about Pa.

Travis stopped tempering with his uniform.

You may not get the chance to if God hears you say that again.” he said quietly.

God has nothing to do with my wishes.” Scott said. He tossed Travis his scarf. “He never listens to them anyway. Otherwise Pa would’ve been dead a long time ago.”

I hopped out of the chair and treadled over to the selfish bastard I called me brother.

I shoved him against the window.

You won’t get a chance to do SHIT if you die out there.” I spat at him. “You’ll never know… I may be the one to wipe you blood one day, Brother.”

He shoved me away.

And I stared at him for a moment before I left the building.

~

The elevator reaches the top floor and I walk out and head for the cupboard where most of our secret stashes had been kept. I open it and there they are. The red scarves Scott had bought for us. I burned my own a while back but I put theirs away in a place I knew where no one would find them. One of them was hard and dark from old blood.

Travis’s.

The other was spotted lightly with hard spots of old blood.

Scott’s.

I sniff away on coming sobs and tuck the scarves in my pocket.

I close the cabinet and head back to the elevator. It rumbles and shakes on its way down but I don’t care. I wouldn’t even care if it fell and killed me. But I can’t think like that. No man can think like that when they have a family at home they love so much as I do. My heart aches when I think of things like that. Death and suicide. I’m too old to be thinking about that nonsense. Sixty-six years old. If I wanted to do it I would’ve done it when I was relieved. Not after I made a family.

The elevator is down and I stride back over to my car. Dellie sits there in the hot sun waiting patiently for me to drive when I’m ready. I stick the key in the ignition and continue on towards DC cemetery.

~

Move! Take some damn cover, marines!” Captain Gain shouted at us. “Jesus they gave me all the idiots!”

We were being shot at by men I didn’t recognize. I couldn’t bring myself to move or shoot. But Scott seemed to be having a field day.

He was shouting and cursing and hooting and hollering and gloating. He was having too much fun murdering Man.

Travis would stick with me and only shoot when necessary. He protected me. Which shocked me at first because Scott and I had been worried that we wouldn’t be able to even get him on the plane. He was brave though. Braver than Scott. Unlike Scott Travis didn’t enjoy murdering people. He made sure every man he shot moved on with his eyes closed.

I don’t want there spirits floating around preying for revenge.” He’d told me.

I had only shot a few men and with each one it took me a long time before I was able to shoot another. Even longer a time before I didn’t care anymore. Unfortunately that time didn’t come until after I shot a little girl in the head. Because we were told to eliminate all civilians in the village. I cried that nigh in our camping barracks, silently but the tears were there. Travis saw me shoot the girl and made me go back with him to close her eyes. He sat on the edge of my bed with his hand on my shoulder trying to calm me and barely succeeding. I felt like a coward for shooting her. But she would’ve been killed anyway. There were too many brothers covering the area for her to escape.

I grew used to it though. Killing innocence; planting bombs; signaling air strikes. I grew to become more and more like Scott. And that scared me more than being shot at. All those years we were there with short vacations that we never used to visit home and then we would have to go right back and be the murders we pretended not to be.

We were in a jungle at one point. A very random place for an area that was mostly city and desert. But we were there. It was hard to see around the leaves and the trees. We were looking for a campsite that held some kind of nuke or an airstrike. I don’t remember. I only remember what happened in the process.

Travis was leading our group, he had been promoted to Sergeant not too long before our mission so he too Captain Gain’s place while Gain led a special task force. Why they didn’t have the honor of pursuing this quest was beyond me and still is.

The campsite was guarded by a large tan brick wall. We heard distant voices and assumed they were in the tents so we moved up a little faster. Never assume anything in the middle of a battle field. Especially when it’s quiet and empty. Travis let a lower rank check the corner before we moved in to the base. The marine was shot in the chest by I Vietnamese man with large shot gun. Travis shouted to everyone to open fire and we did.

The man shot Travis in the throat before another marine got him in the head.

It felt like time slowed down when I saw Travis falling to the ground, blood pouring out of his neck and his eyes rolling back into his head. He fell to the ground with a wet splat.

Keep moving, McGee!” Shouted another marine. He got my name wrong but I knew he was yelling at me.

I stepped over my brother’s body and helped clear the base. When it was clear and me succeeded I ran back to Travis. He was already dead though. I don’t know why I expected him to be laying there smiling up at me. His neck was practically hanging on by a thread attached to his body. I screeched something horrible right then. Another marine, Private Thomas, ran to me.

Oh…” was all he could say and then he backed away. I know I had to move, we were lying in the open in front of the hole in the wall. I knew I would’ve been an easy target. But I didn’t care. I took my time. His eyes were wide open so I closed them. We killed the man that killed him so there was no need for further revenge. I took the the red scarf off of his belt loop and held it to his neck. A reminder that this is his blood on his scarf, that his his own blood was shed during this ridiculous battle. I put the scarf in my pocket and got back to my feet- face stoic and ready to get back to work.

Travis L. McCabee

KIA

19670

Vietnam

~

I made it there in a blink of an eye it seems. I hadn’t expected the cemetery to be so big, and full. I wonder around the tombstones looking for his name. It looks like it’s not in any particular order so I really have to hunt for it.

I should have gone to the funeral when I had the chance.

I couldn’tbring myself to go though. Not to his funeral. Not to either one of their funerals. I didn’t want to be the last brother standing. The one that others would pity and probably shame for not committing suicide like a normal survivor.

That never made sense to me; why suicide was the answer to all the former military man’s anguish.

Why not love?

Why not peace?

We killed for seven years. Heartless bloodshed and murder. Killing children and women. I was glad to be released. I would’ve shot myself if they had kept me for the remaining years.

I scour the field with heartfelt determination. I’m not leaving until I find their graves. I owe them that much. In some ways I felt like Travis died for me. As if he steppe in front of the gun to protect me. And maybe he did. But I know he was protecting everyone, he treating everyone like his brother. He protected them just as much as he protected me. He never even bothered Scott almost as if he wanted him to get shot but I knew that wasn’t the case either, he just knew that Scott could take care of himself. At least for that time being.

Scott lasted as long as I thought he would, but he died in a way the surprised me. I thought there would be a lot more blood.

I don’t remember where he was when Travis was killed. Probably somewhere miles away shooting random villagers. He liked that part for some reason. Maybe because whenever he shot an older man he felt like he was shooting Pa. The smile on his face proved that much.

I nearly trip over his grave, Travis’s. I was so caught up in my head that I stopped looking. But here it is.

Sergeant Travis L. McCabee

Soldier, brother, beloved son, and honored war hero.

KIA, Vietnam, 1970

I have never seen a tombstone look so wrong in my life, but I sat his scarf in front of the stone and placed a large rock on top of it.

I say the words of our prayer; voiced aloud for the wind to hear me, for my brother to hear me:

“No matter what happens, we are kin…we always will be.”

“No matter what.”

“God cannot separate us”

“He cannot destroy this bond.”

“He cannot taint our blood with evil.”

“Kill our song.”

“We cut the palms of our brothers hood.

“Press them together…”

“Face to Face.”

“We bellow the words so that you can here.”

“We are higher than brothers.”

“Higher than kin.”

“Higher than ourselves.”

“More than kin.”

“We are one.”

“Until the end…”

I open my eyes to find my vision blurry and burning. I’m crying, for the first time in twenty years I shed more tears for my little brother Travis.

I get up off the ground with little difficulty and start for the next grave.

~

It had been several days before I saw Scott again. I hated that I had to wait so long to tell him. I begged the tellers not to send word to Scott because I wanted to tell him myself in, in person. It felt like years had passed instead of days. When I saw him he was… bigger. He carried an M16 on his shoulder and walked with the air of proud man.

It took all that I had to keep myself from gagging.

I was surprised he couldn’t see the wariness in my face. The tightness of my lips, the tensity in my shoulders. He just smiled and grabbed me up in an aggressive bear hug.

He slapped my back with a heavy hand.

“What’s up, Brotha!” he said so loudly I was pretty sure he’d been drinking.

‘Great!- the day I tell my older brother that his youngest brother is dead it has to be a day when he is stoned!’ I thought.

“We need to talk,” I said, he tried to protest but I already had him by the elbow and dragged him to an empty barrack.

He yanked his elbow out of my hand.

“What the hell is the matter with you?”

“Shut up for a second.” I said plainly, “I need a minute.”

Scott let out a long sigh before settling himself on a bed.

I glared at him for a moment. Looking in his eyes to see if he knew. He looked at me in a way that said “What do you want weirdo?” and crossed his arms.

He really didn’t know. Which was good that meant the tellers hadn’t given him the message.

But it irritated me that he couldn’t tell that something is wrong.

‘Had it really been so long that he couldn’t read me anymore?- feel the loss of a close kin?’ I thought.

“Travis.” was all I said and I saw Scott’s face turn a deadly white.

Then he turned red.

“You don’t know that.” he muttered so quietly I hardly heard him. “He could be MIA.”

“I was there, Scott.”

He jumped off the bed and got in my face.

“You LIE!” he spat at me.

“Why would I lie about this?” I was so calm I knew it bothered him.

“You were supposed to protect him! Why did you let that happen? You know he was scared to even come here and you leave him for those assholes? What the fuck is wrong with your stupid little head! Why did you let that happen? Why did you let it?”

He kept asking that question but more to himself than to me.

He started to cry and dropped to his knees.

I can’t talk to Scott while he cries. We both (Travis and I) knew that nothing got through to him when he was upset. So got down on my knees and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. I let his tears fall on my should. Staining that one spot on my right shoulder permanently with salty water.

It took him awhile to get himself together. I had to wave a few of our brothers away, they knew what was happening and understood. They left us alone and guarded the door.

When Scott finally got himself together he took out his scarf and cleaned his face. There were still stains on his face but I didn’t bother to tell him that.

He’d wash his face later anyway.

He looked up at me his eyes were red and puffy and his face was also red. The green of his eyes looked like bleeding grass.

I let him go and he slouched against a bed.

“What happened?” he asked.

“He was shot in the throat, with a shot gun.” I said matter-of-factually.

He shook his head.

“Where were you?”

“I was several feet behind him.”

“Why weren’t you next to him?”

“I didn’t need to be.”

“Apparently you did because he dead now!” he scowled at me.

“Don’t put this burden on my shoulders.”

“It’s your fault.”

“He didn’t need me to protect him!”

“Yes he did! He was scared-”

“He was never scared! He protected me and a whole platoon! He was a freaking leader, Scott!”

“Who the Hell gave him that job?” he said in a voice so high I laughed.

“I have no idea.” I laughed.

“This isn’t funny.”

“No. But it is ironic.”

He thought about it for a moment.

“We-we should probably stop estimating people’s abilities.” he said quietly.

I started laughing so hard I cried and Scott laughed right along with me. We looked like two fools laughing at something no one else would understand. But to me it felt like we were young again. When we used to make various unstable forts and challenge each other with who could tell the grossest ghost stories in the middle of the night. Hiding in the fields when Pa was in a bad mood. Talking about how ridiculous the girls were in our high school. We even dared Scott to date a girl named Tabitha Tabbs. They only dated for a week because Tabitha claimed Scott was a pervert. Scott was grounded for a month but we still had fun with him; made jokes, shared stories about our own personal experiences.

It felt like we were home again.

I told Scott everything Travis did for us, about the way he treated the dead, what he did for me after I shot a little girl.

Scott listened to all of my tales in silence and with a small smirk on his face occasionally.

“Alright so he had spunk, I get it.” he laughed.

I nod in agreement.

There was a loud knock on the door.

“Get up! It’s time to move out!” said a booming voice.

We stared at each other for a moment. We knew we were going to be separated again. Scott fought on another level and for different reasons. He had been moved up early and so we hardly ever had missions together.

We said our fair wells and until next times and left the barracks as if nothing valuable had passed.

Back to work.

Back to murder.

~

It is getting late, sunset isn’t too far off and I suddenly wish that I had brought one of my sons with me. I’m starting to feel the ache of loneliness that I had predicted might come if I came here alone. I thought I was prepared for it but I can hardly say that I am. My feet and back are aching and I’m sweating like a man hard at work. I brought a bottle of water with me but it is about half empty now.

I start to think about the moment I came home, after I served my time.

My parents were notified about my brothers’ deaths. They were disappointed that neither of the deaths were mine. I was nothing to them my whole life; like dust in the crannies of corners. My mother cried and cursed Jesus while my Pa yelled at me and blamed me for their sons’ demise. I took it all in calmly before I spat the truth at them. I told Pa about how much Scott and Travis hated him; about how Scott even planned on killing him when he got back. I told Ma that I despised her just as much as Travis despised Pa. I told them I didn’t give a shit about what they thought about me and that I tried me best to serve this damn country.

Pa had hit me so hard I fell and Ma screamed at me to never bring my useless ass back to their property again. Pa said that if I did they would shoot me dead and let the crows have me afterwords. They said all of that to me while I was down. After I left them I kept telling myself that they were just upset and that they handled grief differently. I did too. But when I went back a few weeks later Pa aimed a rifle at me. I hadn’t recognized him with that weapon in his hands, aimed at me. I thought he was a stranger who wanted me off his land. I was wrong. It was Pa and Ma was right behind him yelling at me and flipping filthy gestures. I held my hands high in surrender and left their property for good.

I haven’t been back there since. I sent them letters telling them that they have grandchildren but they never wrote me back. But I kept at it.

~

A year after Travis’s death Scott and I finally had a task together. It was a seemingly simple task all we had to do was clear out a warehouse the enemy was using as a sniping tower. Scott was back to his usual cocky trigger happy self and I was just…me. It still hurt to kill but I had gotten so used to it that I did it automatically. Like blinking.

The building was fairly empty save the six guys we eliminated on the first through third floors. There were eight floors. We took our time, acting silently and stealthy. Scott looked like a born hunter the way he moved was too graceful for a man who had to have training. He was so quiet that if I fell behind I would have a hard time finding him again. But of course all I had to do was follow the bodies. He was ahead of me by a floor. I lagged behind to watch our backs. My heart was pounding the whole time. I was expecting someone to jump out and blow my head off.

When I finally made it to the top floor with Scott he held up his left hand signaling me to stop. There was a man at the window with a sniper in his hands. Scott was observing him; sensing his senses. The man was leaning on his left leg so that told him that his left side was dominate. He could hear better with his left side.

Scott approached the man almost casually and made a quick pst sound before he smashed the guys skull in and shot him in the head.

Again tried not to gag.

My brother was murder machine. Cold and skillful.

He leaned out the window to check the rest of the area and suddenly his head lurched all the way back and he felt to the floor with sickening thud.

My mouth fell open and I nearly fell to the floor.

I rushed over to my brother as quietly as I could crouching so that whoever shot him wouldn’t shoot me too. But when I got him I saw that there was a hole in his forehead that obviously went through is skull and out the back.

A silent rifle.

I radioed my Captain and explained to him what happened.

“Christ- have you people ever heard of duck and cover?”

“JUST SEND US SOME FUCKING HELP!” I couldn’t yell but my voice cracked when I said that.

He said he was sending help right away.

Three other men were shot down by the same silent rifle. There were only four when they made it to the top floor. They froze when they saw who it was that I was holding in my arms.

Private Kennedy was the one that shot down the rifler and called in a pick up for us.

I thanked him and he nodded. I saw the pity in his eyes, I knew it was in every single one of heir eyes so I didn’t look at either one of them.

I let them carry my brother out in a body bag and place it in the helicopter.

I had taken his scarf before they got to us. I dabbed at the tendrils of blood that glided down his wound. I put it in my pocket it and walked away with my brothers.

I had no more kin. But I still had my brothers.

~

I found Scott’s grave under a young elk tree. It read only:

RIP

Scott K. McCabee

Honored war hero

KIA, Vietnam, 1971

My parents must not have gone to his funeral to arrange for the words to be put on his stone.

I sigh and place the scarf in front of his stone not unlike I did with Travis’s except I didn’t say the prayer.

Instead I say “I told you so” and pat his grave soil. “Pa would’ve been proud though, right?”

I laugh bitterly and walk back to Dellie.

The stars are out thought it’s not quite dark yet. A gentle breeze is gliding through the air, kissing my cheeks and flailing my beard. I spread my arms and embrace the wind letting tears fall free from their cage.

I have done it.

After forty years I have finally come to my brothers’ graves.

And survived. Just like I survived when I was in there.

I hop inside my trunk and make my way back home feeling content and happy. I felt joy that I thought I could only feel when my sons were born.

When I finally reach home it is Wednesday afternoon and my son, Thameson, is sitting on the porch with a letter in his hands.

I get out of my truck and walk over to him. He gets up by stays where he is.

“This came for you yesterday,” he says, “says its from a Mrs. Talia McCabee. That’s Granma’s name, right?”

I gently take the letter from his hands.

I wonder why she hadn’t just called or emailed.

Just like the old fashioned hag I knew before. Ninety-three years old and still doesn’t want to use a computer.

I shake my head.

“Yep… that would be her.”

“You want me to read it?”

“No, I don’t mind,” I say, “who knows it might be an apology.”

Thameson feels the bitterness in my tone and scrunches up his face.

“How did it go?” he asks instead.

I smile.

“I feel better for going, at ease in a way. Content. Happy.”

He places his hand gently on my shoulder.

So much like Travis is he.

He smiles at me.

“You did an amazing thing,” he says, “I’m proud of you and so is everyone else. They are out getting you a congratulations cake.”

We laugh at this and shake our heads.

“Really? That wasn’t supposed to be a secret now was it?”

He blushes and shrugs.

I shake my head and let out a short laugh.

“Go ahead and unload my bag, I want to read this.”

“Sure.” he says and gives me a quick hug.

I sit on the step and open the letter.

Its script is written in delicate curly hand but fairly large print all the same.

This was definitely hand written by my mother.

Dear…James,

I know it has been a long long time since we’ve spoken and I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to ball up this letter and burn it but I have to tell you. It’s only right and you deserve to know. Your father passed away a few days ago. Died in his sleep. I woke with a dead man in my bed, James. Do you know how scary that is?

Anyway, I’m writing to let you know there’s going to be a service for him this weekend 10 o’clock on the dot. I would love to see those kids of yours. Though I’m sure they are practically grown men by now. I know you must think I’m an awful woman and I don’t blame you in the least but please come to the service. I need you there. I need the family.

I know it was wrong for us to treat you the way we did and I know these sound like empty words to you but I truly do mean it. I am so sorry!

I hate that your father’s death brought me to writing this so so much. I know I wouldn’t even try to get in touch with you if he were still here now (well at least she’s honest) but I need you hear with me. I don’t want to be alone.

Please think about it.

With all my love

Mama

I ball up the piece of paper and toss it to the side. Not out of hate but just because. I wondered if Pa would’ve reached out to me like she had if she had been the one to die instead.

Probably not but a guy can dream.

I laugh under my breath and shake my head. Thameson is on his way up the walkway with my bag and my keys.

“What’s it say?” he asks.

I smile at him.

“You wanna meet your Granma?”