I sat in the kitchen with the pale winter sun on my back. It was Sunday, almost lunch time, and I was rolling one up for my older brother Shane, my then girlfriend Jess, and me—first of the day.
The air outside had turned dry and bitter cold. The frost had painted a mosaic across the large windows of our little house that would last until early March. Shane sat beside Jess in the adjoining living room. Randy, Shane’s son, four at the time, was visiting for the weekend. He lay in our bedroom watching cartoons. When he poked his head into the hallway, I furtively stopped and folded my hands. Shane acknowledged him with a cocked eye and a snarl, an act that when combined with his deep orbitals and hawkish nose was cinematically terrific. Randy retreated, his blanket fluttering like a cape as he turned. Then we heard the bathroom door shut.
Our bathroom was heated by a single vent about a foot above the floor. We kept a little plastic chair in front of the vent so whenever Randy was there he could sit himself in front of it with his blanket wrapped around him. Whenever someone walked in on him, he would storm out with his blanket around his shoulders like a cloak and this injured expression on his face.
Jess looked at Shane as if to say she didn’t understand him—never had and never would.
I can’t remember how the argument started. All I know is I was rolling and Shane was saying something from his chair and bothering me and I hated it when he bothered me while I was trying to roll.
I said something. After twenty-odd years, we were professional provocateurs, could split the rind with a word and really gouge the meat. He went straight to the kitchen and pulled a flimsy metal spatula from the drawer. I wrote it off as posturing and lowered my attention back down to the table.
The whip-like crack of metal striking flesh radiated throughout the house and startled Jess. I stood dumbstruck. Shane stood in front of me, grinning, and then pointed at my forehead. I felt the welt rise and warm to a light burning. Then I charged at him.
I drove him to the corner of the kitchen, where we grappled briefly. Jess yelled. And then Shane laughed. He didn’t say anything specific. He just laughed, and I think it was his face when he laughed that triggered me. It was shiny and loud and he was laughing at me in a ridiculing sort of way, and so I grabbed him by the shoulders and twisted him—just shoved one shoulder and yanked the other—thinking once he was off-balance I would take him to the floor and lean on him until he learned his lesson. Instead he went limp in my hands. Instinctively I clutched and lowered him slowly, and I saw that his right foot was facing the wrong direction. Jess came to my side and helped me to ease him down. “Is it broken?”
Shane remained silent. His face was pale but calm.
“Let’s get him to the car,” I said.
Jess and I each wrapped one arm around his back and the other beneath his calves. Shane held his own foot steady. We somehow managed to open doors. When Jess asked if she should come with us, I told her she should probably stay home with Randy, who was still in the bathroom, oblivious. There was no telling how long we’d be gone.
At the hospital they immediately wheeled Shane into a separate room. He had become mute and had broken out in a sweat. A nurse came in with a pair of scissors and cut carefully up his right pant leg, through the waist band, and then down his left. She had him hold his right leg steady as she removed what remained of his pants. His boxers were wet, but we didn’t call attention to it. She told him she was going to give him a shot of Demerol, said he was going to vomit. While he held his leg she rolled him slightly onto his side, pulled down his shorts and injected him. As she withdrew the needle his face went goofy. Then he leaned over and vomited on the floor. The nurse called for an orderly to come clean it up.
Whenever I try to pin down when things really turned for Shane, his point of no return, I always come back to that first winter when we all lived together on the back mountain. No surprise it’s something I did to him. It always is, really. Trouble is I don’t know if I’m ultimately to blame or not, like if I’m the cause or just an effect, if that makes sense, if that even matters. If it does, it doesn’t change anything, certainly doesn’t change how it feels. It feels like winter, feels like death. That first winter was supposed to be his fresh new beginning.
We watched as Shane squirmed like a baby, innocent and unaware of where he was or what was going on, unaware they would transport him in his wet shorts to another hospital before deciding not to do surgery because the breaks were clean, twin spiral fractures; they would instead cast him in plaster all the way to his hip for nine painful months. Unaware of what had been introduced to his blood, unaware that the worst wasn’t behind him.
When the orderly arrived, he stopped short and gazed at me with this bizarre expression. He had these dark, round eyes and this messy haircut that made him look like a baby bird. “You have a mark,” he said and pointed at my forehead. He used his index finger to trace a square on my skin. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, of course,” I said, not remembering a thing.
Chris Cascio's writing and visual art has appeared in The Southampton Review, Sand, Northern Virginia Review, Peregrine Journal, Longridge Review, The Loch Raven Review, Litro USA, Mikrokosmos, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Larchmont, NY.