Dawn in Denton is as red as a dawn after any number of greater battles that take place inside my brother. The sun slants in through the bare and glassless windows with a post-bomb quality. Music echoes up flat and reverberating through the floor from the empty rooms at the bottom of the stairs. The mattress on the floor is stained bloody and rusted. The room is heavily scented with copper.
And so it was the miller told his tale…
I sit up slow and call for Brad. It feels like my whole body was stuffed into my head the night before, and slowly extracted with a set of tongs. I cycle through a rapid course of nausea and annoyance that he would play this song, of any song to choose from, in all the world, so reminiscent of my father.
As I creep down the stairs in bare feet, I think I might find him waltzing with some lesser-known part of himself, or drowsing in some fantasy peppered by the light of 1964 that spills inward to the house we gutted together. Halfway down, the song begins again. I hear the lever moving on the record player, resetting time, giving the world an extra 3 minutes while Brad works out his shit.
At the bottom of the stairs, Brad looks up at me from the floor, his back against the wall, his hands resting on the piles of bricks around him that once made a moderately nice fireplace. A cigarette hangs from his teeth, and he plucks it from his mouth and drops it on the floor. His shirt is white and long-sleeved and graced with the three buttons he likes to leave open. He stands and without speaking kisses me and sobs into my mouth.
His mouth is soft from a night spent bending it with crying and biting it in worry. It’s moist and hot from his indignation. His tongue presses against the back of his bottom teeth before he can bring himself to say my name, softening the delivery of the sound of my V.
Fuck you, Evie.
He can’t look at me, and time would force him to admit later, in a waking world, that it was because he’d seen my collarbone force it’s way out of my neck the night before, when I committed suicide by jumping from the roof of my apartment. He leaves, his sobs held tight in his fists, and I’m left inside him, looking for something I don’t know the name of.
When it comes to me, it’s Andy that brings it, laying on the horn of his Jeep and spraying stones into the doorway with his fast and deeply-cut parking job in front of the house. The engine settles into the silence between the record resetting again, and I’m changing my clothes with things I can find on the floor in a pile.
A gray shirt that’s Grady’s by smell. Clyde’s jeans. A red sweater with leather patches on the sleeves I think must’ve been Adam’s or maybe Jim’s. These are a few of my favorite things.
Have all of my bloody clothes, Brad.
Maybe all your clothes are bloody, Andy teases.
Andy moves through the hot hail of any non-specific nightmare, convincing you of truths that will never make sense in the daylight. I feel loyal to him in an instant, concerned for his feelings and fearful of his injury. The face of any soldier in any nightmare might be his, because Andy is always the boy you knew who...
His glasses are framed black and heavy, and his vaguely greenish shirt and army fatigues are officially what every military goth boy struggled to make authentic, tucked regulatory and without sarcasm into the tops of his boots. It’s to him I have an unspoken and immediate connection when I see him, echoing off of every stupid thing I say; the truth he’s bred in me, in my dreams. Unreasonable, deeply sweet and sexual, cloying and innocent. The first time I fell in love, distilled into a strange fragment of Brad with black hair and yielding arms.
How you been, Andy? (Dieforyoudieforyoudieforyou).
He’ll stand silent, and you’ll never know his name, but you’ll love him in a heavy moment, man or woman, boy or girl, throbbing cunt or hard cock, all at once with a touch of his hand or the way you share a look. Andy could convince me we were born the same, in every life the same, and do it in the span of 5 seconds. He’ll take my hand, in the dark hailstorm of the first overcast night, and remove the constricting need for permission from my heart, heated ghost kiss after hallucinatory ghost kiss.
Dontcha know me, Andy? Dontcha know me at all?
Always know you, Sparks.
We crawl under the leaves together, to somewhere dim and green-lit, where the smell of the soil and something rotting fills the heat of a sunny afternoon. On our elbows, me and Andy, we crawl toward a dark and cool place, and I follow him, my heart pounding, because he’s the first boy I ever loved.
I laugh at him and tell him a joke I know.
You know what’s weird? Sometimes I forget if I’m Tracy, or if I’m Dean.
Andy laughs. He laughs silent and hard, rolling onto his back so I can see the smears of mud and dry potting soil clung to his shirt. He laughs until he’s out of breath.
Don’t laugh at me, Andy.
We play army men, crawling low until we’re hidden deep under the porch, and the knowledge that this being a children’s game is for my benefit, and not his. Adam, somewhere covered in ashes. Brad, somewhere covered in soil.
What’s high school like, Andy?
A pristine building, beige stucco, California mission design. The floors are tiled mesa red, the lockers are medium adobe-sky blue. Flyers decorate heavy every available bulletin board. Banners run the length of the halls that read, “UNDER THE SEA: MARCH 18th” in alternating blues and greens, stuck with glitter and tissue-stuffed fish and sprays of crepe that wave slow as seaweed when someone passes. Every girl in her uniform finding new and better ways to make it her own with a rolled waistband, a visible red bra strap, a pair of giant hoop earrings.
He cups his chin with his dirty palms under the porch amid the spiders.
It’s alright, I guess.
Andy wears his blazers with the school crest with no complaints. He puts his glasses on each morning and disappears into the swarms of people with more money than him. He’s there by virtue of his intelligence and his quick charm when he met the headmaster. Andy knows how to hide, and a private school locker room is a hell of a lot safer than a public one. He slips the blazer on his shoulders and straightens his tie and crushes in his pocket a nervous handkerchief, folded sharp to lay flat inside the realm of his secrets.
D-did y. You know I used to s. Tammer?
I shake my head and imagine myself in the gold light of the halls of his school. I find a stalk of hard grass and put it in my mouth. He does the same. The grass beneath the porch is pale and sunless, like the long legs of unburied spiders.
He nods and laughs and his laugh becomes the parts of him I cannot see, the parts that his adulthood has erased. There, was a whip-smart boy trapped behind a mouth that wouldn’t work, and then speech-therapy and singing in the choir erased it and he never let the world forget all the things he never got to say before. Not me. Not Dean. Not Charlotte. Not anyone.
What was it like, when they called your number?
From above, there is a hard slam onto the boards of the porch, and grit rains down on us. Andy covers his head with his arms, making a fleshy mobius of protection. I look up, get sand in my eyes, blink rapidly and tear up with it, before Andy notices and slams my face into the dirt.
They say all men at war become brothers. What they don’t say is that inevitably, some will be older, and some will be younger.
I don’t thank him. I don’t say sure thing, Andy. I don’t feel angry that my nose aches dull against the cold ground. I don’t feel afraid. I just hold still, and breathe as softly as I can, until my heart is pounding and my lungs burn. I don’t move until I hear Andy move. It’s 10 seconds longer than I would’ve stayed still for, and I remember that. In my heart, I remember to wait 10 seconds longer, to show our baby brother we haven’t met yet.
When he rises, his eyes steel to the horizon and the boy inside vanishes, returns, vanishes again. Andy knows the same edges to dance on. Andy sees all the cities from above. The ground smells damp and mineral, and the warmth makes me feel safe, but raises a wet chill at the base of my spine. He dips his head again and I’m lost again between the spaces of this memory, laid over so many lives.
Did Adam really save me, or fail to, again and again in lives out of memory? Or was it only once, Red? One time, remembered always, in echoes strong enough to change the shape of things?
You only live once, right? Densely, in thin layers that flake away in the worn places; that get picked off like scabs and underneath are other lives, bleeding, still fresh. I don’t know...what I’m saying, really. Just that Andy lives forever, and I watch him, always, drop his head again and tell me what it was like for him the night they called his number, and I sing to him in dreams.
Andy is a boy.
Andy is a man.
Andy kisses boys and girls
Just to show he can.
Andy goes to school.
Andy goes to war.
Andy won’t come home again
So what’s the kissing for?
Andy learns to pray.
Andy learns to run.
Andy kisses God goodbye.
Andy gets his gun.