Summer 2010 - THE POTOMAC

The Boy's Brother Tells the Boy's Mother
   Laura McCullough

           Mom, you have to come and get me now. You have to come. Something’s happened. They took me out of class. Do you know yet? Do you?
            He’s holding the cell phone in front of his face. Its pinging noises announce text messages coming in.
            He hears her say, I was in a meeting. I just turned my phone back on.
            Oh, God, Mom.
            He hears her say what to someone else, someone’s who’s walked up to her. He flashes on the scene. He’s been in her office. He can see her in her chair, imagines the person who’s walked in. He hears the other person say his mother’s name, and it’s as if she’s not his mother, but some strange woman on the phone. He hears his mother’s mouth, like she’s chewing food. Hears her say, Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus.
            He is standing in the office of his vice principal at the middle school. The vice principal is looking at him from a lowered face, a grim set to his mouth and jaw. He says to the principle, she knows.
            Later, at home in his room, he feels he has escaped something. He lays in bed, although he will not sleep for a long time yet. In fact, it’s early, and there are many people downstairs with his mother and father. And a lot of noise. People are talking. They’ve been talking for hours.
            He lays his hand on the cool wall. It’s a very pale blue, lighter than he’d wanted when they’d repainted, but his mom insisted dark colors make a room smaller. He thinks the lightness makes it feel cooler, but he knows this isn’t true. This is the wall between his and his brother’s room. He thinks he can feel the absence. He knows this isn’t true. Then he thinks, I know my brother’s actually in there, and none of this has happened. I know this. It’s all okay.
            He removes his palm just a millimeter from the wall. He thinks there is a moist heat there now from his hand. Transferred from his body to the surface.
            He thinks about what might be left of his brother’s body on the surface of the gym floor. The shining expanse of it, whether it’s porous, whether anything of his brother remains, invisible to the eye, his DNA, some molecules of him.
            He is supposed to go to the high school next year, a freshman. That will be his gym. He’ll be expected to walk there, play ball there. X marks the spot, he thinks. This is where your brother died. Pass me the ball. Pass me the goddamned ball.

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