Nicole Sarrantonio is the former co-editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Fragments and has experience writing poetry and short stories. She has written copy for websites and has been published in a few small anthologies. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @vivalanik.
What Brothers Do
We sat on the roof, backs pressed up against the side of the house. The sun was setting behind the trees and its golden light filtered through the leaves. We were quiet, partially because we didn’t want to get caught and partially because we had nothing to say.
We passed the joint back and forth: inhaling, holding, exhaling. I looked at him from the corner of my eye. I almost said something, but I caught myself. We could sit for hours in silence, but as soon as we spoke, it got uncomfortable. I couldn’t ask him anything and he never cared about what I had to say, so we just sat.
I had enough, and I let him finish the joint while I looked out across the backyard. It was completely surrounded by trees, their leaves leaking chlorophyll and slowly slipping from their branches. The yellow-brown grass below was peppered with small birds pecking through the dirt.
The smoke around us cleared and I stared at my brother. He turned to me. “What?” “Nothing,” I said, biting my bottom lip. We looked away from each other. “Mom wants to send you away, you know. She thinks you need help.”
He coughed. “Oh?”
“I tried to talk her out of it, but she was set on it.”
“I could tell her the truth. It was my fault anyway.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I could. I-”
“Don’t worry about it.”
We fell silent. I inhaled the scent of cool air, fallen leaves, and feathery smoke, chewing on my fingernail. I wished that I could leave and take my brother with me. Because of me, his life as he knew it was over. It wasn’t fair, but I knew better than to tell him that. He wouldn’t want to hear it.
It was dark, maybe midnight, maybe later. My brother and mother were asleep. The front door slammed. The stairs creaked under his heavy, uneven footsteps. I cracked open my door and watched him pause at the landing. He looked up, eyes dark and shiny, and noticed me in the doorway. He stomped over, roaring and pounding. I brought you into this world, I can take you out.
His outstretched hands grasped for a hold on my small frame. I slipped under his arm. He was angry, unsteady. I saw an opportunity. I took it. My arms moved on their own. His off-balanced body did the rest. He fell head over heels over head.
I stepped backwards and bumped into my brother. I looked up at him, shocked and relieved. We breathed. He didn’t.
We called 911. It was an accident, we said. He fell. They came, took his body, and left. No questions, just an old drunk who got what was coming to him.
Our mother knew better. She confronted us, already knowing, she thought, the truth. She pressed and pressed, and my brother confessed. He recounted every detail. Except one. He became the monster after the monster instead of me.
She didn’t look at him after that.
The sun fell lower in the sky, casting purple shadows over the backyard. Goosebumps formed on my bare arms where the breeze brushed past and I pulled my knees up to my chest, shivering. I knew I didn’t have much longer with him, so I sat there despite the chill. In the morning, he would be gone and we wouldn’t have another moment like this for a long time.
It was completely dark by the time I worked up the courage to ask him the question.
“Why did you lie for me?”
He was silent for a while, either thinking or too high to think.
“It’s what brothers do.”