Iowa Writes

KATE MARSHALL
Tonight


       Tonight, my brother takes me to his dealer's house where we grill cheeseburgers in the moonlight.  My brother owes him, and I'm the final payment.  The alternative is too awful to contemplate.  Smoke rolls down from the wild fire raging in the foothills.  It's a full moon, but the light is filtered as though we're peering through fogged up glasses. 
       I study my brother—the widow's peak that underscores the wavy coastline of his forehead, his chestnut hair and matching eyebrows, the crater from an old cut at the base of his chin.  He pinches his left ear lobe like he does when he's nervous, and gives me a tentative smile.  He shares our father's eyes and soft mouth.  He's a first class athlete, my brother, with his tight, smooth muscles and quick reflexes on the track.  People have said for years that he's a young man of promise.  But he has a big appetite and he's not in training tonight.  He's on his fifth beer, while I pretend to sip my water. 
       We're only five years apart.  He's barefoot and wearing cutoffs and a tee.  I still inhabit my white lab coat from work.  My brother could always afford to be casual about everything including his appearance.

       Tonight, my brother takes me to his dealer's house where we grill cheeseburgers in the moonlight.  My brother owes him, and I'm the final payment.  The alternative is too awful to contemplate.  Smoke rolls down from the wild fire raging in the foothills.  It's a full moon, but the light is filtered as though we're peering through fogged up glasses. 
       I study my brother—the widow's peak that underscores the wavy coastline of his forehead, his chestnut hair and matching eyebrows, the crater from an old cut at the base of his chin.  He pinches his left ear lobe like he does when he's nervous, and gives me a tentative smile.  He shares our father's eyes and soft mouth.  He's a first class athlete, my brother, with his tight, smooth muscles and quick reflexes on the track.  People have said for years that he's a young man of promise.  But he has a big appetite and he's not in training tonight.  He's on his fifth beer, while I pretend to sip my water. 
       We're only five years apart.  He's barefoot and wearing cutoffs and a tee.  I still inhabit my white lab coat from work.  My brother could always afford to be casual about everything including his appearance. 
       "He's yours now," my mother said, before she sighed out the remaining air from her lungs.  But he was mine the day he gripped my thumb in his fat little fist and stuffed it between his toothless gums. 
       Stray embers from the hill fire settle on my white lab coat.  My eyes burn from the smoke.  I think about my hungry cat at the apartment, the unwashed dishes, and imagine walking through the white front gate and nodding at the grandmother sitting on the porch swing next door. 
       From behind, I feel the pressure of my brother's arms.  When he kisses my hair, he smells of alcohol and fear.  At first, I don't hug him back, but my reflexes are stronger.  He kneels beside me as if asking for a blessing.  I examine the trumpet flower trailing over the fence but I feel the grip of his sweaty palm and let go of his fingers. 

       Three hours later, we walk home in silence.  The smoke has settled for the night, replaced by a hesitant rain.  "You're paid in full," I say at the door. 
       "Please."  His beautiful lashes fleck with tears.  "I love you."  He looks at me with our father's eyes.  I can't tell anymore if it's alcohol or sincerity.
       "It's over," I say.  I shake off his hand and leave him standing on the porch while I run through my apartment and stand on the deck in the soft rain.  Tonight, I won't let him back in, but when he returns with his urgent knocks I may have to reconsider.

more

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


KATE MARSHALL

Kate Marshall is a freelance writer living in Boulder, Colorado.  Tonight is a flash fiction story written as a part of the five hundred word story class at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.

This page was first displayed
on February 12, 2014

Find us on Facebook