F i c t i o n
The last time I saw you, your hair was longer than mine. Salt and pepper and pulled back with a twist-tie. Like a garbage bag. Your t-shirt was too small. Where it used to cling to your broad shoulders and hang loosely over your flat stomach, that last time it bunched in your armpits and left a strip of bare, white skin along the waistband of your dirty jeans.
Your breath smelled oddly herbal. Tea? I hoped. Clove cigarettes, you said. Kreteks from Indonesia. They're good for you. The guy at the health food store recommended them. Bullshit, I said. No really, you insisted.
We weren't getting along very well anyway. You were supposed to have come two days before. But left me sitting on the flaking wooden stairs, suitcase at my feet, until I finally decided to go back inside and wash the curtains, scrub the pots. I knew doing those things would make mom happy.
When you finally showed up reeking of stale pumpkin pie, I was furious.
At your memorial service a few months later, I stood up and said you'd tried your best with me. I talked about the time you drove me to Reno in your pickup and we subsisted only on Hostess cupcakes and Fritos. I remember that trip fondly.
One-eyebrow Johnny was there, at the service. He wore his cap low and watched us all without uttering a word. Mom used to say you never would've ended up high off your ass in the skunk weed everyday if it hadn't been for Johnny. She wanted to kill him. And you, too. But then, you already knew that.
It's hard to believe you're gone. Easier this way, though. For both of us.
Once in a while, I find myself sitting in the white, flaky stairwell, an empty suitcase at my feet, and imagine you're going to come pick me up in a decent sedan. Your hair cut short and wearing a good shirt.
Sometimes it's nice to forget what it was really like and pretend it was another thing altogether.