Then, Now, Later, but Always

Elias then had blonde hair, not white, on his head and in his stubble.  Elias then rode horses in the midwest and traveled to South America to save the brown children from their own poverty, their own country, and their own people.  Elias now remembers Elias then as heroic and beautifully, tragically, romantically depressed.

Elias now closed the last cardboard box and wrapped it completely with packing tape so that nothing could fall out, nothing could climb in, and none of the movers could steal the things inside of it (though he knew they would try anyway).  The boxes were stacked, according to their weight — not size — along the hallway.  His watch ticked for Sergio and his crew to arrive and load the truck to Vermont, which was as far away from his niece that Elias could get while staying in the country (although Canada was starting to sound pretty good).  Elias looked at his gold watch tangled in the thick, white hair of his arms and calculated.  There was, indeed, enough time to go to the backyard before the movers came.

He stepped onto his dead lawn, took a small trowel from the bench, and walked to a tree that hadn’t born fruit nor flowers nor leaves in years.  His gardener, Xavier, had tried to remove the tree several times when he first noticed its trunk hallow and the dirt around it was dead and dry.  Each time, Elias had run out screaming at the boy.  “Get the fuck away from my tree!”  he shouted when the chainsaw started to rumble.

“But Mr. Walters, the tree is dead.  With a strong enough wind it could blow down and hit your house.  It’s a hazard, sir.”  Elias did not listen then, nor the other times he ran across Xavier with an ax trying to chop it down quietly, with subtlety, piece by piece.

“Do you really expect me to believe that it’ll fall?”  Elias shouted.  “It’s a fucking tree, for god’s sake.  It only has one job, and that’s to stay in place!”  Elias fired Xavier, and no other gardener had been hired to replace him.  The tree sat in his backyard with ax wounds, and his grass and flowers soon faded from vibrant greens to piss yellows, and finally into the the flat brown of the earth.  The plants laid still, just as they were, flattened by footsteps, without the bother of being ripped up and carried away to the city compost bin.

Elias now stood at the base of the wounded tree facing his house with his feet together.  He counted as he walked toward his screen door.  “One…two…three…four…”  on his fifth step he turned sharply and counted five more steps towards the shadowbox fence.  He stopped, knelt down, and dug.

Underneath the dead soil, the rocks, and a box that held the bones of his third cat — Draper — were clumps of tinfoil.  He pulled each one out and stacked them between his legs as he refilled the hole, tossing Draper in unceremoniously along with the rocks and dirt.  With care, he stuffed the tinfoil into a fanny pack that he kept hidden under his shirt.

Elias now kept his money in pockets of land in his backyard, wrapped in foil to keep it clean.  Elias later will hide it in the freezer, in the same foil that was tucked safely under Draper.

Elias now looked at his boxes, knowing without a doubt that he is missing rings and paintings and rare sculptures from South America, and knowing without a doubt that it was his niece Adaline who had stolen them.

Elias later would wonder what his missing art would have looked like in his Vermont townhouse.  Elias always had believed that the only way to be safe was to hide the most precious things away, like deep into the earth.  Elias now forgot what exactly he had buried and where, and artifacts remained scattered underground.

Adaline now had painted a tribute, a portrait of her estranged relative — her last relative —  in loving light, with blonde hair in the South American city he saved so heroically.  Adaline now had sent it to her uncle’s new place in Vermont, and it rested at his doorstep, waiting for him.  Elias later would scream when he unwrapped the package, and Elias always would watch his security cameras.

Then, Now, Later, but Always

Pointing Fingers

Tyler and his sister Tara ran around downtown counting pigeons in the allies.  They did it with their BB gun and a packet of pellets Uncle Aaron bought for their 16th birthday.  “One!” Tara shouted, pointing up at the pigeons, as Tyler practiced his quick draw and the reflexes of his trigger finger.  “Two!  Three!  You keep missing!”  she shouted over the echoes of airplane engines and car horns.  She turned to the carnage of broken pigeons she had left behind them in the alley, the ones she shot with success.   Some of them were merely stunned and sat there panting on the asphalt.  Some of them lay flat and lifeless on the ground with the pellet still lodged in their skulls.

Without asking, or warning, Tara wrenched the gun from her twin’s hands and ignored his yelp when the trigger caught his index finger.

“Tara, you stupid–!”  Tyler wheezed, holding his finger tightly in his left hand.

“Let’s see,” she commanded, but Tyler wouldn’t release the grasp on his finger, too afraid that if he loosened his grip the entire finger would fall into the dirt of the street and become covered with loose pigeon feathers that still quivered from the breeze.  “We gotta know if you need to go to the hospital,” she snapped, getting her fingers between his hands and prying them apart.

He was strong and in pain, but she was vicious.  Her fingernails were jagged pieces of glass, so thick and sharp that girls in her homeroom sometimes asked Tara to use her nails to pick the locks of the teacher’s desk so that they could steal the candy and test questions inside.  Tyler’s fingers started to peel back from each other.   Just as he feared, the flesh had ripped open.  The bone twisted around until he was pointing to himself, though his palm faced the ground.  His insides, the torn tissues, felt the air for the first time.  He was exposed.

“WHY?”  Tyler cried, so loudly that it snapped some of the wounded pigeons out of their daze.  So loud that it echoed off the sides of the buildings, ping-ponging until all the space between them was completely filled with “why”.

You, his finger spit at him, you know exactly why.

Tyler stood paralyzed, his rapid breathing instantly became shallow, as if his chest expanding and caving too greatly would agitate the finger further.

You knew this was coming, his finger hissed to him.

“I don’t know what you mean”  he whispered, no longer registering the pain that came with a broken finger, nor noticing the blood splashing onto the concrete below him (and spraying the pigeons that still laid there).

“What’s going on?”  Tara asked.  Her raspy voice high enough, her face pale enough, her backward steps shallow enough to let Tyler know that she could hear everything too.  Tyler’s face matched his twin’s– their once dark complexion was now pasty and sick, becoming the color of the milky flesh around his finger, still losing blood.

Gracie was never shy about telling you…

“Shut up.”  Tyler’s eyes darted quickly between Tara and his finger, which continued to twist so that it pointed at him no matter how he rotated his hand.

…that you were the only thing worth living for…

“Stop it–” he shouted, grasping his good hand over his mutilated digit, squeezing more blood out.  It flowed over his fist, ran down his hand, and dripped into the ever growing pool that raced towards the grounded birds.

“What is it talking about, Tyler?  Who the hell is Gracie?”

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” He said quickly, looking up with big, pleading eyes.

She shook her head.  That was never the right way to start a sentence.  She had heard this time and time again from their father, but never from Tyler.  She was surprised how much he sounded like their dad in that moment.  Tyler didn’t speak to him most days, so she never expected him to pick up on father’s bad habits.

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” said Papa, when he drove them 2 hours late to school.

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” when only her clothes were used to soak up the water from the overflowing toilet.

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” when the money was missing out of her sock drawer, pillow case, and jewelry box.

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” when her father twisted words and sentences into elaborate labyrinthes, hoping she would get lost trying to follow the path.  She was lost for years, but found the key to getting out:  only listen to the last sentence.  There she’d know if it was really his fault.  So far, it always was.

Her mind wandered through these thoughts as she recognized all the features of Papa on Tyler, features she had never noticed that they shared before.  Growing up, Tyler’s face was only his.  Perhaps it was because of their starkly differing personalities that she had never seen the family resemblance.  But now she looked on, running her father’s famous words in her head; they faded into the background and synched with Tyler’s voice.

She noticed the heaviness of his lids, exactly like dad’s:  thick and weighed down with too much skin and long eyelashes.  The pores on his nose were inherited too: large and planted with thick black hairs, too far north to make contribute to his sparse mustache.  Small patches of bald skin freckled his beard, in the exact same pattern as father’s.

What was strange to her was the water in his eyes.  She had never seen that before.  Perhaps it was new.  She found herself transfixed, and searched in her databased mind what the tears could mean.  As her own voice took up the space in her head, she wished she was listening to what Tyler was saying, or understood him through his gasps for air and clumsy words.

She would have heard all about Gracie Tran from Lincoln High.

And how Tyler had dated her briefly.

She would have known about how Gracie watched her mother kill herself, how she convinced Tyler no one could love him as much as she did, or how she called him the n-word when she got angry.

Tara would have heard how her brother stayed for months after he had stopped loving her, afraid Gracie would overdose on sleeping pills if he left, and how it was the hardest thing he ever had to do.

Instead she heard this, the last sentence crawling painfully from his throat:

“She’s dead because of me.”

The BB gun fell loosely from her hands.  The blood below her brother still running rivers down the street, streaming around their pricey sneakers, split between the bodies of pigeons laying still in the street.

“But I am not a killer,” he said.  The sound of airplane engines and car horns echoed between them.  Lost in the city sounds, minds strangely blank, both their eyes now noticed the lines of red against on the pavement.  The color vivid against the gray of the street, the darkness of the alley, the overcast in the air.  “I am not a killer,” he repeated, fainter, softer, before his head hit the ground, his hand still clutched tightly around his pointing finger.  It rested on his heart.

Tara chose just to stand there.

Pointing Fingers