How he got by, at thirteen, on the streets, I don’t know. I was glad he was gone, but Mom was never the same. She’d always felt we’d had so little and then poof, it was gone. Or maybe it was the knowing that it was her son who’d taken it away.
I’m about to check my phone again for the tenth time when the piece-of-junk Impala that he drives pulls up.
I walk over, lean into the window, but Jake doesn’t even look at me. I get in. I’m pulling the seatbelt over to the buckle when he says, “It doesn’t work; you have to hold it.”
I shake my head, clench the belt just above the silver catch with my left hand so it looks like I’m wearing it. I prop my right elbow on the armrest, set my chin in my palm and stare out the window. I am not comfortable around Jake, the guy he’s become.
An uneasy feeling starts in my stomach like I have to throw up. Forty minutes to the hospital. Not sure I can do it.
After awhile, Jake’s stabbing the button on the CD player.
“Really?” I say, when I can’t take any more of Axl Rose. Without asking, I turn the volume down.
Jake grunts, and then without turning to me, he says, “So you wanna talk, little brother?”
I turn away even more, yank the seatbelt back around. “I’ve got nothing to say to you, Jake. Not after what you’ve done to this family.”
“Fuck that noise,’” he yells, banging the steering wheel with his fist. “What about what this family did to me?’”
“Nobody did shit to you,’” I say. I mention the fire where we lost everything.
“You got proof it was me?”
I shake my head. It was labeled arson, no suspect ever found, but we knew. “Mom simply asked you to go talk–”
“Talk? Yeah, that’s what Mr. Farro wanted.”
Something in his voice sounds strange, scared.
Jake had gone willingly the first time, but when he came back, he seemed upset.
Mom didn’t always get the money when she thought she would and sometimes she needed an extension on the extension. Jake didn’t want to go even though Mom asked him nicely, promised him stuff. Once she slapped him across the face to encourage him. Tears poured down his cheeks as he headed toward the door.
That last time, us boys were in the living room sprawled on the couch and the floor, playing video games. Mom came in and sat on the arm of the couch. She told Jake she needed him to run downstairs to Mr. Farro’s.
“No,’” he said.
“I’m a little short, Jake. Please, you’re the oldest.” She used to tell him that since Dad left, he was the man of the house.
“I’m not going,”’ my brother said through clenched teeth, his eyes set on the TV screen.
Mom heaved. She looked over at the rest of us boys.
“He’s not going!’” Jake yelled.
Mom stared at him. “Then you go.”
She turned again to me. “Stevie, I need—”
“You need to get your shit together!” Jake exploded from the chair. He threw the controller to the floor and towered over our mom, his angry face inches from hers. “You’re the parent,’” he screamed at her. “You take care of it!” He stormed out the door.
I don’t know if he ever went to the landlord’s. Hours later, even Mr. Farro was out of a place to stay.
I glance over at Jake. “You wanna talk, big brother?” I ask, but I can see in the way his jaw is set, how his eyes have clouded, that he’s done.
I’m not surprised when we stop, literally.
Jake just pulls off the highway. He yanks open the glove compartment and the plastic bag of his pot stash rolls forward. He grabs it, gets out, leaving the door open, and walks around to the trunk.
I let the seatbelt go, lean my head back. Before long, I smell the musky scent and tilt the rearview mirror. I can see the back of my brother’s head. Every now and then, his hand lifts the joint to his mouth.
I look out the windshield. We’ve got a way to go.
A semi zooms past and the reverberation rattles the car.
I look at Jake again through the mirror. I wonder if we’ll get back on the road soon, if we’ll get to the hospital in time. Wonder what either of us will say to Mom when we get there, if she isn’t already dead.
Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz is an award-winning writer. Her work has appeared in various online and print publications, on coffee mugs and cans as well as 40 anthologies, including Hint Fiction and the 12-volume 2014: A Year in Stories. She is about to become an assistant professor of English, and she sews teddy bears by hand. She blogs (infrequently) about her life at http://www.gwennotes.blogspot.com and about her writing at http://wwwonewriter.blogspot.com