Who is Stevie? His semi-truck? A pet I don’t see? An affectionate name for an underage prostitute he frequents in Great Falls? I have no idea, and Dean does not expound.

I call out more answers for Jeopardy, getting a few right, while Dean gets all the rest, and between the two of us, we kick the ever-loving shit out of Trebek and his Jeopardy dorks.

“Where’d you learn all this shit?” I say.

“Just fucked a lot of complicated women, I guess,” Dean says.

“No,” I say. “I mean Jeopardy. How do you know all the answers?”

“Oh,” Dean says. “Mom was a school teacher. I suspect she took it home with her. I was headed down that path too but then the usual things got in the way. You know, got a girl pregnant, discovered the fountain of youth.”

“The fountain of youth?”

“Crystal meth,” he says, snorting dramatically and wiping imaginary residue from his nose. “How about you? College?”

“Yeah,” I say, “graduated with a degree in history.”

“Ah, I see,” he says. “One of them bachelors of fuck all degrees.” He reaches out to slap me playfully on the shoulder.

“Pretty much,” I say. “I was into Indian stuff. History and politics: forced sterilization, Leonard Peltier, uranium in the drinking water, that sort of thing. So was my brother. Thought we were gonna be lawyers, activists, politicians, something.”

“Then what happened?”

“Rent,” I say, and Dean laughs at my cheap joke.

“And my brother,” I say. “He got sick. Then I started working at Comforce in Bozeman. Help my folks pay bills and all. That was a while back.”

“Fucking Comforce. Fuckin’ A. I used to have friends at the Comforce in Great Falls. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I guess,” I say, but I don’t agree.

Dean surveys the room and settles on the shotgun in the corner and starts mumbling. “Man, I gotta piss, I gotta fucking piss.” He goes to get up but falls back in the chair. “Hahaha, I’m shit ass drunk,” he says.

The next clue is: He was an American truck driver who gained fame as the ‘Lawn Chair Pilot.’

I’m at a loss.

“Who is Larry Walters?” Dean says.

A contestant answers but he’s wrong.

“Larry Fucking Walters,” Dean repeats.

No one else answers and time runs out. “LARRY MOTHERFUCKING WALTERS, YOU FUCKING TWATS.”

I’ve never heard of this person, but Dean shouts it again. “LARRY MOTHERFUCKING WALTERS. MOTHERFUCKING LARRY WALTERS, YOU FUCKING STUCK UP RICH FUCKS.” Dean’s so worked up he guzzles down the rest of his whiskey and accentuates his anger by smashing his mug-holding fist into the end table. The table flips over sending ceramic shards with it and russet-colored blood spurts from Dean’s hand onto the underside of the table.

“Fuck! Matt! Grab me a towel, man. Will ya?” I pause. Did he call me Matt? Did I imagine it? Is it just a coincidence? He waggles a finger with his good hand in the general direction of the kitchen, one eye closed like he’s trying to steady his vision.

“Yeah, yeah, I got you.” I get up, but in the short time it takes to get a towel and come back, Dean’s fading out, opening and closing his eyes, the bloody hand cupped against his greasy undershirt.

“Dean, you okay? You okay, man?”

His head lolls back, deep dry creases running around his eyes like miniature coulees. He breathes heavily and blood settles in the cracks in his hand. The cut is more superficial than the amount of blood suggests.

“Yeah yeah yeah,” he murmurs.

I shake him a bit, but a staggered snoring sets in. He’s down for the count. It’s just Trebek and my thoughts now.

 

The trouble becomes this:

After two years of remission, Matt’s cancer comes back. He gets a $200,000 bone marrow transplant and moves in with my parents to recover. My parents pay the insurers, and I look for a job to pay the rest.

I am twenty-two. Because I have my degree, Comforce takes me on as a shift manager overseeing the pouring of 10,000 pounds of identical plastic brackets a day into a metal hopper to be sorted on an assembly line the length of a football field.

Life is sixty hours a week looking over the shoulders of trailer park kids from Belgrade, Three Forks, Big Sky, and end-of-the-line laborers who resent me being their boss due to my lack of experience and my overabundance of education. We—myself, the kids, the past-their-primers—all feel one of two ways: too good to be there or too numb to care, and we often feel these ways at the same time. As long as quotas are met, a pint of whiskey throughout the day is acceptable—though many of the workers, especially the young ones from the farthest flung no hope villages, saunter through the day with the zombified glaze of the opiate user.

I come home drunk one night to find Danielle updating spreadsheets on her laptop. Her problems are where to apply to graduate school, her sister’s unending engagement, and her boyfriend’s burgeoning drinking problem. In that order. I watch her type for a while. The idea that this is work makes me hate her.

Danielle has recently started as a clerk at Ben’s law firm and summarizes her day with her new vocabulary. “Summons,” she says. “Affidavit,” she says. “Garnishment,” she says. “Working lunch over cocktails,” she explains.

“Good luck with your new life,” I mumble.

“Huh?” she says, barely looking up.

“Good luck with your new life,” I say louder.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It means I see you disappearing, completely,” I say. “It means I see you pouring out.”

“And what, exactly, are you doing that’s so important? Whose life are you saving?”

I am on top of her. It is a slip of the tongue, an honest mistake, but my hands don’t care as they clamp down on her throat, my fingertips deep in her carotid artery before the emergency shutoff switch flips in my brain and I curl into a throbbing ball of self-hate and tears.

 

At the counter in Dean’s room, I pull out my phone. Danielle has texted again:

I talked to Ben. He’s whatever. A lot of people love you and you aren’t thinking of them right now. Just come back home. Just call back your dad. He’s calling me now.

I read and re-read Danielle’s text and try to think of a response. I was wrong, I finally type. About the pouring out.

I finish another mug of whiskey and wobble across the room. Dean’s still passed out, ash peppered down the front of his undershirt. His hand will hurt in the morning, but otherwise he’ll be fine. When he wakes, maybe he won’t even remember my name. If anyone asks, maybe he’ll say he talked to some strange guy named Matt.

In my own room I grab the duffel and the .22, and I walk back out into the hall and find the bathroom at the end. There’s a shaving kit and a half-rolled tube of toothpaste on the counter, mouthwash and a few bars of soap on the toilet lid. I lock the door and turn on the shower. Seated on the edge of the toilet, I place the rifle across the bathroom sink and watch condensation form on its barrel. I take off my shoes and socks, then my shirt, then my pants. Steam gathers in the room and clouds the bathroom mirror.

 

“Where the water goes is how the earth is shaped,” Matt says, mimicking something one of his favorite Indian chiefs would have said.

“Yeah, but where the water goes so do fucking bears trying to eat us,” I say.

“Are you going to piss and moan this whole trip, or are you going to indulge your sense of adventure?”

During a period of remission, we hike backcountry in Glacier National Park through Boulder Canyon. Two miles in, a stone kicked by withered Blackfeet Indian mules who leave steaming piles of green shit every fifty yards falls from the trail above us and hits me on the elbow. By the time we reach the river, I can hardly bend my arm to take off my pack.

“Piss and fucking moan,” I say.

“Fine,” Matt says, seriously. “Then at least shut the fuck up about it.”

It is after my sophomore year in college, which is after Matt’s sophomore year, too, since his treatment has forced him to take off from school. It is early summer, a thick, wet heat settling in the low country that appears to make the canyon walls ripple like the folds in a girl’s skirt. I stare into his angry eyes. Have they always been so green? Did the chemo do something to the color? To him? And I imagine him tripping, bending an ankle, or worse—cruel and juvenile things because I am in pain and because for the first time in a long time, he is not a patient. He is my older brother again.

When we finally set up camp, we do so in a grim silence until Matt throws his pack at me and I chase him into the water. I tackle him. My arm—it seems—is suddenly healed, and Matt jumps up like a mad man, splashing me. We run around in the shallow stream of jade-colored water, hearing our cries echo all around us. Not for any one reason, but because we are young, because we are brothers, and because we can.

That night around the fire I load our bear gun.

“Do you think you could do it?” Matt says while poking a stick into the blue wisps of flame.

“Do what?” I say. But I am thinking of how when we were kids we used apples for target practice. I am thinking of how when the bullet entered it left a small, smooth hole, but when it came out the other side, it blew the core and all the sweet parts out with it. A brief flash of heat and light and then everything turned to useless mush. I am thinking that I could never do that to a bear, and I am thinking that Matt has read the same long-term prognosis for his cancer that I have.

 

Pages: 1 2 3 4 | Single Page