Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Short Fiction: You Weren't There

You Weren’t There
By: Carrie Watson

“You will never believe what came in the mail today.” Melissa said.
            Her husband Mark sat at the kitchen table drinking his coffee and didn’t bother to look up from his Ipad when he responded, “I know it’s not the bill from your Victoria’s Secret charge card because that came the other day. Who spends that much money on underwear?”
            “You didn’t complain last Thursday night when I tried on the things I bought.”
            “But I wouldn’t have thrown it on the floor if I knew it cost as much as one of our car payments.”
            “Oh, stop. How often do I actually treat myself to something nice? Stop whining.” Melissa laughed.
            Mark laughed, but more in a sarcastic scoffing kind of way. “So what came in the mail today?” He asked and put down his Ipad and his coffee.
            “It looks like a letter from your brother.”
            “What brother.”
            “The only brother you have Mark. He goes by the name of Dan.”
            “Sarcasm, Hun. You can just throw it out. And who sends a letter anymore?”
            “Maybe if you picked up the phone when he called for the eighty-seventh time, he wouldn’t have to send a letter.”
            “I don’t have any reason to talk to him. He’s a douche bag, and my life has been a lot less aggravating without him in it. You know the shit he used to pull. He was arrested twice… that I know of; he’s been to rehab three different times, which I paid for, and he totaled my car.”
            “I know what an asshole he was…”
            “Not was. Is.”
            “Fine, I know what an asshole he IS, but he’s still your brother and after growing up in that house, it’s understandable why he took so many wrong turns.”
            “I grew up in the same house he did! With the same whack job of a mother for Christ sake!”
            “Calm down, Mark. I know everything that happened. I was there. I saw it for myself. I hated your mother for what she put you guys through. And there were plenty of times when I hated your brother too. But you were always so much stronger than he was emotionally. You could put up walls that he couldn’t. And after your dad died when you were twenty three, we moved out here and he was left to deal with her alone.”
            “Melissa, I was offered a really good job, don’t make it sound like I abandoned my family. And wasn’t I the one who offered to have him come live with us? Wasn’t I the one who said he could stay here until he saved enough money to get his own place?”
            “But then she guilt him into staying with her head games; the same head games she has always played with him. Because with him, she knew she could.” Melissa pointed out.
            “Look, I know part of you still feels sorry for him. You have a good heart and that’s why I love you, but opening that envelope will bring nothing but trouble. Believe me.”
            “Well I’m opening it. I want to know what he has to say.”
            Mark jumped up from his chair, grabbed the envelope from her hand. “What did I just fucking say?!?”
His rage exploded and he pushed the kitchen table violently across the floor. “No you weren’t there! You weren’t there for half of it! You met us when we were twenty. You weren’t there when we were fourteen and she was still in bed for the third day straight. And that was because after my dad left to go on one of his ‘business trips,’ she blew coke for two days straight. She didn’t drink wine by the glass; she drank it by the box. There was no food in the house. We were left there to take money from her purse while she slept so that we could order take-out everyday just so we could have something to eat. Then when she smelled the food she would wake up and scream at us from her bed upstairs to bring her up some. And my brother always would. One time he walked up there with a cheese steak, which he unfortunately was nice enough to heat up for her in the microwave first. I say unfortunately because do you know what happened when he went up to that fucking room; when he walked into that fucking snake pit?”
Melissa didn’t answer. Tears were streaming down her face. She stood there in silence and let Mark finish.
“She threw the cheese steak at him and screamed like a fucking psycho because he didn’t put ketchup on it! He walked back down the stairs covered in hot grease with a fresh gash on his head from the plate that she threw across the room at him!”
            Raged filled tears moistened Marks eyes, but they didn’t touch his cheeks. He never let them get that far. “I tried to help Dan. I tried to help him be strong like I was, but you’re right. He was the more sensitive one. He was the emotionally needy one. And he so desperately needed the hug that would come with a fake tearful apology from our mother an hour after each episode, and it was like it never happened. He was stupid enough to go into that room, over and over again, and he paid for it every time. I got out before I got sucked in too.”
            They stood in silence. Melissa had never heard that story before. Mark stood there with his hand at his squinted face, pinching the bridge of his nose with his forefinger and thumb. Finally he handed the envelope to Melissa and said, “Fine. Here. Open it.”
            The doorbell rang and it called them back to reality from their surreal trip back to that house. Mark asked Melissa if she could go and answer the door while he put the table back and cleaned up the mess. She started to rip open the envelope while she walked down the long hallway toward the front door. She didn’t have time to finish opening it before she reached the handle.
            She opened the door and stood there in awe.
            “Hi Melissa, it’s been a long time.”
            “Hi, Dan.”
            “I see you got my letter. I meant for it to arrive yesterday though. It was supposed to tell you I was coming before I arrived so I didn’t just show up at your door, you know, like this.”
            “What are you doing here?” Mark said as he walked up and stood behind Melissa in the doorway.
            Dan looked at his brother and said, “Mom’s dead.”
            Melissa didn’t say anything.
            “From what?”
            “Lung cancer. I’ve been trying to call you. The doctor said her days were numbered and I wanted to give you a chance to say goodbye.” Dan said not taking his eyes off of his brother.
            “I said goodbye a long time ago.”
            “I know, you haven’t spoken to mom since dad’s funeral. But I also came to tell you that a lot has happened since then. I got professional help. I met a nice girl that I have been in love with for a year now, I cleaned up my act.”
            “Good for you. I’m happy for you. But how did you afford all of that treatment, especially in addition to whatever mom’s medical bills racked up to?” Mark asked.
            “Well, before mom got sick she met a man named Gerry. He was retired, widowed, and lonely. Mom didn’t love him, but she married him anyway. He was a retired psychiatrist and also dabbled in real estate, so he was loaded. He and I got along really well. He died shortly after mom was diagnosed and left all of his money to me. Mom was furious, but he knew the love mom had for him wasn’t ever real.”
            “I don’t think that woman ever knew how to love.” Mark said.
            “Maybe not, but she was still our mother. I took care of her medical costs, her funeral, and her burial. I took what was left of the money and I split it in half.” Dan said and pulled out his wallet.
            He handed a check to Mark. Mark unfolded it. He opened his mouth to say something, but no sound came out so he closed it again. He stood and stared at it in silence for a few minutes before he said, “Why are you giving me all of this money?”
            Melissa leaned back and looked at the check and covered her mouth in shock. The check was made out to Mark in the amount of two hundred-thousand dollars.
            Dan looked up at Mark and said, “I hated you for leaving. I was so angry at you for so long. But you did try to help me out as much as you could, not to mention the times you bailed me out; sometimes literally. Plus, you’re still my brother.”
            “Thank you.”
            “You’re welcome. Listen, I just came by to give you that. I’ll see you around.”
            As Dan turned to make his way down the walk way towards the blue Toyota Prius parked out front, Melissa turned to Mark. As he watched his brother, a tear formed between the edges of his eyelids. The moment it touched his cheek it sped down his face to his chin. Melissa gave Mark a pleading look.
            Mark looked at her, swept the moisture off of his face, and then called out to his brother. “Dan, before you go, do you want to come in for a cup of coffee?”
            “Yeah, I would like that.”

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