by Meredith Craig
I’M HAULING CHARLIE into Guantanamo for breaking international laws, while our grandparents sit in Lay-Z-Boys watching the news. The grass is sharp under our bare feet. The sun is high in the sky, making us sweat.
‘Water break,’ I say, heading into the house.
I can get the water myself, standing on my tiptoes to get the glass. The water from the faucet is brown at first, but I know to let it run for a minute until it turns clear. Bad pipes, good water, that’s what Grampy says.
‘You boys come on in now for a little bit,’ Grandma Lupe says, hobbling into the kitchen. ‘Going to drive to the pharmacy but be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.’
I get Charlie, and he’s mad and doesn’t want to come inside.
‘We can look through the treasures,’ I say to lure him. And then he comes, barreling inside, almost knocking Grandma Lupe over in the doorway, the screen door flapping behind him.
‘Slow down, jumping bean,’ she says. She shakes her head, but she’s not mad. ‘Go in and sit with Grampy.’
Grandma Lupe makes her way up the driveway to the beat-up station wagon, and she gives a little wave, before backing out.
As soon as she’s out of sight, I race Charlie to the living room where I shake Grampy’s arm, trying not to touch the constellation of sunspots. His eyes open for a second and then close again. According to Grandma Lupe, he’s still tired from the Gulf War and all the strapping on and off of his prosthetic leg. Mom argues it’s his medicine making him so tired, but he’s got to take it because it hurts in the empty space where his leg used to be.
We head down the hall to the bedroom, with two single beds with floral quilts and a wooden dresser. There’s a lot of stuff everywhere because now that Grandma Lupe has arthritis, it’s hard for her to keep up with housework and take care of Grampy, especially now since Mom works double shifts because her g-d shameful survivor benefits ran out. Grandma Lupe doesn’t like us to get into her things, but anytime we can, we do it. We wrench open the walk-in closet door. Grandma Lupe’s clothes smell like rose and decay, a musk that permeates the room with a puff as I move each dress forward on the hanger. Charlie shuffles through a box in what Grandma calls one of Grampy’s piles of crap. Most of these piles consist of old prescriptions or receipts, but this one has his war keepsakes.
Charlie finds a photo of a naked woman wearing an army helmet lying on a bearskin in the desert. She’s not smiling and the look she’s giving the camera is the same as the one on the bear. Grandma Lupe always says war makes people do crazy things, and I can’t decide if she’s talking about a woman getting undressed or the fact that Grampy kept the picture. I prefer the photos of my mom and her sister looking like tiny versions of themselves. They’re the same age difference as me and Charlie. Two peas in a pod, my mom calls us.
Charlie sits with me for a few minutes, looking through the pictures, laughing at the old-fashioned styles, the family parties, and the things that happened before any of us were born. No sign of our dad, but our parents were only married for two years before Dad was killed in combat in Afghanistan. His face smiles at us from frames on our mantle at home next to his medals, his chest candy, as my mom says.
‘Look, it’s unlocked,’ Charlie says, pressing open the safe at the back of the closet. Grandma Lupe says the safe keeps the deed to the house hidden from burglars.
‘You look,’ I say, holding up a photo of my mom and her sister sitting on a canoe, with long blonde hair and freckled faces. ‘They were our age here.’
‘Bang!’ yells Charlie, as he points a gun in my direction, pulled from the safe. It’s metal and big and just the thing to play War.
‘Let me see it,’ I say, reaching for the gun.
‘No way, I found it,’ he says, jumping out of the closet and jumping on the bed.
‘Don’t wake Grampy,’ I say.
‘He can’t hear anything,’ Charlie says. The TV is loud in the other room, the tanks on the screen are fuzzy beyond the edge of Grampy’s knee, where the fake leg attaches.
‘Better not get him mad,’ I say, turning the pages of the ancient album, the paper so fragile it feels like angel wings.
The noise is deafening, like when I jumped a cannonball into the town pool and the rushing water made the music and laughter sound a million miles away. I’m splashed, and for a minute I think Charlie has thrown water at me, but the photos are stained with mahogany droplets. Charlie crumples to the floor like a marionette whose strings were snipped. The smoking gun presses against his pant leg. It smells like a penny.
‘Don’t fool around, Charlie,’ I say. My brother’s body is quiet.
A pool of black develops under his body, like Pepsi, thick and black. I scramble to Charlie, shaking his shoulders. ‘Stop fooling now,’ I say. I curl up behind him on the floor and he feels like a little pea in my arms. The car door slams outside, and even though we’re going to get into heaps of trouble, I start to holler, ‘Man down! Man down!’
Meredith Craig is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her fiction has appeared in Variety Pack, Rock Salt Journal and is forthcoming in Jacked, an anthology to be published by Run Amok Books. Additionally, her non-fiction travel pieces have appeared in Lonely Planet, Delta Sky, Vice, among others, and she has written and produced for television. She is a reader for Uncharted Magazine.