Robert Cormack

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The Brother They Couldn't Keep.

 

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Harmony is the ultimate brotherly love.” Phil Everly

Johnny had to take his brother out to the highway again, the same ritual he hated every year since he took over the marina. It had to be done, and Eddie knew it, but he never went easily. Eddie never did anything easily or quietly. “You’re going, Eddie,” Johnny kept saying, even with his sons begging him to let their uncle stay. “C’mon,” he was saying to Eddie now, kicking him in the back. “I’ve got work to do. Move your ass.”

Eddie was sitting there cross-legged in the dirt, trying to get a cigarette going.  Johnny grabbed his skinny leg, pulling him across the parking lot. Eddie would flop about, making it as hard as possible.

He’d make funny faces at the boys, showing where most his teeth were gone on one side.

“Get in, for chrissake,” Johnny said, puffing away, sweat forming on his broad face. They kicked and punched each other some more until Eddie finally got in the truck. He made funny faces at the boys, showing where most his teeth were gone on one side. Even May, Johnny’s wife, looked sad.

“He’ll make out,” Johnny kept telling them. Everyone knew Eddie never got further than the jail in Sudbury. He’d show up again at the marina in late April, all beat up, showing off a new tattoo. The latest was supposed to be Jesus. It looked more like a big birthmark on his cheek. Who was going to hire him looking like that?

“I don’t need nobody hiring me,” Eddie would say. “I got you, big brother.”

Eddie figured he could always count on Johnny for work. Not that Eddie appreciated it. He was always screwing up or disappearing. The previous afternoon, a couple showed up, wanting to go out to Thompson Island. Eddie should have been down starting the launch. Johnny ended up doing it himself. By the time the engines were warmed up, the couple was arguing. Then the woman stormed off back to the car.

“We changed our minds,” the guy said to Johnny. “What do I owe you?”

“Five bucks, I guess,” Johnny said. “All I did was start the engines.”

The guy gave him a twenty. Johnny went up to the store to make change.

“Five bucks?” Eddie said. “That’s all you’re getting?” He flicked cigarette ashes into his pant cuffs. “You ain’t gonna get rich that way, Big Chief.”

Eddie was there with his feet were up on the counter. He watched Johnny take out a ten and a five from the cash register. “Five bucks?” Eddie said. “That’s all you’re getting?” He flicked cigarette ashes into his pant cuffs. “You ain’t gonna get rich that way, Big Chief.”

After taking the money out to the couple, Johnny came back and kicked Eddie’s feet off the counter. Then he pushed Eddie to the door.

“You cost me seventy-five bucks, Eddie,” he yelled.

“How do you figure that?”

“Round trip, asshole. That’s what they wanted.”

“You’re one dumb Indian, Johnny.”

“You think it’s funny?”

“Sure it’s funny,” Eddie said. “You lost seventy bucks, not seventy-five. Five from seventy-five is seventy.”

“Get out of here,” Johnny said. “Go scrub the cleaning tables.”

Eddie pulled his ponytail through the loop of his baseball cap.

“Whatever you say, Big Chief,” he said.

”Scrub them down good, Eddie.”

“I can’t. The coons ran off with the brush.”

Eddie grinned that stupid grin, the same one that got him beaten by the Jesuits growing up. He and Johnny were both at The St. Peter’s Orphanage. Johnny used to tell him to stop grinning, but Eddie couldn’t do it. So he got beaten until even the Jesuits wondered if they were doing any good. It wasn’t, obviously, since Eddie was still grinning, acting the fool.

While Johnny was shoving Eddie outside, two band elders were sitting there reading newspapers. Charlie Goose and Burt Sugar sat on the band council. They wore red fishing vests and had brush cuts. Both men were in their seventies. They’d run the marina until the band council voted to let Johnny and May take it over.

Charlie tossed his cigarette in the stove.

“He’s not helping you, Johnny,” he said.

“I know it.”

“You know it, but you don’t do nothing ‘cept throw him out every fall.”

“I had the fuel line out on that Grew,” he said. “I guess I took too long washing up.”

The night before, Johnny and May were sitting in the kitchen. He was telling her about losing the fare to Thompson Island. “Eddie wouldn’t come down to the dock,” he said. She listened without interrupting. Her eyes stayed fixed on Johnny like they always were during a discussion. “I had the fuel line out on that Grew,” he said. “I guess I took too long washing up.”

May got up and put the plates in the sink. The boys were watching television in the living room. There were only three rooms behind the store. Living room, bedroom, kitchen. The boys slept in the living room.

Johnny kept rubbing his big arms. “I’m taking him out to the highway tomorrow,” he said. “He knows he’s going. That’s why he’s goofing around so much.”

“He needs a coat,” May said.

“He’ll just trade it for booze.”

“He still needs one.”

Johnny got up from the table and looked out the window. A full moon shone through the pine boughs. Out behind the trees, he could see the shadows of tarpaper shacks. The band council built them for the road crews back in the fifties. Now they sat in various states of disrepair, some of them falling over. Johnny kept one as a machine shop. Eddie lived in another. It sat beyond the outhouse and the two fish cleaning tables.

Johnny got his jacket and walked back through the scrub pine to Eddie’s shack. He opened the door and turned on the single light bulb. Eddie wasn’t in his bed. Down below, in the little inlet, the last of the boats sat motionless in their slips.

By Saturday, they’d all be in dry dock. Once that was done, he and May would close the store, then start looking for other work. In May’s case, the band council always had something. She was their accountant and bookkeeper. Johnny could get on a road crew cutting trees and working the grater.

Eddie was sitting on the ground, sniffing gasoline.

He was starting back to the store when he heard a cough. It was coming from the machine shed. He went around and found the door open. Eddie was sitting on the ground, holding a piece of cloth to his nose. Johnny could smell the gasoline.

Johnny kicked him in the side.

“I said I’d beat you if you did that again.”

Eddie just grinned.

“Where the key, Eddie?”

“In the lock where it always is, dummy.”

Eddie laughed and hooked his thumbs in his pockets.

“Got yourself five bucks today, didn’t you, Johnny boy? Ain’t you a high roller? Big Chief’s got himself five bucks.”

“Better than you, Eddie.”

“Nah,” Eddie said. “You’re no better than me, Johnny.”

He adjusted his baseball cap and stumbled off through the scrub pines.

“I’m coming for you in the morning,” Johnny yelled.

“Go ahead, see if I care,” Eddie replied.

He got a few letters, most of the words spelt wrong. “Miss you,” Eddie wrote.

Later that night, Eddie was singing. “Shut up, Eddie,” Johnny yelled out the bedroom window. May told him to come back to bed. He sat down, looking at the grease under his nails. It was a song Eddie sang back at the orphanage. It was supposed to make Johnny feel guilty. Johnny left the Jesuits a year before Eddie did. He got a few letters with most of the words spelt wrong or backwards. “Miss you,” Eddie always wrote.

Eddie eventually ran away, showing up at the marina while Johnny was dragging logs. The council had taken Johnny on after he left the orphanage. He was living in one of the shacks. He remembered Eddie waving from the rocks, saying, “Hey, Johnny. It’s me!” He didn’t even have a coat.

May was still asleep when Johnny woke up the next morning. There was frost on the window. He went downstairs and stood at the kitchen door. Across the inlet, he could see Charlie and Burt cutting wood. Leaves seemed to drop in unison with each axe stroke. Johnny didn’t wave to them. He walked across the crackling lichen to Eddie’s shack. His old coat was under his arm. May had fixed the buttons and stitched the lining.

“Wake up, Eddie,” he said at the door.

He came in and kicked Eddie’s foot.

Eddie rolled slightly, opening one eye.

“Go away,” he mumbled.

“I’m taking you out to the highway.”

Eddie rubbed his face and sat up.

“What’s with the coat?” he said.

“It’s for you. May fixed the buttons.”

“You’re giving me a coat?”

Eddie put the coat around his shoulders and laid back down. “Take me out tomorrow,” he said, curling up, hands between his knees.

“No, Eddie. You’re going now.”

Johnny grabbed Eddie’s leg. Eddie tried to kick him.

“I said, get up, Eddie.”

“Piss off, dumb Indian.”

Johnny tried grabbing him again. Eddie ripped a button off Johnny’s coat.

“Got your button,” Eddie grinned.

There was nothing to Eddie, no real strength. He pulled Eddie by the scruff of the neck outside.

Johnny climbed on top of him, pinning Eddie with his heavy knees. It didn’t take much. There was nothing to Eddie, no real strength. He pulled Eddie by the scruff of the neck outside. May was standing by the back door of the store in her dressing gown. Eddie pulled free and fell on the ground. They were both breathing heavily. It came out in steamy puffs.

Eddie lay there with his hands behind his head, his legs crossed.

“What are you going to do now, Big Chief?” he said.

“Get up, Eddie.”

“Why? I’m happy right here.”

Johnny dragged him across to the pickup by his collar. He opened the door, pushing Eddie inside. ”Stay there until I get your stuff,” he said. He went back to the shack, threw Eddie’s things in a duffle bag, grabbed his coat, then brought everything to the truck.

Eddie was leaning out the window.

“See you soon,” he yelled to May.

Johnny threw Eddie’s bag in the back and started the engine. His boys came outside and stood next to their mother. They called to Eddie, telling him they didn’t want him to go, saying they’d miss him. “Tell it to your stupid dad,” Eddie called back. “He’s the one getting rid of me.”

Revving the engine, Johnny pulled out, gravel kicking up, driving up the hill to the dirt road. They passed tarpaper shacks, the peeling church, the old cars without any windows. Eddie nodded off along the way. He woke up when Johnny hit the highway. Eddie yawned and stretched, then opened the door.

“Who says I’m going to Powassan?” Eddie grinned.

“So long, Johnny,” he said.

Johnny threw him the coat.

“I better not see that on someone in Powassan,” he said.

“Who says I’m going to Powassan?” Eddie grinned.

He got his duffle bag out of the back.

“I might just stay here by the road,” Eddie said.

“You’ll freeze your ass off,” Johnny said.

“No I won’t. I got a coat. I still got your button, too.”

“Shut the door, for chrissake.”

“Do it yourself, you dumb Indian.”

It was just like Eddie to sell his coat for ten bucks without even checking.

Johnny yanked the passenger door closed and drove off. In the rear view, he could see Eddie on his back, using his duffle bag for a pillow. He’d stay there until he got hungry, then head up to Powassan. Nobody would give him anything there. Eventually, he’d find the thirty dollars May put in the coat pocket. Or maybe he wouldn’t. It was just like Eddie to sell his coat for ten bucks without even checking.

Looking back one last time, Johnny saw Eddie pissing on the road. He pissed, stretched, then lay back down again. A truck came around the bend and slowed down. Eddie could’ve gotten a ride if he’d used his head. But Eddie, being Eddie, went back to sleep.

Johnny turned down the sideroad to the marina, not feeling good or bad. Sometimes he wished he did feel bad, like when he left Eddie at the orphanage. That was before all his responsibilities. He couldn’t be thinking about Eddie anymore. Eddie would just have to figure things out for himself. If he could. Sometimes Johnny wondered if Eddie ever could.

Robert Cormack is a satirist, novelist, and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Simon and Schuster for more details. Other stories and articles by Robert Cormack can be found at robertcormack.net

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