First time I met my brother, he was a hum in my mother’s swelling belly.
When he was 10 and me 14, we’d mock our parents’ arguments. We’d sneak up to the attic. He’d put on Dad’s soggy fedora and kick my bottom hard. When I flinched, he’d say, “hey, that’s how Dad does it.”
I remember the first dead rabbit. It was the winter it wouldn’t stop raining. Always on the edge of snow, but not. My father scowled at my brother, who was something like 11. “What’d you go and do that for?” He shook the dead fluffy thing at my brother over the dinner plates. “If you wanted to be useful, you could have killed a chicken.”
My mother tried to explain we could eat a rabbit. She said she’d put it right into a pot of water that very minute. The rain, a rattle at the window, and Dad throwing the rabbit straight through it, the sudden hole, the shattered glass, and puddle on my mother’s clean linoleum.
When my brother was old enough, first thing he did was join the army. He expected Dad would be pissed and was ready for it. Oddly, Dad just sank back into his armchair and fluffed up the newspaper. “It’s good,” Dad said, “you’re good at killing shit.”
My mother said, “there’s plenty to do in the army besides all that. There’s learning responsibility and how to be a good husband.” She stroked my brother’s shoulder. “And what’s more important than that?”
My brother didn’t get a military funeral. Deserter, or something. They cremated him, and my mother scattered most of his ashes into an aimless wind. “Now it’s like he’s everywhere,” she said. Dad, on the other hand, couldn’t even say my brother’s name without a snarl. “Best to forget a mess like that,” Dad said and never mentioned him again.
After that, my mother would sit up nightly, quietly, in Dad’s armchair. Dad would be upstairs snoring the whole house into a tremble. My mother would take out a tiny jar where she kept a handful of ashes she’d sneaked home with her. Some nights, I’d find her there, slumped into sleep, one hand on her belly, one hand on the jar, as if there were some way or other she could connect the two.