Asa is asleep in the sun, arms track-marked and mosquito-bitten, crossed over his chest, his mouth open with a mid-sentence look, teeth, gone or brown, chin stubble flecked with leaf bits. We lean down, listen for breath. He whispers something that sounds like help, and then, he opens his eyes. “Hello,” he says, adding extra o’s.
“A porch is no place to sleep,” our mother says.
Asa tells her to make like a tree and leave.
“Damn drugs,” she says, followed by “my son” and “junkie.”
Asa smiles when she leaves, spits over the porch railing as she backs out of the driveway.
Asa is wide-awake now, sitting up in his busted beach chair, scratching his face. He sees things flying around my head. “Butterflies,” he slurs, grabbing at the air. I push his hands away, tell him to get up.
“C’mon, let’s go for a walk,” I say.
“Nah,” he says, “let’s not. Let’s sit and chit-chat.”
I start to say something about rehab, but stop myself and sit on the porch floor, thinking, not for the first time, that maybe he’s turned a corner.
I listen to my brother’s gibberish, pick out words here and there. Cigarettes, birds, roller coaster, dealer.
Asa is standing now, lighting a Marlboro, moving into his crawling-out-of-his-skin phase.
“Sis, can you spot me a few bucks?”
I tell him no, not this time.
“Why not,” he says. “I paid you back last time, didn’t I?”
I tell him no, he never paid me back.
He says, “fuck, you don’t even know, cold turkey’s dangerous. I need to wean myself off of this shit.”
“What are you on these days,” I say. “Pills, needles, pipes, I can’t keep up. When’s the last time you ate?”
“Fine, let’s go for a walk,” Asa says, “but can we stop at your ATM first?”
He pulls me down the porch steps. We’re in the driveway. We’re walking down the street, fast, Asa’s hand on my arm.
“No ATM,” I say, “I’m broke.”
Asa lights another cigarette, sucks the smoke hard into his lungs, and exhales before tightening his grip. “Don’t be like that,” he says. “C’mon, Sis.”
Asa is behind me, taking my wallet out of the front pocket of my backpack.
I shouldn’t have leaned over to pick the clover.
I should’ve remembered how quick and quiet he can be when he really wants something. My little brother, once a sweet boy headed for stardom. Teller of cheesy jokes, lover of raccoons and blanket forts and the tire swing in our backyard.
“Give it back,” I say. “That’s all the money I have. What’s wrong with you?”
Asa’s holding my wallet above his head now like he did with my dolls when we were kids. I jump and lunge at it, but it’s too high for me to reach.
“Nah,” he says. “I mean, I’m sorry it had to go down like this, Sis. I’ll pay you back, pinkie swear.”
Asa spits on the ground and holds his pinkie out to me. I try to bend his finger backward, to make him hurt, but even on drugs, my little brother is stronger than me. He stuffs my tens and twenties into his pockets and tosses my wallet at me. I let it fall in the gravel, empty, and watch as he runs down the street tripping over his untied shoelaces.
“Now I’m really broke,” I shout because it’s easier than saying, “come back” and “don’t you fucking die, you shit.” He yells, “bye,” adding extra e’s to the end of the word, turning it into a song, and I wonder, again, if it’s the last time I’ll ever see him.