(Set the morning after The Reunion.)
Gerald sits at my kitchen table, hands
clasped together on it. They’re shaking despite his efforts. He
didn’t make a joke about my answering the door in a nightgown at
6:30 in the morning, hasn’t made a single comment about the French
press, how it’s a coffee machine for people who hate coffee.
Nothing like that. I’m full of openings he hasn’t taken a jab at,
and there is something. I don’t know what, and the not-knowing is a
strangeness like waking up to find a stranger in my brother’s skin.
He’s big, my oldest brother. Big and solid, with muscles honed in
years at a second-hand auto mechanics, knuckles the veterans of
dozens of bar fights.
He should be at work. Gerald always
complains at how he’s working long before Some People get up, which
always includes me. I set a cup of coffee beside him, make my own. He
doesn’t press at the silence. He just sits, waits until I am
“Sang isn’t home?”
“He’s away on business.”
That wins a nod. “Tom, I –.”
Gerald holds the coffee, not drinking it. I’m expecting the usual
litany: how mom and dad decided their youngest son was the one worthy
of an Education, how I work at the university while he is a grease
monkey. Never mind that he works with more computers than I do most
days, or that he makes more money than I do: none of that fits his
No twitch at the name I called him when
we were kids. “You know how much Emma got from me in the divorce.”
“Some of it.”
He looks away, actually looks away. “I
had to take other work, to make ends meet.”
“Not the gangs,” I say, almost a
question. Our town isn’t big, but sometimes it feels that way. Most
of the crime is the gangs striking at each other, but there’s
always fallout. The melting pot boiling over, as my boss Maria called
it once during our chats about town at work, since the gangs are
probably more diverse than the rest of the town these days.
“Mob. Gangs. People with money,” he
says quietly, almost softly, not looking up from the table. “I
found plans on the Internet, adapted them. I’m good at making
things. I make IEDs. Bombs,” he finally adds when I wait him out.
“Bombs,” I repeat.
His head jerks up. “Not that kind,
not the terrorist – none of that shit. The gang members take each
other out. Bombs in vehicles to hit each other with. Last night’s
was disguised as a present. Only it ended up in the wrong car, the
driver taking it out of town. The people I’d given to had the
radio, they set it off remotely. I didn’t know any of that until
this morning. When I – I – I got a visit. At home.”
“You made a bomb, it was put in the
wrong car and set off?” A nod. “And it was traced back to you?”
“I don’t know how.” He looks up
finally, setting the coffee down as his hands are shaking too badly.
“There was this guy at my back door. Ordinary. Think he was white,
but he looked ordinary.”
“So he was white,” slips out,
before I can think about it.
“No, I mean – he fit in. Like you
could have dropped him anywhere and he’d fit in. That kind of
ordinary, like spies are in movies. The kind of –.” Gerald shakes
his head. “He looked soft, Tom. Ordinary, like that, and then he
held up some plastic, and asked questions.”
And my older brother shudders at that,
literally shudders and wraps his arms about himself.
“… he was FBI?” I ask. “People
“No,” says Gerald. “Least I don’t
think so. If he was, all those stories about aliens and shit –.
Tom, when he spoke to me, I had
to answer him. Had to, like his voice was dragging truth out of me,
like he was speaking truth so I didn’t have a choice in return.
I’ve never heard anything like it. He just stared at me after,
looking through me, into
me, more than that. Turned
out no one had died, but he’d been renting the vehicle and wanted
“He was quiet
after. Not a good quiet. Then said I’d been very lucky so far, but
luck wouldn’t last. And that I should stop making these for anyone.
He could have – have ordered me to. His voice was like that, but he
didn’t. He just walked outside. I think he talked to someone on his
phone, made some arrangement at 5:45 in the morning because he came
back inside with an envelope of bills. Money, mix of new and old.
More than enough to – to make up for the money I’d lose not
“He paid you to
stop making them?”
said there weren’t many problems money could solve, but it could
help with a few.
Be a means, but not an end.
Give me space, time to think.
man just left. Walked out and left, and it was only then I realized
he’d unlocked the doors without touching them, that they locked
behind him. I don’t know what he was, what this is, but you know
almost laugh at the need, at the belief in my older brother’s
voice. Only, this time, I have something, at
least a little bit. “I
asked Sang about North Korea a few times, about stories he’d heard.
He told me he and some friends once tried to go north, through the
zone between both nations. A bet and dare, really, through
an area that has become like a wildlife preserve since people aren’t
in it, and they ran into a Korean woman who told them to go back. He
says she said it, and they had no choice at all. He didn’t expect
me to believe it, but I did that study a few years back of myths in
large urban centres. Almost all of them involve at least one person
with a voice that can’t
be ignored. The rest of it varies, and often gets really outlandish,
but I think there is something to them. Or could be. I don’t know
what it is, or who you ran into.”
think I’m crazy.”
almost grins at that and finally begins drinking the coffee. “I
don’t know what to do.”
“I don’t think
I can help you with that,” I say, and he doesn’t make a bitter
comment about my Education. He just nods, drinks the coffee, and
finally leaves. I’d like to think he’ll use this money for some
courses somewhere. Stop thinking a lot of things, and make his own
way. But I don’t know. I can’t know.
myself another coffee, think about people with voices that can’t be
ignored, and stories I’ve heard and never shared with Gerald at
all. I decide that today is a very good day to work from home. Just
in case the man with the voice is out there. Because we all have
truths we never want to speak.