We were kids who rode the bus together, friends, and I remember him telling me that his handicapped brother, Andrew, was going to pass away young. We were in the side yard on Crescent Avenue. I can picture the jacket he wore. It must’ve been fall. That large tree my father and I’d built a tree house in hung over us and we ran along on the grass beneath it as though the circular motions we created with our feet were moving us forward.
‘You’re lucky,’ I’d said.
He was very popular in school and I wasn’t.
‘I’m not lucky,’ he said.
‘You’re lucky with friends,’ I said.
Then he told me that he and his family knew that Andrew wasn’t going to live long and that made him unlucky. I remember at the time picturing his brother in my mind. Confined to a wheelchair, severely handicapped, a look in his eyes as if peering off into something I couldn’t see or access. I knew even then that Andrew was very different, in a way separate from me and my mobility and my abilities, but I knew he was strong. I knew Sam and his family were strong, too, for the way they managed and cared for Andrew. My mother rehabilitates the injured and elderly. It’s ingrained in the texture of my hands and soul to feel for certain people.
Andrew died last winter. I saw it online. I’ve mostly lost touch with Sam, we speak every once in a great while, but who he is is defined by our childhood and being in school and riding the bus together, and then hanging around with him later on. Andrew was 28 years old. The obituary picture reminded me so intensely of seeing his aid walk him down Beekman Way in his wheelchair, his arms crooked and spastic, and his eyes adrift. I sat there on my phone in the kitchen reading about Andrew’s death and who he was survived by and wondered intensely about a great many things.
‘What’s the matter?’ asked Sue. We live together. I showed her the obituary. She didn’t say anything and kissed me.
‘What did he want?’ I asked her.
‘Because he was so different?’
‘Yes. Exactly, yes.’
‘Oh, who knows? Probably just to be loved,’ she said, ‘like the rest of us.’
I texted Sam and told him how sorry I was for his loss. He responded with sincere thanks and I began remembering times later on in our lives, in our twenties, when we’d roam through Providence, a small city that couldn’t contain us, and the laughter we shared drinking and telling stories. Sam told lively stories and seemed to live to acquire such.
Last week I texted Sam again seeing what he was up to, a friendly hello, and we made plans for tonight. He’s sitting on my couch holding a beer looking so similar to how I remember him. He has a beard now, but he’s the same Sam who I knew on that bus all those years ago when we were kids, and the Sam I’ve tried to stay in touch with.
‘I got worried about you,’ I say.
‘Well, I mean, of course I was worried about you recently,’ I say, ‘but I was worried the last time we hung out. It was a couple years ago now. You were nodding off. I remember because I was really looking forward to seeing you at that bar. Where was it? Wickenden?’
‘Yeah,’ he says.
‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘You were nodding off.’
‘Yeah,’ he says.
‘But you seem good now,’ I say.
‘Yeah, I’m better now with that,’ he says.
‘Yeah?’ I ask.
He takes a small sip of his beer.
‘Right after Andrew died I basically overdosed.’
‘The tests came back that it was all Fentanyl. I thought I’d bought Percocet. I was with Jimmy Thanos, we’d do that together, and I was telling him that Andrew was dead and it was all gone and I don’t know, I don’t really remember much, but I guess I just kept snorting pills and then I went blue. He put me in the shower but nothing worked so he called the cops.’
‘Are you alright?’
‘I guess I like died. I died and they gave me shots and I came back.’
‘Are you serious?’
‘I saw my grandfather and my brother. My brother told me it wasn’t my time and then I woke up in the hospital.’
‘Should you even be drinking?’ I ask, holding a beer, too.
‘This is fine,’ he says. ‘I don’t really drink.’
‘Okay,’ I tell him.
I’m overwhelmed. Sue won’t be coming back for a few hours. Sam and I are supposed to go out drinking like old times, but I suddenly don’t feel like doing that.
‘You want another beer?’ he asks, holding his empty one out in front of him.
‘There’s a place a few blocks from here with music. You wanna check that out?’
‘Sure. Who’s playing?’
‘I dunno,’ I say, thinking, really, that I don’t care.
‘Sure, yeah,’ he says. ‘Let’s go.’
And on the walk over we talk about lighter issues and reminisce, and walking in to this small, warm bar with music feels good. I can tell he appreciates this place. A singer-songwriter is already on stage. She’s got a hollow body electric guitar and is dressed sort of like a hillbilly. The guitar sounds strong, especially since there are no other musicians up there with her, and her song now sings about a woman she loved and let go. Sam and I pass the bar and enter into the room she’s playing. A piano is in the stage area. A mural of an owl is on the left wall. Wood panels wrap through this room, and it almost feels like a dark cabin.
We get lost in the music, Sam and I, and we don’t think of drinking. Others file in and the room becomes full, and the artist on stage begins a song about Christ. It is slow blues, ready for the night and these people here. This song is ready for Sam, too, and I can see in his face that he’s responding. It continues and builds and becomes something and Sam gets up and heads toward the door. I follow. We’re both outside.
‘You alright?’ I ask.
‘I dunno,’ he says.
‘Is it the drinking or something? People in there drinking?’
‘No,’ he says.
‘Do you wanna head out?’
Silence. Then he says, ‘That singer. She was going on about Christ in that song, and the sacrifice he made, right? Well, what the fuck did he really sacrifice? Think about my brother, you know? Think about Andrew and his life and what he endured his whole life. All his life. Think about his death, where he is and… I guess it just got to me. That’s all.’
‘I understand,’ I say.
We don’t hug. I think about it, but we don’t.
We end up staying at the bar and see the rest of her act and clap and it seems like Sam moved through what was really troubling him. When he left we said we’d keep in touch.
I don’t really know what to make of what he told me about Christ and his brother.
Sue just got home. I tell her what happened.
‘Yeah,’ she says. ‘He makes a good point.’
‘What?’ I ask. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘Andrew lived as he did,’ Sue says. ‘He lived like that his whole life.’
‘I know,’ I say. ‘I met him. I knew him. I remember him.’
‘You remember him?’ Sue asks.
‘Yeah,’ I say.
‘I think that’s the point,’ she says. ‘Remember him. Remember what he endured being alive and what he was and how he had to live. I think that’s what Sam was saying.’
When we went to bed I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about
Sam’s words, and Sue’s, and not being sure what to make of any of it. Then I
thought of Christ as he’s depicted in church, up there nailed to the cross. The
sole sacrifice that absolves us all, and that image for some reason aligned
with the image in my mind of Andrew in his wheelchair. His struggle, how he
lived and the fact that he was dead. And I fell asleep.
Jake Shore’s short stories have been published by Litro, Eunoia Review, Halfway Down the Stairs, The Pitkin Review, JCS Press, Soft Cartel, Calico Tiger and others. In August of 2016, The Flea Theater presented his play entitled Holy Moly and its tandem novel, A Country for Fibbing. Broadwayworld states “it marks the first time a play with a correlating novel have been simultaneously released in the United States.” Shore is currently an adjunct professor and the Director of the Academic Advisement Center at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, and earned his MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College, where he studied with Ryan Boudinot and John McManus.