a story by Jd Hamilton
Brett goes to war and comes back as a folded flag. There’s a check too, for a little over $38,000. Brett’s life insurance after government taxes. Dad puts that money in the bank and says it’s for my college fund. Coming home early from school one day I watch Mom through the kitchen window cut the flag to pieces. Shreds of red, white, and blue scattered about the linoleum floor.
Cameron calls, stoned in his dorm, and tells me he’s sorry. He’s sorry that my brother is dead and I’ll never see him again. Cameron says there’s an antiwar protest next weekend on his campus and if my parents buy me a Greyhound ticket to Oregon then he’ll take me to it. Twenty-five minutes go by on the phone and he never asks if I’m okay. Then he wants to know how school is.
School is the place where I’m now the girl with the dead war hero brother. Even a moment of silence for Brett was held during the morning announcements where most kids looked at their desk while others finished homework they didn’t do the night before. I looked at my desk.
On the phone Cameron says not to be mad that he hasn’t called in over two months, but it was the only way he could get over me. He says if it makes me feel any better he wrote the lyrics to “One Armed Scissor” over his dorm room door and the RA saw it and thought it was some hipster suicide note and he ended up spending a night in the campus medical center. I think I smile because that used to be our song. And then I tell him my parents are going to make me see a psychologist since I’m still a minor.
“Maybe it’ll be good for you,” he says.
I don’t think I know how to act, I tell him.
“Try to act normal.”
I didn’t mean around the psychologist.
I tell Cameron I need to go, and hang up when my jaw starts to hurt from listening to him. Cameron used to hide post-it notes in my bedroom. They’d say things like:
“Life is an etch-a-sketch.”
“Time is only moments that aren’t memories.”
“I think about you in colors that don’t exist.”
I’m not sure how many he left, but I’m afraid of finding more. Once there was a postcard with a Picasso painting on it in the mail that said, “Last month—I hung a picture of you on my wall and sometimes I stand naked in front of it.”
It was written in red ink. There was no return address.
Right now my mom is sitting on the porch by herself drinking clamato beer. There’s a birdbath in the backyard, but no birds today. It’s sunny.
I watch this from behind the blinds of the sliding glass door.
When I tap four times on the glass she doesn’t turn around. My mother was once a beautiful woman. Once, we went to an animal shelter and she told me every dog that isn’t adopted in less than three weeks gets a shot of sodium pentobarbital and sent to the crematory. That’s twenty-one days a dog has to save its own life.
My mom was married at twenty-one. I wave through the glass. It’s smudged.
Cameron calls the next morning to tell me a story. He says that he would have told me last night, but he only remembered it this morning.
Cameron says that when he was a kid, whenever it was he went by Cam instead of Cameron, his best friend, Benny, lost his mother to a car wreck. Benny’s dad didn’t have the heart to tell him his mom was dead. Instead, he told Benny she had gone on a long trip.
I’m listening to Cameron, watching the outside world from my window. Newspapers are piling in the driveway. I count eight.
Cameron says at six years old, he and Benny don’t know what death is. At six, Benny wants his mom home and little Cam wants his friend to be happy.
Lying on my bed, there’s a spider crawling across the ceiling.
Cameron tells me that he and Benny made posters with green crayon. They read, “Missing: My Mom.” He asks if I’m still listening.
He says on some of the missing posters there’d be a drawing. Benny would draw his mom as a stick figure and say this is who was missing. It could be anyone, just as long as they were missing.
Benny moved away the next year. Over the phone, Cameron says they haven’t talked since then.
Over the phone, there’s a voice that says, “I never stopped thinking about you.”
My dad has been working all morning. In the hallway, he’s removed all the framed photos of Brett. The photos, they’re in a box in the garage now. Next to the dog kennel and behind the boxes of Christmas ornaments. Now there’s nothing but empty frames hanging from the walls.
Cameron says, “I miss your green eyes. I miss the way I could feel them as you’d follow my every move. Sometimes when I dream, I feel them…see them…”
Into the phone I say, I have to go now.
“Yeah,” Cameron says. “Benny’s mom never came home either.”
Later that night Cameron calls again. He’s stoned. I know it. He wants to know if I’m alone.
What do you mean? I ask.
“Do you remember when we first started dating, and I’d call your house late at night from the phone booth outside the movie theaters and tell you how to touch yourself? Do you remember those days?”
I remember when Brett picked up the phone during one of those times, I say.
“Well Brett isn’t there anymore, is he?”
There’s a moment before I hear the pop and whir of the heat coming on.
“I’m sorry,” Cameron says. “That was…weird.”
I hug a pillow against my chest.
“Spring is ending,” Cameron says.
I scratch off the last of the pink on my thumbnail.
“Do you remember the time we went to Cecret Lake and Donny lit himself on fire? It was cold today and being outside made me think of that. It was cold that day too. Remember how Leo and I had to carry him down the trail and flag down a car since his leg was burned so bad? He kept asking if they were going to have to amputate his leg. That was a fun day.”
I picture Cameron lying on his bed, eyes red and puffy and picking at his leg hair.
“Are you wet now?” he asks.
No, I say.
“I saw a girl today. She was wearing a sweatshirt that said PINK but the sweatshirt was blue. You’re smiling, aren’t you?”
When three days go by and Cameron doesn’t call, I walk in on my parents while they’re pretending to watch a rerun of Seinfeld.
I’m going to Oregon, I say. For the weekend, I won’t be gone long.
“What’s in Oregon?” one of them asks.
I’m not sure yet, I say. I’ll need to borrow some money.
The TV says, “I lie every second of the day. My whole life is a sham.”
In the waiting room of the bus station are magazines with people who are smiling. Their teeth are white. White like the way you’d picture the gates of heaven white. There’s a TV high on a stand in the corner with dust piling on it. A midday soap is playing in Spanish. There’s a woman who’s knitting something purple and everyone else looks like they’d rather be shoving a shotgun in their face.
When Brett was a senior in high school he took me to a petting zoo.
“All these animals,” he said, “they were captured and put in cages.”
There was a sheep backed into a corner. Some snot nosed kid trying to shove hay in the animal’s face.
“Can you imagine what it’d be like to be put in a cage your entire life?”
At this petting zoo, there was a reptile exhibit. It was dark inside. There were fake trees and music playing along with thunderstorms and monkeys hissing that apparently imitated the rainforest. Brett pointed out a snake that looked like it was being forced to stay alive. There was a pronounced bump in its scales. Brett said, “That was a living mouse this time yesterday. It’s kind of funny isn’t it? Life feeds on life.”
And on this bus, I begin to feel like whatever I ate last probably felt like right before it died.
Brett’s funeral was eleven days ago. In my backpack on the seat next to me are the pieces that are left over of him. I take out a blue strip and rub the fabric between my fingers. He held my hand in the petting zoo because I was afraid of the animals.
The Greyhound’s engine awakens and a woman with big hair, four seats in front of me, talks into her phone, I hear her say, “I can’t believe it’s March already.”
She says, “This year, it’s going by so fast.”
She says, “But you…you should know it’s never too late for something different.
Jd Hamilton is from a small town tucked away in the southwestern pocket of Montana. A junior in college, he is majoring in Psychology at the University of Montana and upon graduation he hopes to obtain an MFA in either Fiction or Screenwriting.