My brother rubs a long bone with a little league baseball jersey our mother saved. He found the bone in a tree, suspended between branches. It’s about fifteen inches long and has the curvature of erosion, and I think of what I know about love, and understand his obsession with cleaning it.
We’re at Jerry’s Grille, splitting a bucket and chatting about punctuation. He wants to abolish most of it. I am appalled, but he is also a comedian… so maybe we’re both just actors. We first came to this bar years ago looking for a fight and settled on a basket of fries.
A woman with one eye glides between tables. She carries a shallow basket full of roses. I see her at every bar around here. She winks with the good-eye, never says a word, and no one ever buys.
When she nears us, my brother points the end of the bone at her face, holds a single finger in the air and gives the woman a five. We stick the rose in a mostly finished bottle.
I’m texting a woman I love that’s recently married. She isn’t responding, and I continue drinking.
I’m having trouble qualifying the fat built up around my heart. It could be a consequence of the drinking (this is why I run), or it could be a matter of heartbreak. The fat is salvation, an anatomical suture to keep the blood where it’s supposed to go. I think this is why I own so many hats. Cap the abstract, keep that shit in this skeletal vessel. Skull out the whimsy.
“This is all that matters,” my brother says. He holds the bone beneath his nose, takes a whiff. It’s stained with the outdoors. My brother continues to polish it with the baseball tee. “As long as I do this, I’ll never die.” His face is a more malleable version of my own. Someone skilled with clay could work wonders with him.
At some point, he goes to the restroom, leaves the bone at our table. Our waitress speaks to us from a distance, and from the pinball machine asks if we’d like another bucket. She’s in an oversized t-shirt and I can’t tell if she’s wearing pants. I’d risk cardiac arrest to graze her hips with my teeth.
I say yes and balance the bone atop my palm. My hands are perpetually clammy, a consequence of my running hot. Could be the fat heart, all that rigged circulation. Could be I’m a slice of hell, something I’m learning to believe.
The bone rolls back and forth. Soon it finds solace, but never quite settles.
My brother returns, and he’s got tears in his eyes. “I can’t remember what we used to look like.”
I know what he means. We didn’t look much like one another as children. I struggled with a unibrow and he with crooked ears. But puberty was a compromise. Our features found common ground. In our late-twenties strangers mistake us for twins.
In elementary school, we used to catch scorpions in shoe boxes and light them on fire, run away as if they were bottle rockets. One time a neighbor accused my brother of stealing his turtle. My brother swore, pleaded with me, that he hadn’t done it. So, I beat the kid’s face in for lying. He told his dad, who told our dad, who told me how proud he was. I realize, now, how terrible we must’ve been. Just the other week, my brother told me he did steal the turtle. That he put it in a shoe box.
Someone’s thrown their drink at the one-eyed woman. She’s in the fetal position near the bussing station, roses mixed with dirty dishes and spilled condiments. My brother is standing, bone in his hand like a machete. The one-eyed woman has tears coming from both sockets.
My brother clubs the drink-throwing man. He hits him once more for good measure, turns to me, and smiles like little league.
The guy’s friend has my brother by the collar, is dragging him between tables. I’m out of my seat. I leap on his back. Someone’s pounding me in the side of my ear, but it hurts less than the recent oral surgery. The bone rolls by the pinball machine. The bucket I ordered dangles from our waitress’s hand. My phone vibrates in my pocket, but I can’t reach it with this guy on top of me.
Someone dumps their nachos on us. A few people have called the cops. A fist continues to rail against the side of my head and my phone keeps buzzing. When my eyes shut, my brother laughs.