BY GARY GARRISON
Watching the train from her bedroom. The whole thing slow-grinding to a stop. All of it during the snow, the cream-flakes swaying lightly. The cold stiff. The whole scene rolling like milk in the just-opened-door of the fridge.
The two of them barely fit on her balcony. But he wants to watch the people and the train, because, he says, from up here we can watch like God watches. And her heart takes her first to the fear that he might be so close.
Her brother sings. He takes long drags from a cigarette between verses. It’s a tuneless song that she can’t quite make out despite the heavy muting of fresh snow; a song that sounds caught in his lungs, a melody whispered up in smoke.
She is watching the train like they are waiting for it, for someone aboard, or some place it might take them, watching with the expectation that the whole scene will not suddenly screech to a halt, that life itself will not suddenly be blinked from existence. She tries to watch like her brother says, like god, but she does not know how to watch with power and indifference. So instead she studies the progress of the pitted construction site, the future location of 300 ultra-new, ultra-modern, ultra-competitively-priced apartments that will be spread throughout three towers and the breadth of her bedroom view.
She had wondered if her rent would drop when her view narrowed. The powers that be had said, no, and she had thought, oh no, and said, that’s too bad, and let the whole idea of it plague her for the sake of having no worse fate on her horizon to do the plaguing. In truth she never watched the trains. Or the traffic. Or the cloud factories in the distance. Or even the fireworks blooming from the mouth of the stadium on holidays and victories.
But she is watching her brother, now. She watches him watch the train, so far out there, out and away, easing to the platform, where two-dozen people mill, so small from up here, from where god watches. From up here the people are faceless, slender blurs swaying in the chill.
Her fading view plagues her like no milk.
She had found her brother. Not that anyone had been looking anymore. They had looked once, years ago. But everyone had stopped. They had stopped looking when they stopped wanting what they’d find. There was even one Sunday when her mother had quieted them all and cried between games of Balderdash, a sort of body-less funeral. And after that his name became a ghost around the house, stories of him a language forgotten.
But here she had found him, eating fire on the street outside a donut shop near the apartment of one of The Men. She had bought him donuts and missed work and they had laughed and he hadn’t said her name and she hadn’t said his and they’d told stories about people they’d never met.
This is my brother, she thinks now, even though she knows that there exists a point, where whether he was once, there is the possibility that he is not now, not any longer. Skin and bones have never been enough to hold all families up.
But if he is not a brother then she is not a sister and there are already too many things she is not: a reliable friend, a good employee, a decent tipper, debt-free—a wife, a mother. Her brother lights another cigarette on her balcony and says how nice the train looks, and how pretty the coast might be this time of year.
But how will you get there, she asks.
He bobs his head, holds his arms out like a bird and says, by goin’.
When he had first opened the door to her balcony she had worried it was to jump—birds have hollow bones, brother’s got a hollow face. And now she worries again and feels good; there is something sharply exciting in the heft of concern, beneath the weight of fear. She blinks and sees what her brother sees, if only for a moment. He leans his torso out over the railing and the tangled webs of his hair flick in the howl of high up.
She can’t help but smile.
Watch, he says, flicking the glowing butt of his cigarette out into the open, with the flecks of bright snow, and it flips, fire over dark, a blinking beacon all the way into the mouth of the deepest pit until she’s watching him kick snow down the block in her best red jacket, weighed heavy with a fist full of dollars, with a half drank bottle from the back of her fridge, to the far side of the construction pit where he stops to turn back and pick out the glowing window of her quiet bedroom in the brilliant wall of windows and she waves her arm over her head and watches him stand statue—so small from up here—for a full minute before he vanishes in the snow, all skin and all brother-bones.