Trajan sat in the backseat of his father’s car as he drove them home from the preliminary hearing. He saw a woman seated in the back of a car adjacent to them in traffic. She had a piece of tape affixed to her nose, attaching either nostril to an oxygen tank by way of clear plastic tubing. She looked pitiful sitting back there alone. In her eyes, he must have looked pitiful, too, alone in the backseat of their car.
After staring for an uncomfortably long while, Trajan gave a shy little wave, a subtle side-to-side movement of his hand to ask whether she was okay back there.
I see you, he said with his wave. Do you see me?
The woman waved back, her thin brown hand barely visible above the door frame so as to be imperceptible to anyone riding in the car with her. She adjusted the tape stretched across her nose, pressed it flat to make sure the plastic tubing was secure in place, before looking away. He didn’t know whether she was coming or going in this world, waxing or waning, how long those tubes would sustain her. She couldn’t know that, in the backseat of his mind, he was mourning the loss of his only brother, his mother’s firstborn son.
As the car pulled ahead of them in traffic, Trajan wondered about his brother’s last words, his final moment of conscious thought, whether incessant chatter from the police radio was the last sound he was likely to have registered. The dispatcher would return with at most two things to report. His brother had been detained once for shoplifting. He claimed to have had a craving for donuts, but he didn’t have enough cash on hand for donuts and milk.
“And milk?” Trajan had questioned. Dew from the sides of the milk carton, sweating through his brother’s T-shirt, alerted the man who owns the AM-PM to the caper as he counted change for the donuts.
“How are you going to swallow a dozen powdered mini-donuts without a splash of milk to wash them down?” Langston replied, his tendency to trivialize life’s most important matters doing little to quiet the storm brewing inside their mother’s head, her eyes a genuine goblin’s stare, the depth and color of ink spilled from the nib of a pen.
Langston had been charged with fighting in public as a result of his final bout with Albert Chu. One of the clearer-minded kids had flagged down a passing patrol car, which escorted the pair to the emergency room. After taking their statements, the officer, again acting in accordance with standard procedure, cited both boys as interested parties in an altercation.
“Do you think we can sue?” his father asked into the silence surrounding his mother’s disposition.
“The weatherman predicts rain today,” Dottie replied, never diverting her gaze from the passenger side window. “Should we sue the sun for failing to shine? Or, if in the end, rainclouds fail to gather overhead, can we sue 11 Alive for leading us to believe it would rain?”
Exasperation shaped the expression between his parents, exasperation and pain. The pain his father had caused. The pain he could no longer spare her. “You can’t sue our son back into existence,” Dottie said, looking at Chester for the first time. “I won’t be party to it, if that’s your aim. I want to be home. Want my son back where he belongs, home beside his mother. I won’t stand by and let you tarnish his memory with anything that won’t, at the end of the day, bring him home to me.”
Chester dropped Trajan and his mother off in front of their duplex apartment. Trajan wondered when they might see him again as the glow from his taillights disappeared down the block. He helped his mother inside the house. When had he gotten so big, outgrown his mother to the point that he could reach an arm around her and have her fit inside his shoulder? He escorted her to her bedroom door, the weight of her leaning as much on him as on any part of the creaky wooden floor, his body listing unsteadily in an effort to keep them both upright. He left her alone inside the room, the lights turned low, though he knew she wouldn’t sleep. Feared she might never rest again.
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