You look at me. I stare back at you. Your hair is long and stringy from lack of care. Your blue eyes that were once bright and filled with joy, now stare at me filled with a lifeless dread. Our eyes interlock, and for a brief moment a smile flickers across your face. I force myself to smile back.
I didn’t want to be here. I can’t stand sitting here staring at you. Staring through a thick piece of plastic that grants me the ability to avoid your touch. You pick up the telephone that is now a faded black. I pick up mine. I have no idea what to say after thirteen years of silence.
“Hello, Pookie.” I cringe, and let out a sigh.
“Hi,” I mumble.
“H-h-how have you been?” I shrug my shoulders. What am I supposed to say, that everything’s peachy? “How is Kitty?” I hate that nickname.
“She’s…good.” I dare not say how she overworks herself with three jobs, or how her head, once full of Hershey brown curls, is now streaked with gray and always pulled back in a tight bun. Her skin is beginning to shrivel after years of keeping everything bottled in.
You were my best friend since I could remember; you gave me my nickname after we watched a puppet show with a dancing lion on PBS. You were the only one who cared about me. You always told me when I was a kid that if I would pray to God about anything, He would always answer. You’d whisper to me every night that God loved me to the moon and back, but that your love for me stretched past Pluto. Then you’d kiss me on my forehead, and whisper “Goodnight, Pookie.”
I shudder and push this thought of betrayal out of my mind.
“So…um…what grade are you in?”
“I’m in college…I’m failing math.”
You smirk, “Math was my worse subject.” I roll my eyes. I’m nothing like you—nothing.
When I was seven you lifted me up onto our old gray mare’s back, and told me that if I would eat all my fruits and vegetables that I would grow to be as big as the horse. I felt invincible sitting up there. Nothing could ever hurt me—as long as I had you to hold my hand.
“What are you doing after you graduate?” Your question pulls me back into reality.
“Um…” I shrug, “Graduate school.” Or move 2,000 miles away, “I’m thinking about Madison.” A lie.
“Madison’s a good school.” You say, proudly grinning.
In that split second I wish I could go back in time and whisper in your ear to stay. But nonetheless I can’t go back. I can’t erase all of your mistakes.
As if reading my mind, your smile dwindles and regret fills your eyes like a bag of dirt. “I’m sorry, Pookie. I never…I…I meant to come back.”
The world pauses for a brief moment as if holding its breath. We’re back on the farm; your cold, damp hand is clasped around mine. We’re running from him—the man with a shadow face. His breath is soaked in whiskey and bitterness. “Run. Don’t. Look. Back.” You tug on my arm through the cow pen and up the hill molded of red clay dirt.
“But. Kitty.” I puff
“No time, Pookie. She…will manage.” We come to The Oak, and you help me up the old pieces of wood steps nailed into the bark and into our secret fort.
“Stay here. Lay down. Be quiet. Don’t come down for nobody. I’ll come back.” but you never came back.
Kitty found me the next day with a man wearing dark blue and a shiny badge pressed on the left side of his chest. The man with a shadow face was gone forever, and you were nowhere to be found. I kept my promise—you never kept yours.
It was years later, and people still stared at me. They still whispered about me, but I never allowed them to know that I still hoped and prayed that you would come back. It was nine years later, shortly after I turned 18, that I found a press release from that day when you left me—“Teenager Shot Intoxicated Father Awaiting Trial.” Bitterness churned my stomach, and I walked away, deciding to forget about you, like an old plastic bottle in an alleyway.
I’m overcome with a cloud of forgiveness, and let out a sigh of relief.
“I know. I forgive you because you’re brother.” You smile, and slide your hand onto the plastic barrier. I put mine over yours. The years that were speckled with silence is now replaced with a white canvas ready for the new memories to be splattered on. So what would we paint in two years when you finally get your freedom?