By Anna Mavromati
Jeremy’s wrist is broken. There’s a small white line cutting across it in the glowing image of his skeleton hand that the doctor is pointing at. The line is so thin I can barely see it, but I’m distracted. The X-ray isn’t just a close up of Jeremy’s wrist bones. I can see Jeremy’s whole hand, his finger bones outstretched, and for some reason I keep expecting the picture to move.
Jeremy is sitting on the examination table leaning back against the wall and he looks bored. He holds out his hand and for the doctor to wrap it in a black cast and even though I know he would never let me sign his cast anyway, I feel a little disappointed that it’s black.
He didn’t break his wrist in the bar fight last night. It didn’t even end up being much of a fight—just a lot of shoving and yelling, and the older lady in the tank top who’d served us our beers was burying her fingers in her hair and looked like she was about to scream. Jeremy really broke his wrist when he fell down on our way back to the car. Tom didn’t get there to catch him in time and there’s no way I could have done it. It’s almost funny that what actually ended up beating Jeremy up a little was his own weight.
The doctor smiles at me and tells Jeremy he’s lucky to have a nice sister to take care of him. It sounds a little like something my dad once said to me when he was alive, when Jeremy and I were kids—but my dad said it differently, and he threw in words about responsibility and family and definitely cussed more. I nod at the doctor but I don’t smile back at him. I wonder how many people like us the ER doctor sees every day. Most of the people in the waiting room were older or coughing or holding a baby with a fever. These are people who don’t deserve the things that happen to them to bring them here. But this doctor, grinning with crinkling eyes and a receding hairline, must get a lot of people like us too—or worse. He doesn’t make any comments about us being out-of-the-ordinary. He doesn’t stare at the tattoos on my forearms or the frayed patches on Jeremy’s vest.
Jeremy slides off the table, pushing himself with his good hand, and slouches out the door beside me.
I finally say something to him. “That’s gotta hurt like a bitch.”
He climbs into the passenger side of my truck silently.
Tom is in the kitchen, waiting for us and drinking black coffee. For the first time in a long time, I wish he wasn’t here.
“The fuck is wrong with you, man?” he says.
Jeremy doesn’t answer.
“He’s tired,” I say, shaking my head at Tom. “Leave him alone for a minute.”
Tom turns his frown to me and I look away.
“The fuck, man,” he says. “That was bullshit.”
Jeremy drops onto the couch in the living room with his bed sheets still tangled on it and lies back like he’s going to take a nap there. Tom slams his mug down so hard it seems like he’s about to break it.
“I’m not gonna do this anymore,” he says. “I’m not dealing with this. I’m out. I’m done. This is not the shit I agreed to.”
It takes me a second to realize he’s talking to me.
“You get drunk,” I say. “I’ve seen it. I get drunk. Everyone gets drunk. It’s not that big a deal. Don’t be an asshole.”
“You know I’m not talking about getting drunk,” Tom says.
“He broke his wrist out on the sidewalk when he fell. That’s all that fucking happened.”
Tom’s face is red.
“Sarah, that is not,” he says and he breathes out like it’s hard to talk. “No. That is not all that happened.”
I can tell that Jeremy’s still awake, but his eyes are closed. His injured hand is resting on his chest and the cast makes it look even bigger and thicker than it already is. This kind of emphasizes how big and thick Jeremy is in general. One of our stepmom’s once joked that Jeremy got all of the muscle from our dad’s genes and when I was born there was nothing left for me but skin and bones. Of course, the guy Jeremy almost got into a fight with last night was the only other person in the bar who looked about as big.
“We let him in our home, you drive him everywhere, drive him to the goddamn bar and then to the goddamn hospital, and he can’t even stay on parole,” Tom says. He points a finger at me but he turns to Jeremy now, who still hasn’t opened his eyes. “And she’s going to college now and working at the restaurant every day and you’re dragging her back into this.”
“Shut up, Tom,” I say.
I want to say more about how Jeremy has taken care of me too, but I stop myself.
Jeremy sits up on the couch now and opens his eyes, fixing them dully on Tom. Even though the cast makes his wrist look bigger, I know what it will look like in six weeks when the cast comes off. I broke my arm once when I was fifteen and I watched the doctor cut through the bandages. My arm was pale and shriveled and it looked like it had aged a hundred years.
“Just leave him alone,” I say. “It could have gone a lot worse.”
“What college?” Jeremy asks me.
“Just a community college for now.”
“You,” Tom says, his finger pointing at Jeremy this time, “are going to ruin her life like this, man. I know it.”
He turns away and leans against the kitchen counter.
And I already know what all of this is leading to because this kind of thing has happened to me and Jeremy before. At the bar last night Jeremy almost swung at a guy who said that a break in the mirror behind the bar was a bullet hole, left over from the last time some crooked meth dealer showed up in this town. It looked like someone had taken a hole-puncher to that mirror, like the one I use to put homework in my three-ring binder. The hole in the mirror exposed the earthy molding wood behind it. It looked disgusting but I wanted to stick my finger through it, just because it was almost the perfect size for that sort of thing.
The comment this guy made at the bar that night didn’t really sound like a threat against Jeremy. None of us really believed the story and I think he was partly joking. And of all the shit Jeremy’s gotten into, he’s never actually sold meth, or at least I don’t know about it if he did. But Jeremy stood up in that way he does, where he seems to be even taller than he already is and his shoulders broaden out, and I knew that we were in trouble. And my poor skinny, freckled Tom, who’s never been arrested in his life, held his hands in front of his face and hung his head like he was not scared, but ashamed.
“What classes are you taking in college?” Jeremy asks me after Tom storms out. We’re sitting on the couch together now and the TV is on mute. A girl is smiling at us from the screen, her face floating over a Crest toothpaste logo.
“Just some of the basic stuff right now,” I say. “English, math, an anthropology.”
“Good. That’s real good, Sarah.”
Jeremy pats his good hand on my knee for a second then moves it away. My knee still feels warm after. Sometimes he reminds me so much of our dad that it’s almost like dad’s alive again, with big hands and thick eyebrows, and I want to tell him that I’ve missed him so damn much for a long time. I look down at his cast.
“I guess this time we don’t really have anyone to get even with unless you want me to try to beat up the sidewalk for you,” I say.
I imagine myself on my knees on the pavement outside of that bar from last night, slamming my fists against the ground, getting revenge on the earth for hurting my brother. I’m embarrassed to admit to Jeremy how much I like the idea of that. Dad used to say we had to take care of our own. Or something like that.
“I remember that time I broke my arm,” I say. “Do you remember that? Or that other time when I got my lip busted and you took me home and said you were gonna mess up that kid for me. We were staying not far from this neighborhood back then. I liked that place.”
Jeremy left home when I was eight, but I guess we’ve always ended up living together again whenever something’s been broken.
He turns to me and doesn’t say anything, but I’m pretty sure he’s remembering everything I’m talking about. Places we used to live and people we used to know, for better or for worse. They’re all these hazy memories, even dad, and thinking about it is like looking back into the horizon when you’re heading the opposite direction, probably toward another horizon, and the way you can’t see to the end of the road in either direction.
“Emile’s got a room,” Jeremy says. “Says I can stay. It’s over on the east side.”
He turns back to the TV but I can tell he’s not paying attention to it. His expression is solemn.
“Tom isn’t so bad,” I say. “He just doesn’t want any trouble, but he’ll get used to you. He smokes weed and does some illegal shit too. He’s just not used to the bigger stuff. It’ll get better if you just stay.”
Jeremy’s mouth thins and I keep talking.
“He’s from a pretty nice family and he wants to own a restaurant of his own one day and I really think he could do it,” I say. “And this place is nice and he could get you a job. I thought you would be OK here when you got out because we’re in a good neighborhood and we’re not near anything bad. I’ll talk to Tom and deal with this. You can stay with us as long as you want to. He’s not so bad when you get to know him.”
Jeremy raises his eyebrows slightly and says, “You can do better.”
Then he shakes his head and rests his good hand over his cast, almost hiding it, and I know he’s not talking about Tom.
But I’ll still leave Tom, like I’ve left boys before him, and I’ll probably follow Jeremy to the east side even if he tries to shake me off or doesn’t answer my phone calls, and I’ll tell Jeremy it’s because me and Tom didn’t work out so I can’t stand working at the restaurant with him anymore and that the college classes were bullshit. And I can already imagine the way Tom is going to watch me from the porch as my truck backs out of the driveway. His arms will be folded in front of his chest and his boyish face will be hardened into an expression that’s hard for me to read, probably wondering whether he should pity me or be disgusted with me or miss me. I can see him leaning against the open front doorway, watching the road long after I’m gone, already two blocks away with my foot lifted off the gas pedal, just letting the wheels roll me steadily downhill.