Bagatelle at 0900
There is a creature in our ceiling. All morning we’ve listened to it stalk the dark terrain above our heads. It scrambles it chuckles it goes boom boom thunk. I boondoggle my big brother into pulling search/destroy.
“Coward,” I say. “The creature in our ceiling terrifies you.”
My big brother eyeballs me. He’s thinking of what I’d look like wearing a flag. Now I’m thinking of that too. How he’d lay me in state on the coffee table, wait for Lieutenant Granny to come in and whistle Taps.
“Maybe supper first,” I say. “How do victuals sound to your person?”
“Where the hoochgirl get to?” he inquires after our mother, though he knows full well what’s become of her.
“She rotated back to the World. She left us in care of the creature.”
He snorts, puts an ear to the wall. This is good. Nothing is more critical to my plan than the careful deployment of his dread.
“The creature is unpleased,” I say. “It won’t hold back much longer.”
“The hoochgirl left us chop-chop,” he says, and double-times it into the kitchen. His barefeet smack the linoleum; he slams the microwave door; I patrol his room for IEDs. What’s beneath his bed? A deck of cards with hairy women; a box of birdshot; Mother’s watch.
At the table he’s commandeered my bowl of pinto beans. “To where, if it’s Mister Charlie or Johnny Jihad up there?” he slurps, “it comes down to, is it him or is it me?”
I tell him I could not say it better.
My brother paces up and down the hall to cleanse himself of any thought but kill. This is the ceremony of arming himself. He’s hidden weapons everywhere: hamper, drawer of stove, bible cabinet, a paint can on a string hanging out of the upper window.
“We will not have a clusterfuck on our hands,” he says. I believe him. His deerbow is painted pearl-gray, his arrowtip is dipped in arsenic. The knife in his teeth has teeth.
“Death before dishonor,” I say, dabbing green and black on his cherub cheeks. Then a monstrous blast from above. We scamper into Mother’s quarters, dive beneath the bed, and listen to each other breathe. We want it to continue. We need it to.
My brother stands on Mother’s bed, notches an arrow and flexes the bow, squints down his creature-killer to the bull of my nose.
His eyes are panic flares. He basks in the grandeur of his pose. What I do in these events is remain absolutely still.
“I am not afraid,” he says.
“That is a Rog,” I say. “Now you get on up there most ricky-tick, sir. Hoo-ah.”
It is not Mister Charles in our ceiling, or the Red Menace, or a white-faced rapist in floppy shoes. The secret we both know is that nothing so beautiful as a human will ever again engage our front. It is an animal, unbeautiful, and my brother, lance corporal of the idiot brigade has positioned the ladder and humped in high through the air duct. I remain below, peering up at the dark square. My brother looks down at me, a line of drool swinging off his blade. He takes the knife from his teeth and pokes the cotton candy foam.
“Hey rear-echelon motherfucker, run and fetch me a torch.”
“Never,” I tell him, and slide the grate back, and twist in the screws.
This animal loves the dark.