Featured Story for the week of 10/29/2014

When You Carry Him Home

by Linda Niehoff

Try not to notice the lights in the rear view mirror but when you do, pull over. Look at the fragile gold line along the darkening horizon and start to worry. Calculate how long this will take. Try not to think about how you were barely going to make it before and now this. Wonder why you didn’t just fly. Look down at the ringing phone and see it’s your mother calling — again — worrying about the color, about the everything. Don’t answer. Pretend you’re far away because you are. Curse under your breath like someone’s beside you even though no one ever is. Not when you’re the older brother.

Crack the window when the cop walks up, and when he says, “Any idea how fast you were going?” decide to tell him why. And what you’re hauling, even though the sun is slipping out of the sky, even though you don’t have time. Say it anyway just to see how the words taste and if your voice’ll hold. It does but just barely.

Nod and clench your teeth when he says, “You know I have to look, right?”

Don’t meet his eyes when you reply, “And you know I can’t, right?”

Grab the paperwork that kept you there an extra two days and follow him to the back of the U-Haul. “Could be anything. Cocaine. Money. Guns.” Notice how he watches for you to twitch when he says each thing.

Hold his eyes steady with yours when you say, “I wish it were.”

When he opens the back, remember that you picked black even though your mother won’t like it, but in the end, she couldn’t decide anyway. She couldn’t even speak. Don’t look when he lifts the lid and shines his flashlight. And don’t think about the time you had to carry what’s inside in your arms across sun slanted fields after he wrecked his bike jumping ramps and couldn’t stand up and couldn’t even remember your name. Try not to think about the fields and the sun now and how you’re carrying him back home to his mother for the last time. Try not to think how he always needed you to carry him. Even now.

Don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry. Not yet. Not until he’s home. And maybe not even then.

Don’t look at the cop when he takes one last look over the paperwork. Just nod when he’s tells you he’s sorry, but you’ll have to slow down. Don’t try to figure out if you’ll make it back in time even if you drive all night and don’t sleep. And whatever you do, as you start back up, don’t notice how that thin gold line is missing from the horizon now. How fast it was swallowed up by black.

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Linda Niehoff’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Dogzplot, Forge, and Boston Literary Magazine, among others. She lives in Kansas and blogs at www.thewrittenpicture.typepad.com and is on Twitter at @lindaniehoff.