When I wake up and come in to make coffee, my dead brother sits at the kitchen table. He doesn’t look much different than he looked before, except his skin seems a bit thinner. As the florescent light buzzes on, I think I can see the whole blue-green cartography of his circulatory system. He is naked.
You must be, I reply, making a point not to look at his genitalia piled there between his legs on our mother’s nice mahogany chair. This is more for his benefit. I give him our father’s robe from the bathroom. It nearly swallows his translucent, lean body, but a robe is not a man’s mouth. I tighten the rope of it for him.
Where are Mom and Dad? he asks.
Oh, they’ve been missing for several days. I measure scoops of coffee into the crisp folds of the paper filter.
Did you file two missing person reports with blue or black ink only?
No, no – I sent the family dog and some messenger pigeons.
I’m angry I’d so quickly forgotten that he liked it black, so I remind myself to give me an extra paper cut beneath my tongue later as punishment. Since everyone left, I’ve become quite disciplined. I drop three sugar cubes into mine, sit at the table, and slide his mug toward him. He nods in appreciation at me as if I am a diner waitress. He’d always been a perfect gentleman with strangers. A real southern boy in that respect. When I was a girl, I named all my male stuffed animals after him and demanded that my mother cover me with them before I fell asleep.
I think there is a war going on, he says as he scrutinizes the curls of heat coming off his coffee.
Might be. I spoon out a sugar cube and suck on it. The grits of it catch in the cuts under my tongue.
He tells me he’s always loved me.
If there is a war, can I write to you like a sweetheart?
Yes, I sigh, but there’s a general shortage of stamps. Also potatoes.
What have you been eating?
The bad guys.
He laughs. A few of his teeth fall into his coffee. I tell him he looks handsome and offer him more coffee.
My cup is full.
I pour some on the floor.
That’s better, he says.
After we make love on the linoleum, we shiver beneath the robe and he explains how heaven is a network of tunnels, and there are all these rabbits dragging themselves through with broken back legs.
A rabbit needs its legs to get away from its enemies. He starts to cry out of the lines in his palms. I wipe his hands with my hair and beg him to be quiet. You mustn’t wake Dad. And suddenly we’re quite small. Like the hairless baby bunnies my brother ran over with the lawnmower.
Remember? It was the summer before you killed yourself.
I thought I died in the war. He quiets, my hair in his hands.
Printed with permission from Caitlin Scarano, copyrighted by Caitlin Scarano @ 2014. This piece, winner of the Spring 2014 Orlando Prize for Flash Fiction, originally appeared in Issue No. 16 of the Los Angeles Review.