Bringing the War Back Home


by Jac Cattaneo

My twin brother Luke was trouble when we were kids. Hell, there was that time he dropped an open penknife on his foot and told Mom it was me, his tomboy sister, stabbing him. Or the day he tied me to a post at the river station and left me there till a night fisherman set me free. Last summer we turned eighteen and I asked for books for college. Luke sweet-talked Mom into persuading Pa to buy him a drum kit.

Just what that house didn't need, the clatter of drums. Before Pa got back from Vietnam the loudest sound we ever heard was the crash of the thunder in the fall when the storms rolled in off the ocean. Mom wouldn't let us watch TV, she said it upset her seeing those soldiers and what they had to go through. I said it's more like what the Vietnamese have to go through, but she said she weren't having no Commie talk in her house, with Pa away, fighting for his country. When she said that I could see she wanted to cry, so I didn't say what I really thought about it.

When Pa got home in the spring with his arm cut off at the elbow, all that changed. Everybody started saying what they felt, first him and then my brother and then we all joined in. Mom doesn't usually like fighting, but when Pa shouted at her she yelled right back. One evening she threw the whole load of kitchen stuff at him, plates and glasses, things that would break. Then she slammed the door and Pa hollered at Luke to fetch him a beer and he turned on the news, volume right up, so that Mom could hear the sound of machinegun fire and explosions all the time that she was crying in her bedroom.

Pa was proud of my brother, I could tell by the way he looked at him sideways when he thought Luke wasn't looking. On the morning of my birthday I went onto the porch and saw them all standing around these big maroon drums. Pa had his hand on Luke's shoulder, patting it.

'You're a man now, son,' he said, all gruff-like, 'make some noise.'

Boy, he sure did. If you think the sound of slamming doors and shouting is bad you ain't never heard my brother playing the drums. That summer he slept in most mornings but by noon he was off, a-hammering and pounding, no rhythm as far as I could see, just different kinds of crashing like he was trying to break down the world into little pieces of noise. My friends stopped visiting our house, even Anna who always used to hang around Luke at school. When I asked her to come over, she pulled a face.

'My brother'll be there,' I said, trying to persuade her.

'He's mighty fine, Jess, I just don't know about them drums. You can hear that racket from the other side of the river. Can't imagine it up close, like.'

Then Luke told us he was going to form a band.

'You gonna take those stupid drums someplace else?' I asked him.

'Hell, no,' Pa said. 'That ain't necessary. You can practice here, boy. Shake the place up.'

It was shaking fine without a band as a far as I could see. That night as I lay in bed listening to my folks yelling at each other, I thought about messing up Luke's drums so he wouldn't keep on spoiling my vacation.

I waited till the house was silent as the moon after the astronauts went home. Then I went out onto the porch. There was a big piece of plastic over Luke's kit and I yanked it at the bottom so it slid onto the ground, leaving the drums bare and shiny in the dark. The moon was off sulking behind a cloud somewhere, so I struck a match while I thought about what could be done. Fire was way too dangerous, given that our house was wood. Where could I find a knife? I was thinking these things when I heard a sound inside, on the other side of the door.

I ducked down behind the biggest drum just as Pa stepped out onto the porch. He had his guitar. He sat down on the steps and looked out towards the river, except you couldn't see it on account of there being no moon. I was surprised, because I had clean forgotten that my pa ever had a guitar. Guess he took it with him when he went away to fight.

He put it on his knees and kind of wedged it under his half arm. He started to strum, but he couldn't make proper music on account of only having one hand. I felt bad because I couldn't remember if he was right or left handed. It was his right hand that had gone. Seeing him sitting there trying to play made the tears well up in my eyes. He was making a sniffing noise, so perhaps he was weeping too.

I didn't do nothing to Luke's drums that night, but I wanted them broken more than ever. When the day for band practice came round, I still hadn't come up with a plan. I went down the river to fish, on my own, because most of my friends avoided me now. People in the shops gave me funny looks too, like they were sorry for me or something. It seemed a lot of commotion over a set of drums.

But the fishing was no good because it started to rain, churning the water up muddy and brown. I went home and Luke was sat on the porch next to his drums, holding a green glass beer bottle. There was an empty one next to his feet.

'You ain't allowed to drink!' I said, but Luke just smiled and went

'Courtesy of Pa,'so there wasn't anything more I could say.

I went into our bedroom and slammed the door, ornery-like, though it was the usual way of shutting things that summer. I hadn't made my bed yet and I laid myself down on the crumpled sheets and beat the pillow with my fists. I was so busy giving it a good thrashing that I didn't notice the door open and Luke come in.

'JJ's comin' round for band practice,' he said. 'His guitar's gotta busted string. D'ya know where that old one is?'

'That's Pa's guitar! You can't have that without asking him!' My fist was still clenched from hitting the pillow and I thought about whopping Luke.

'You know he ain't here to ask. Mom's drivin' him to the doctor's in Savannah - they won't be home for ages now. C'mon Jess, give it up. Don't be such a goody-two-shoes.'

I raised my hand and went to hit him, but he caught my arm, taunting me:

'Goody-goody, but still scrapping like a boy.'

He backed out the door still holding my wrist, pulling me with him into our folks' bedroom. I jerked my arm free and watched while he opened the closet and poked about. In the end he found the guitar under the bed.

'That's important to Pa,' I told him. 'You can't just take it.'

Luke turned and sneered. 'They may not have told you, but you need two hands to play guitar.'

'You gotta ask first,' I pleaded. Maybe Pa pulled his fingers over the strings every night out there on the porch. But I couldn't tell Luke, it was our secret, Pa's and mine. My brother shrugged, picked up the guitar, walked out and left me there.

I sat on the bed and listened to the sound of him tuning the strings. What would Pa say when he got home? Then I heard the sound of the car pulling up behind the house and ran to the porch.

'They're coming Luke,— stop playing!'

My brother slid the guitar off of his shoulder and stood it behind his drums. The neck still stuck out, like it wanted to be seen. Then he grabbed the bottles off the floor and held them out to me.

'Thought you said Pa let you have those beers?' I asked. He told me to shut up and hide the bottles, quick.

'Why should I?' I said, but he just put them in my hands and pushed me towards the steps. I stood my ground. 'You took Pa's guitar without asking. Why should I do anything you say?'

'Go now!' shouted Luke, but it was too late. Pa came out through the porch door and saw me standing there holding the empty bottles and said 'what ya doin', Jessie?' and I dropped the bottles and they smashed on the steps, green glass flying everywhere and cutting red grooves into my bare ankles. Mom was behind Pa trying to see what was happening and Luke was staring at me, asking me with his eyes not to say anything.

For a moment everything was still.

'Jessica! Tell me where you got them bottles,' Pa yelled.

I looked at Luke who was shaking his head. The guitar neck was poking out right next to Pa's leg, almost touching him.

'Luke stole your beer,' I said. The words felt thick, like I was talking through sawdust, but I didn't care. 'He took your guitar from under your bed and he was playin' it an' all.' I pointed.

Pa reached down to pick up the guitar. As he turned his back, Luke drew a finger across his throat. Mom pushed through, saw the blood on my feet and ankles and started to scream.

It was like all the sounds in the world happened then. Pa lifted the guitar and smashed it down on Luke's bass drum. The strings let out a twanging cry as the wood splintered through the drum, making it boom like thunder, dying. Luke shouted out and tried to grab Pa, but Pa turned and knocked him backwards, hitting him across the chest with the broken guitar. Mom started to sob, like something was breaking inside of her. I didn't move. I was sure that there was glass under my skin.

There's no money for college now Pa has gone. Mom's not sure where he's living now. I see her watching for the postman every day. Luke left soon after Pa did, on the day his draft letter came. He said he'd run away rather than go to the army, to have bits of him blown off. We hear from him sometimes, collect calls in the middle of the night from places like Caracas or Acapulco. The house is quiet. Mom hates the TV and I don't listen to music anymore. The war will be over soon, they say.


BIO: Jac Cattaneo is an artist, writer and lecturer who lives on the south coast of England. Her short fiction has appeared in a range of publications, including International Flash magazine, 100 Stories for Haiti anthology, Word Riot, Metazen, and Foundling Review. 'Bringing the War Back Home,' published in a previous issue of Bartleby Snopes, was chosen by the Million Writers Awards as a Notable Story of 2009. Jac is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University.