My Brother on the Sidewalk


by h. l. Nelson

My brother has been lying on the sidewalk for four days. When I first walked down the brownstone steps and up to him, making sure to shade his face from the sun, he just smiled and said, "I'm okay, Shelly. Don't worry about me."

The first day, I asked him if he wanted a book to read, sunglasses, a Magic 8 Ball. Anything. He just wanted a large bottle of water. Filling it up at the sink, I parted the blinds to check on him. He was still there. Still just lying. I brought him his water bottle, and he drained it. I refilled it, and did so every time I saw it, empty, beside him on the concrete.

Later that day, I gave him sunblock to smear on his skin. It was already turning a fierce red. I hoped he would sit up to apply it, would break his strict adherence to the sidewalk. Anything but lie there. He didn't. He spread it on while supine. When he rubbed it in his neck and saw me at the window watching, he waved a white-covered hand.

The second day, a police officer drove by, then reversed and stopped next to my brother. The officer leaned out his window and asked if my brother was okay.

"Of course, officer. Never been better. I'll move along shortly." The officer nodded, seeing my brother had full use of his faculties and wasn't disturbing anybody, and drove on.

I pretended not to notice the darker shade of circular denim that spread from my brother's crotch in the mornings. By noon, it had dried to the original color.

The third day, three neighbor girls asked if he wanted to join their tea party.

"Sure, but I have to drink my tea lying down."

They were fine with this and soon returned with a stuffed animal entourage, doilies, and a child-sized tea set for eight. They decided he was their guest of honor and placed a doily on his chest.

One girl's mom poked her head out of their house, spied her daughter next to a supine man on the sidewalk, and rushed over, adjusting her cardigan around her shoulders.

"Elizabeth, come inside now."

"But Mama, we're playing tea party."

"Now, Elizabeth."

This is also the day that Reinhardt's called and told me I wasn't needed in my position anymore. I hadn't called in those three days. But I slammed the phone down, as if it wasn't my fault. Then glanced through the blinds and thought my brother wasn't needed in his position anymore. Not needed or wanted. I wished he would just fucking get up.

I stalked down the brownstone steps and over to him. I grabbed both of his arms and pulled them as hard as I could, got the upper half of his body off the sidewalk.

"Just get up! Get up!"

He didn't fight back. Didn't say a word. I thumped him back down and collapsed in the grass. I buried my face in my arms and cried. He reached over and patted me until I stopped.

Today, the fourth day, I wake up with a terrible feeling in my throat. Through the blinds, I see he's meditating. There are many times he's asked me to do it with him, but I can't focus enough. He moves his lips, his eyes closed. I drag our reclining lawn chair onto the strip of grass between him and the street. I sulk down into it. We don't speak for a while, then I blurt, "I'm sorry about yesterday."

He turns to me, smiles a slow, patient smile. "It's ok, Shelly."

I don't deserve this brother.

The feeling in my throat eases and we chat about the good weather we're having, who we want to see in the next election, Star Trek vs. Star Wars. We keep the subject light, circling around the fact that he hasn't moved in days.

Then he says, "Shelly, I know how you can help me."

Finally. "How? I'll do anything if it'll get you off this sidewalk."

He asks me to lean down so he can whisper the question in my ear. This is odd, but not odder than lying on the sidewalk for four days, so I lean down. He asks me.

"No. Absolutely not."

"Come on Shelly, please? For me."

I want to tell him to come inside. I want it to be like it was when we were growing up: snowball fights in winter, water volleyball in summer, and running around the neighborhood together, no matter the season.

But I don't. I do what he asks, because I'm tired.

I go inside, open the coat closet, push aside the hockey sticks we used only two months ago. They'd fallen in front of the thing. I haul it out, but a shiny metal part gets stuck on one of my brother's ice skates. Would we even use them this year? Frustrated, I yank the thing off the skate. I bang it down the steps to him.

"Thank you. Thank you so much, Shelly."

I don't respond, and I don't wait for him to get into that thing. But I watch again from the window, as I have these last four days. I watch him sit up, position the thing a few different times. He's so new to this. We both are.

He hoists himself up and into the thing. I feel the sting a hard-launched snowball leaves on skin, even through layered clothes. I close the blinds.




BIO: h. l. nelson is Founding Editor/Executive Director of Cease, Cows mag and a former sidewalk mannequin. (Yes, that happened.) Pub credits: PANK, Hobart, Connotation Press, Red Fez, Bartleby Snopes, blah blah blah. She is working on an anthology, which includes stories by Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, xTx, and other fierce women writers. h. l.’s MFA is currently kicking her ass. Tell her what you're wearing: heather@hlnelson.com.