The meds my brother takes no longer work and now I often find him carrying on conversations with the couch, just him talking to the sofa as if such a thing was completely normal. Lately he's become smitten with my wife's parakeet. He'll kneel down in front of Piper's cage and whistle off key, something that sounds like Beyonce's, "Single Ladies."
At night in bed my wife tells me she's worried. She always says this.
"This time I really mean it."
"He's fine, just nuts is all."
"It's only a matter of time before he does something dangerous."
"Patrick wouldn't hurt a fly. Don't you see the way he is with Don Juan?" Don Juan is our calico, given to us as a wedding present last year.
"He recites The Gettysburg Address to it."
"Yeah, isn't that something? I can never remember past the first sentence."
"There are places equipped to handle people like him."
"I married you, not your brother."
"What are you saying?"
"He's a burden I didn't sign up for."
"Is that an ultimatum?"
"I guess it is."
True to her word, my wife moves out two days later. The divorce papers come a month after that. Then it's just Patrick and me.
When we were kids Patrick taught me how to ride a bike, how to ice skate and roller skate, how to fish, how to throw a perfect spiral. When I read him poems I wrote (poems I have since re-read and now realize are absolute shit) he listened intently, never laughing, always finding something in them to praise.
Our dad died when we were toddlers. It wasn't until my senior year that we learned Pops hadn't had a heart attack after all, as Mom had told us, but that he'd hung himself in the garage.
The doctors I'd spoken to said this discovery had nothing to do with Patrick's mental illness, but he started to spiral downward about then, streaking through downtown wearing only a cowboy hat, boots and underwear. Another time he tried juggling watermelons in the produce section at Safeway and made quite a mess. Another time he reached into the glass box of puppies at PetCo and let them loose inside the store. Another time he...
One day I'm at work when Mrs. Hitchens, my neighbor, calls and says I should get home as soon as possible.
My boss is a dick, but I need the job in order to take care of Patrick and pay alimony, so I feign sickness and speed home where I spot Patrick on top of the roof in my wife's old baby blue bathrobe and fuzzy slippers. Not only that, but he's got a fishing pole with him. When I get out of the car, he grins and gives me a parade float wave.
I start to think maybe my wife was right, that perhaps Patrick is getting more dangerous. Still he's my brother. We've lived our whole lives together and when Mom died I became Patrick's guardian.
I go into the house, change out of my work clothes, find a ladder in the garage (how did Patrick get up there without a ladder?) and carefully climb the slanted roof where my brother sits on the center beam.
He doesn't seem surprised to see me, nor does he mention the fact that I've change into a robe and slippers and have my own fishing pole.
"Getting any bites?" I ask.
"Just clouds so far."
"Maybe you should change your bait," I say.
We cast every three minutes, our lines looping over the gutters below. Eventually Patrick snags one of my wife's azaleas from the tiny garden by the porch. He whoops and whoops, the happiest I've seen him in a long time. I laugh, too. I tell him, "Let's go fry that thing up and have us some dinner," and he flashes me that smile again, saying, "Yeah, we'll split it."
BIO: Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and an editor at the online magazine, Literary Orphans. His work appears widely in print and at many online journals. Len's story collection, The Dark Sunshine debuted from Connotation Press last year. You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com