The Day My Brother Left Home

by William B. Ames

My brother didn't kill the man.

He told me he would; he even showed me the gun. It was a colt forty-five. Prime condition. Got it off some guy downtown, he said. With enough money and the right motivation you could buy almost anything downtown.

He had warned me. He told me that he hated him. He hated who he had become. He told me that night, before it happened. He warned me that if his whiskey-maddened hand touched her again he would kill him. I tried to talk him out of it. But my father was dead, and I couldn't help it.

He had been dead for a while, since college. He died that night when the first pint was set in front of him, and afterwards when he took a few shots. A freshman at a frat party and he was already dead.

The man stumbled in the door that night, and I could smell his stench from across the room. My mother's movement startled me. I was lying against her. My eyes were half open. I was trying to stay awake; I didn't want to miss the end of Letterman.

She got up and helped his stumbling mass through the door. She had been trying to help him for a while now, more than he had been trying to help himself.

She asked him why he lied, where he had been.

The man backhanded her. She fell to the floor.

My brother heard her scream and he came from his bedroom. He had been waiting. He yelled at him, called him a bastard, told him not to lay a hand on her again. Mother was crying, begging them to stop. I was still on the couch. I couldn't move.

The man snarled at him. Told him he was just a boy, not a man. My brother held out the gun. He warned him, told him not to.

The man was too drunk to understand. My father had died a long time ago.

My mother got up, she was still yelling at my brother. Don't. Put it down. What are you thinking? I still hadn't moved. I was still waiting to wake up.

The man stooped; the booze befriended gravity and together they forced him to the floor.

My mother lifted him under the arms. He forced himself to his feet. He was smiling. The devil was smiling.

He called her a woman, said he can do it himself. His hand raised to slap her again, but the forty-five spoke faster than he could move.

Now he is on the floor just a lifeless mass. Mom is still screaming. I'm still too young. I'll never forget the smell of blood. It's been shot into my memory. When I close my eyes I see the man strewn across the carpet, his life running out of him. He had been dead for a long time.

I didn't hear the sound of a bullet, or the door slamming behind my brother. I never saw my dad die, though I wish I had. I saw him when I was young. He pushed me on the swings, in the park, his solid arms gave me momentum and he smiled through a half-shaven face. He smiled at my mother, and she smiled back.

My mother talks about him a lot, she misses him. She still cries, for my brother as well. But she never talks about the man who came into our house that night, the man who beat her. I don't know how that man died, all I know is he's dead. He's dead on the carpet, and my brother is gone.

So I told the men, when they asked me. They came quickly, lights flashing, red and blue shapes dancing across our living room. They came in, tall strong figures in dark blue uniforms. They knelt down in front of me, looked me in the eye. They asked me what happened and I told them. I told them best I could. They asked me about my brother, and I told them. I told them best I could. "My brother didn't kill the man."