Taking in Cadillac

First thing Cadillac told me, first time we met, before hello, was that courage is a choice. I’d been marathoning some show on Netflix, swiping through my feed, eating something that could be construed as dinner. He wore a winter jacket that oozed stuffing out of cigarette holes. Tufts of hair did the same out of his holy hat. Sneakers more duct tape than shoe, pants with “juicy” on the ass.

For five dollars he collected my leaves into a McDonald’s bag he brought with him. And the name? That tended to stick when you only slept in unlocked Caddies through the winter. No point in settling for less if you’ve got the choice. And you’ve always got the choice.

He said the leaves had a way of teaching you things if you let them. Everything’s a lesson if you’re ready to hear it. Told me to bless myself. No one else could do it for me.

Came again the week after, same time, in the middle of some movie I had on as background noise. My gutters needed cleaning. I offered my ladder, but he Spider-manned it onto the roof instead. It was good exercise. He plucked a tree branch, collected fall mush, dropped it into paper bags on my driveway. Stared at me when he was through, mush hands dripping, 747 slicing pepto sky overhead. Birds were involved. Asked me what I was waiting for. I said for him to get down, tacked on a question mark at the end. No. What was I waiting for to start living?

Every week he found a new task I’d been neglecting. Got cold enough for hot soup eaten over the counter, cans of some microbrew he always turned down. He’d play with my alphabet magnets as we ate, rearrange them into poems by Keats, Shelley, Frost. Each week a new poem. When I asked why, he’d just point to them. One night I withheld soup. He smiled. Said I could keep the soup. He taught poetry. Community college. A lifetime ago. The poems went up on the blackboard. The lesson isn’t always in the lecture. And all that. We ate our soup in silence.

One day he took me to the backyard. Took off his coat, gloves, hat. Arranged them at my feet. Only the vapor of his breath moving. Night. Air heavy. My insistence turned to begging, but he left his clothes on the ground. Told me to join him. That I could grow or be comfortable, not both. My hat hit snow. His son must’ve made a sound when he felt the barrel touch the back of his head. Must’ve formed words before the shot, but they wouldn’t come to Cadillac. Stayed at the tip of his tongue. Oh, they came later. Set aside, in verse, turning the past into something it wasn’t, something it could never be. Tears tracked icicle rivers down my face. I put Cadillac’s clothes back on him.

We went inside.

Unplugged routers, tore out cables, collected cable boxes and remote controls. Laid them out in the snow without a word. I showed Cadillac to his room.

Most of my clothes were too big for him, but we made do with what we had. He went in to shave, wouldn’t let me see till it was done. Like a magic trick. Like a bride on her day. He came out with two piles behind him: hair and clothes. His eyes had a shine I’d never seen before. A glint. I tried to say something, but he asked for pen and paper. While he wrote I ran, into the night, laying tracks on untouched snow, flakes like infinite diamonds shining in streetlamp haze. Drifts of it on car mirrors, hoods, powder-falling off the branches of trees.

When I got back I could taste blood, cough silence. Fell onto the couch and compared ceiling to sky outside the window. Half-moon sliced by window frame, incomplete or whole depending on which eye I closed, which one I opened. Cadillac came in with his pad, sat down on the floor beside me, laid his words at my feet and breathed. Each of them filled with verses, lines, quotes, prose, doodles.

Cadillac was there, at the top of the first page: faded, smeared. Erased. A palimpsest over it, printed neatly. His name.

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Night, Dawn, Day

When it’s time to paint, I paint. Flecks of the barn’s old red come off in chips on the roller and mingle with the new white until I get pink. I climb down the ladder, dip the thing in acetate, help Phil out with his nebulizer. His vapor mixes with the early morning fog till you can’t be sure it isn’t all coming from him. His machine pumps out medicine over hills, across lakes, past the stalks of corn in their ordered lines and rows. To heal him you’ll have to heal the whole world first.

So I paint, and Phil sits, in Grandpa’s old rocker, over the feed. The chickens one-eye him as they scuttle over–pecking once, twice, retreating. Some of them are afraid of the machine’s constant hum, the way it clicks and whirs. Phil says I missed a spot; Darth Vaders it between breaths. I’ve only laid a checkerboard square of white on the great expanse of red. I spin the roller to rain paint on my big brother. It lands in droplets like stars on the sky of his bald head. The cows come in to watch, or else get at the greener grass, depending on your perspective. Phil picks up a cow chip and frisbees it at me. It explodes on the rung under my feet. Tiny, oblong versions of me reflect in racing lines of white paint.

We break at noon, Phil with his arm around my neck. Like a chokehold. Like it’s not to keep him standing. Sandwiches in triangle halves on Mom’s doily plates, her not around to insist they’re for special occasions only. Us eating standing up, or at least Phil doing it till his lungs burn, then sitting. Dad’s voice used to collect gravel when he’d ask where my manners were, till “manners” came out as a growl. Phil would try not to laugh, always did anyway.

So we go to the barn. For old time’s sake. For forgetting tomorrow’s surgery. We find Dad’s chew in an old Altoids tin, the “oids” rusted out so it’s just “Alt.” As if there could be any alternative. The sickly smell of it as we pack boluses to the right cheek, then the left to get the taste away. Spitting it out and running to the pump, spit like mud, and washing our mouths out with water we once lit on fire.

We dig into cobwebbed boxes nailed shut, pull out the snowshoes we used to make the crop circles that summer, corn stalks crunching beneath our feet. Phil disappeared into our maize maze, left me to look over the map: crayon on construction paper. Dad came outside to two stalk clusters rustling on a windless day. Went in with his shotgun. Found me first. Kept it raised even after he knew it was only me. Wondered what in creation I was doing. Our crop circle stayed like that, half-completed, till harvest time. A botched landing we’d be reminded of for the next three months.

We stand in the barn, in isosceles light coming through the door. Phil’s wearing Grandpa’s uniform. The thing is ill-fitting now as then, now for a very different reason. Phil salutes with his bony arms, knocks out cannula from nostrils with a smile. Cough-laughs as I fix it for him. I take a pic and he warns me not to post it, insists he can still kick my ass, you know.

He wants something to break; something to shoot. We go out back with a box of pellets, the doily plates, Dad’s gun. The fresh paint’s at our backs. It leaches fumes into the air, even out here, with endless corn to soak it up. We’re losing daylight, so I paint between his shots. Spin plates into cloudless sky like UFO polaroids we used to fake and send to Dateline, Art Bell, anyone we thought might take them. Plate chips rain over dirt, and Phil’s laughing so hard it sounds like he’s surfacing after a deep dive. Risking the bends but not caring either way.

I finish painting at sundown; hurry back to the barn for what we need. Rip the “for sale” sign out of dirt Grandpa used to till, his grandpa before him. Lodge pellets into it, rapid fire, airborne, spinning fast: sign, post, sign, post.

We lay out the chairs. Set up the projector. Put on the old zombie trilogy, like we’re only kids on Halloween: Night, Dawn, Day.

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Yard Sale

He-Man w/ drawn-on mustache, missing an arm–$.50

The arm, you tell me, was lost in the battle of Rosie, circa ’99. You were prying a plastic bicep from the spaniel’s mouth while she dug claws into carpet you once “mowed” with scissors. Wires of spit dripped and Rosie severed his wrist, wishboning you back and under your bed. You were stuck and had to call for help, spine shaped like a C, and Rosie sprinted down the stairs, masticating He-Man’s fist. You can’t remember if you decided He-Man was a natural blonde with dyed-black mustache or the other way around. You hide the figure when a kid comes by. I put it back out when you aren’t looking. When you say Rosie, I see her as a wiggling old lady, pre-glaucoma, teaming up with the cats to tear open a bag of bagels.

Crocodile Dentist, down a couple teeth–$3.25

The game came from your speech therapy class, Ms. Susserman, and the way your Ss collided with your Js made her name especially sadistic. It wasn’t a class so much as a “seems legit” place in the mall, next to the Sears (or Jearj). Each tooth pulled was supposed to celebrate another S-sentence victory. The look on the crocodile’s face made the whole thing seem cruel, though. You dreamt of splintering teeth tumbling into sinks, onto tile. Collecting in piles so big you had to crunch through them to escape, molars and canines spilling out your bedroom window. A dust mote landed on Susserman’s tongue one time, tongue out to show proper pronunciation but looking more Communion-like, the wafer disintegrating on contact. And the way Jesus became Jejuj. I mark this down to a buck-fifty just to see it sell.

Chunky first-gen iPod (with Starry Night case)–$10

The iPod, sans-case, used to be filled with pre-us songs you collected from your gentleman callers. Your term, not mine. Lying on your bed as teenagers, watching the door for parentals. Afternoon light sleeping on the pillow next to us. I’d hum along to the pre-us songs, but it was hollow. The songs became endangered, and then extinct altogether. Buying the case for you at the mall and looking at it by starlight. Paused on one of my songs, in the middle of a field, brown leaves awkwardly-shaped mountains for the ants to crawl over. You touching each impressionistic swirl with your pinky, telling me these were astronomical phenomena that not even scientists in Van Gogh’s time knew about. Me saying there’s more truth in color on canvas than numbers on a page. You calling me a dork but kissing me anyway. I let it go for the full $10.

Pride hoodie (with rainbow pin)–$6

We went to Pride that year because we’d always wanted to. Because it seemed like the right time. An angel in a speedo came over, offered me his wand. He was a magic angel. And me not knowing what to do with my hands. You urgent-whispering for me to take it, like I’d been offered a rare delicacy and would anger the tribe should I refuse. I rubbed the glitter into my eyes and you wouldn’t give me your mirror till I let you take a picture. It’s still there, on your phone, in social media limbo. You bought the hoodie from a woman whose top was suspenders. She gave you your change, leaned in and kissed the corner where cheek meets lip. Your blush spread from cheeks to eartips and settled on the back of your neck, like a virus running its course. Your hand clammed and dried in mine, over and over, all the way to the el. The hoodie sells quick, for full price.

Gold pen (plated)–$15

Your mom gifted me the pen a year back, after you let slip that I write stories. She asked if I wrote romance or thrillers. And me saying I try to get at the absurdity of the human condition through the mundane and the everyday. Her smiling the way you would before putting a kid’s drawing up on the fridge. The pen leaked on all my pants. Nib went dry right when I needed it. And me scratching a hole in the page, tasting ink when I ran out of fingers and had to use my tongue instead. I bought a cheap replacement at Blick. Brought goldilocks over for family occasions and ham-fisted it when it came time to “show it off.” A turtleneck haggles us down to $10 because of the ink. We sign the new lease with it, our names together. Mine squiggly, yours neat. Hand the pen over to the turtleneck when we’re done.

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