The front door was wide open. Marlon heard a commotion outside.
A street lamp on the other side of the driveway shed light onto the scene. Pete, his younger brother, was down on all fours on the teardrop-shaped lawn near the sidewalk, sobbing. Pete’s high school buddy, Gabe, held him in a waist-lock hold. Then Marlon had an odd thought: What if his brother was still fat? No way Gabe could’ve reached his arms that far around Pete’s old middle. Pete had lost so much weight since Marlon moved in, lending some big brother support until the end of summer when he returned to teaching two states away. Gradually, Marlon had noticed his brother’s bulging greenish veins covering his skinny pale arms, and how loose crêpey skin encircled his sizeable ears and droopy eyelids. But Pete’s sunken temples and protruding cheekbones, with widening berms rising under his beard, caused Marlon to stare at his brother longer than usual.
“What happened this time?” Marlon was used to his brother’s emotional outbursts, which until now never left the inside of the house.
Gabe released his bear hug and sat on his heels. He rubbed Pete’s narrow back. He said something quietly to the side of his friend’s wet face.
On the gravel portion of the front yard, Marlon felt the pointy rocks through the thin soles of his shoes. Farther down the late-night street, a few garage sconces still burned. At once a few more lights appeared like latecomers cutting in line.
“Are you sick, Pete? Why won’t you talk to us?” a woman’s voice said from around the corner of the garage. “Pete, you need to go somewhere else to lose it. Our open bedroom window is right there.”
Marlon craned his upper body around the corner.
“Oh, bummer, man,” said the woman. “Another one.” She stood in the middle of Pete’s driveway, wearing only a long tank top as a nightgown. Her pallid fat thighs abruptly narrowed at her calves. She was bare-footed. Marlon could make out her panties, and her flat breasts stretching the thin cotton. Her dark areolas were the size of miniature pancakes. “We are really decent people, but now Jo Jo is losing it, too.” She said to Marlon, “We have to work so early.”
Pete sobbed loudly. Gabe continued speaking quietly into Pete’s ear, ignoring the woman.
“Maybe she’s right,” Marlon said. He concentrated on the woman’s round face to avoid looking at her body.
Pete’s lips quivered, mouthing words. As Marlon stepped onto the grass, he heard Gabe repeat, “Out of no how eventually comes know how.” This was Gabe’s mantra for dealing with all of life’s difficulties. Poor Pete had more than his share: job loss to mounting arrears to a bailing wife at the first sign of trouble.
“Jo Jo took off,” the woman said, “and he’s wild. I don’t know where he went.”
“I’m here,” called out a high-pitched voice. A shirtless man appeared next to the woman. He was also shoeless and wore unbuttoned jeans, a clump of his black boxers sticking out the fly. The nipples on his wide chest were pencil dots.
“What have you got there, Jo Jo?”
“I had to untangle the sucker.”
Jo Jo pointed a hose’s metal spray nozzle at Gabe and Pete. The rest of the hose snaked across the driveway. He shot off a swift rope of water, drenching Pete’s outstretched calves. Water cascaded down Gabe’s back.
“Not cool,” the woman said, grabbing at the hose.
Jo Jo turned the water on Marlon. A hard flow struck his groin. When he covered himself, the cold barrage traveled up to his face. After the water went away, he tasted rusty metal.
“Joseph, drop it,” the woman said. “Babe, I am not kidding.”
Finally Jo Jo allowed the woman to take the hose from him. He cackled, shaking his hands as if they were on fire. The woman threw the spray nozzle toward Marlon.
“Sorry, Pete. We are really decent, you know. We don’t usually kick someone down on their luck, unless they kick us first.”
Beads of water sat on top Marlon’s leather shoes. His heavily soaked shirt and pants pulled downward. He rubbed his eyes and nose, shivering.
“I just knew Jo Jo would go all bat-shit crazy.” She tugged on Jo Jo’s belt loop.
Jo Jo said, “Go towel off, boys.”
The couple left the driveway. Marlon looked at the forgotten hose lying on the grass, only a few feet away.
“Okay,” Pete said hoarsely. “I’m done now.” He collapsed face down.
Gabe’s shirt ballooned off his chest as he stood up. He looked as if he just finished piling up a wall of sandbags in a hurricane. “He bolted out the door,” he said. “I tackled him here. He’s yelling about the freeway, jumping in front of a car or truck.”
“A bus,” Pete said.
“Buses aren’t running this late, dumbass,” Marlon said.
“Okay. Sure. I know.” Pete’s wet hair plastered his big skull.
Marlon felt regret immediately. “Sorry about that, Pete.”
Marlon bent down and grasped the cold, dripping nozzle and felt the vibration of trapped water. Jo Jo forgot about the spigot. Marlon unscrewed the nozzle, and a plodding flow arced out. He bent the green tube, a few inches down from the hose’s mouth. A fierce spray quickly reduced to drips. It felt like two thick fingers, pressure building in his grip. He remembered the Goliath story from his childhood. He pictured his scrawny brother out on a barren landscape without a sling or smooth stones, the menacing giant looming over him. Marlon gradually eased up and let loose a barely audible spray, but nothing more.
Dan Crawley’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of journals and anthologies, including Everyday Genius, apt, Wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly: The Best of the First Ten Years, matchbook, and Gravel. He is a recipient of an Arizona Commission on the Arts fellowship and has taught creative writing at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and other colleges.
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