After the Fog Come the Hunters
We passed a driftwood sign on the curb promising whiskey tasting. I made a U-turn without consulting my brother, who was busy worrying at a piece of headliner material dangling above him in the old van. His unshaven jaw was set in a way that made it impossible to talk about divvying up our mother’s things, his chin dappled with silver that seemed too soon. Whiskey seemed like the only reasonable lubrication.
Our mother didn’t leave much behind. But what there was bore the weight of her. A ceramic bowl of sand dollars felt heavier than it should. The cheap guitar with a broken tuning peg was bowed beneath the echo of her fingertips. The tires on her old moped had flat spots from sitting so long, tall grasses weaving through the spokes and mice mining the seat for foam. Everything covered with a fine layer of dust and reckoning.
We sat down across from one another at a freshly-hewn picnic table. The pine was still oozing sap in light yellow beads. I touched a fingertip to it and rubbed my fingers together, breathing in the acrid scent.
“You wore a button-down,” he said. “Mom never would’ve approved.” He chuckled with the confidence of an older brother. They were together first. She learned how to be a mother with him in her arms, on her breast, in her bed.
A short man with a wispy white beard approached us. “You two wanna share a flight,” he said. My brother looked confused, but I nodded.
“Yes, that’s what we’ll do,” I said.
The hammer-pop of gunfire sounded in the distance. My brother looked over the shoulder of his faded red tee. “They’re hunting ducks,” I said. “Ducks and geese.” The hunters are conspicuous in this small coastal town with their mud-spattered trucks and bright orange vests. I admire their sturdy boots while they stare askance at my worn sandals.
The barman returned with a plank of raw eucalyptus, four round holes filled with thick glasses. Each glass held a small pour of whiskey.
“What made you stay?” my brother asked.
“All the things that made you leave.”
He took a sip of the first glass and grimaced. The barman squinted at him and said, “That’s roasted American oak. Not a lot of heat on that one.” My brother looked down sheepishly.
We finished tasting in silence. I held each sample up to the sun, watching the world through the whiskey. My brother shivered with every small sip he took. He tapped at his phone and stared at the screen importantly. When the whiskey was gone, I slid the plank to the edge of the table and put a twenty in one of glasses. My brother feigned reaching for his wallet, but I shook my head.
I piloted our mother’s orly blue Vanagon toward the top of the hill overlooking the ocean. It felt good to be behind the big steering wheel, right up against the wide-open windshield.
“You probably shouldn’t be driving,” my brother said.
“How are you fine?” He wrung his hands.
“Practice,” I said.
Toward the end, I drove our mother to the top of the hill every evening. She wanted to witness every sunset, even on the days the fog came in and muted the colors or stole them altogether. She told me about riding on the back of a motorcycle through Nicaragua, about picking sapodillas and falling in love. She told me about the thin scar across the knuckles of her right hand, how she had punched a mirror in seventh grade because it kept her from scratching the skin off her acne-riddled face.
“That whiskey made me feel strange,” my brother said.
The sunlight spilled across the sea in an hourglass. The ocean was awash with golden flecks, like white noise across a television screen, but beautiful and quiet. There were hours left before the gloaming.
“It’s only corn,” I said.
He had arrived just after she was gone, after her hands relaxed and whatever was inside her lifted away like steam. He swept into the hospital room smelling of hand sanitizer, then stood unmoving for several minutes, watching her gone. A nurse with clunky black shoes kept checking to see if we’d had enough time. I didn’t think about our mother’s jewelry or the grandfather clock or the blue campervan. I had watched his face to see what moved there.
The fog was gathering off the coast like a sentry. I stared at the ocean. My brother looked at his hands. “I can’t stay long,” he said.
I fired up the engine and drove down the hill, back toward her house. When we passed the little distillery, the driftwood sign was gone from the curb. The sun was crowding the rearview mirror, long shadow leading the way in front of the van. I could see him there next to me, stretched out across the asphalt. When he held up his fingers in a peace sign, his shadow looked like an old television antenna. We bounced along in the van, following our own silhouettes. When we turned onto my mother’s street, the shadow kept traveling on without us both.
Jad Josey lives on the central coast with his wife and three children. His fiction appears or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Palooka, (b)OINK, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. Find him lurking on Twitter (when he should be writing): @jadjosey. Find him online: www.jadjosey.com.
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