Ashwagandha by Dan Crawley

Ashwagandha

“You’ll get the surprise tonight,” Chet says as I drive him to his work before I head off to my workplace. Chet’s grin elevates his whole expression.

“What are you happy about?”

“You’ll see later at Mom’s house,” Chet says.

When I turn into the parking lot of the vitamin company’s warehouse, Chet reminds me again to come over to Mom’s right after work. I take him in the mornings and our mom picks him up at noon after his shift. Usually I don’t see Chet or my mom again until early the next weekday morning, and not much on weekends.

“I don’t know if I can show up tonight, buddy,” I say.

Chet spins out of the seat and bends down at the open passenger door. “You’ll show up.” He walks backwards carefully, grinning, his eyelids completely shut. “Surprises make people show up. You’ll see.”

I watch Chet amble into the wide bay door of the warehouse. Here he packs bottles of vitamin and herb supplements into boxes, earning him a little money to save in a joint checking account with our mom. Some mornings, he’ll tell me about the different supplement names: lutein, collagen, fish oils, CoQ10, and grape seed. Yesterday, he mentioned ashwagandha. A co-worker from the warehouse told him what it does, so Chet informed me that I should take it to “help end my blueness.” He likes how it sounds, too. Ash-wa-gan-dha.

I worry about my brother’s future in this damaged, lonely world. There is the inevitable potential for others to wreck him, especially after our mom is gone.

Hours later, my mom sends a text to my phone, interrupting my surfing the net when I should be working on copyediting. You had better be at my place tonight. Do not mess up Chet with your bitter bullshit. I text her back, Chet knows. It’s called “my blueness.” And for the record, I’m the only one messed up here.

I stare at my computer, the online white pages still up on the screen. I see that the woman I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with has married someone else. I see her hand in front of my face once again, pinching together her thumb and index finger, saying calmly, “Keep this in mind, love and hate are this far apart.”

Chet opens our mom’s front door before I open it. His grin is still plastered on his face.

“Mom, it’s time,” he yells over his shoulder. He takes my hand and leads me into the living room. He shows me where to stand near the low glass coffee table. He directs Mom where to sit on the couch. He disappears around the corner into the dining room.

“Close your eyes,” Chet shouts.

Mom gives me a look. I close my eyes.

The next thing I feel is a pressure, an enormous expansion across my chest.

“Open your eyes,” Chet whispers.

An extra-large garbage bag presses against me. Chet stands on the other side of the bag, his short arms pinning dimples into its sides.

“You’re saying all the time you’re empty,” Chet says. “This is going to fill you up.”

“What’s inside?” I figure it’s full of balloons or pillows or confetti.

Chet places the garbage bag on top of the coffee table and uncinches the opening. He pulls out a sheet of plastic bubble wrap, the bubbles as big as raviolis filled with air.

“Tell him what you had your co-workers do,” Mom says. Chet acts embarrassed. Mom says, “He had everyone kiss the different bubbles. Lots of kisses in there.”

Chet replaces the sheet of bubble wrap into the bag and cinches it up.

“Pick it up.” Chet’s face is bright red and glistening.

I lift the bag, my arms stretching, the immensity overtaking me.

Chet says something and says it again, like he does. Finally, I hear him. “I bet you thought your arms couldn’t go all the way around?”

 

Ashwagandha

 

Dan Crawley’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including Wigleaf, Bending Genres, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Atticus ReviewAd Hoc Fiction will publish his novella-in-flash in the near future. Along with teaching creative writing workshops and literature courses, he is a fiction reader for Little Patuxent Review. Find him at @danbillyc.

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