The Broken Globe
My brother Timmy's Halloween party started with a parade of high school guys, six packs in hand, piling out of rusted pick-up trucks and climbing the stairs over the garage into a smoky room where loud music blasted through tall free-standing speakers.
I don't know how he finagled the presence of Diane, cheerleader, since my brother floated with the vocational trade students and not that heady jock circle. But she was there, along with three of her not-quite-as-cute girlfriends, one of whom brought Juanita, a plain and plump foreign exchange student from Mexico.
Timmy had purchased a keg and strung black-and-orange crepe paper and balloons, tacking them to his ceiling with great care. He'd also vacuumed, and he must have powdered the shag carpet with baking soda or talcum because the place didn't smell like the usual musty beer-soaked dish rag.
After I'd settled into a bean-bag chair and hit the three-beer threshold, meaning once I'd reached three I couldn't stop, Jim arrived. Don, his sidekick, followed immediately behind him wearing, of all things, creased pants.
"What are you doing here?" I shouted to Jim, ignoring Don except to note he'd purchased a new pair of glasses with thick exactly rectangular lenses.
"Your mother said you were up here."
"Your mother," Jim yelled, pointing in the direction of Mom's house, then pointing to me.
For a few minutes one of my brother's friends, who'd brought the latest record from a metallic-sounding Southern rock band, cranked up the volume. Several of them joined in the refrain.
"My brother's throwing a Halloween party."
"Looks like high school."
"Hard to pass up a keg."
"Want a beer?"
I walked over to the keg where my brother and a couple of his cronies stood guard.
"You mind if they have a beer?" I asked my brother.
Timmy glanced at them, glanced at me, shrugged, then went back to sizing up Diane and the girls huddled together in a giggling clique. I expertly filled three plastic cups to capacity, minimum foam, as if I had a certificate in bartending.
We picked a spot away from the two speakers, but near enough to the keg, which sat in a round metal tub surrounded by chunks of ice. The beer went down smooth. Timmy or whoever it was who bought the beer for my underage brother had paid a few extra dollars and purchased Canadian.
Timmy came over to me and said, "You better fork over some money for all the beer you guys are drinking."
"He speaks," I said to Jim and Don, as if a lightning bolt struck, juiced Frankenstein, and gave us proof positive that the brain transplant worked.
"I'm not kidding," he said.
"OK, we will."
I looked at Jim and Don, thinking they might divvy up or maybe at least pretend to reach in their pockets but each looked at something else. Then Jim took a long swig.
"I'll give you some money later," I said. But Timmy turned his back on me and walked toward Diane and the girls.
"Let's go over to Harry's Tavern and have a few," Jim said.
"Why not hang out here?"
"Is this the only style of music your brother likes?" Don asked.
"I don't know what kind of music he likes," I said. "Take a look through his records," which Don did for the next half hour, sitting on the floor, records between his legs, reading record covers, taking records out of their jackets, and examining the quality of the vinyl.
"Where's Debra tonight?" I asked Jim.
"I don't want to talk about that bitch."
"When I told her I was going to go out to have a drink, she blew a gasket. Said I was a drunk."
I was starting to get tanked. Jim may have had a few before he came.
"Hey, you gotta cigarette?" I asked one of my brother's beer buddies. He pulled a pack out of his denim jacket and jerked it, causing exactly one filtered cigarette to stick out. He grinned. He was either proud of his feat or proud that he smoked.
"I think you're getting hooked on those things," Jim said. "You've got a monkey on your back."
I looked over both my shoulders. "No, I don't."
"When you've got a monkey on your back you're not free." He took a long swig, then got up and poured out another beer.
"Look at this," Don said. "You think your brother would mind if I played it?"
Others had changed records; no one seemed at the helm, so I said, "Wait'll this song finishes." The song Don played was kind of rock and roll and kind of twangy at the same time, a tune with a sappy story.
A couple of the guys groaned when it started. Someone said, "What is this shit?" But they let it play almost to the end before the needle scratched across the vinyl and another replaced it on the turntable, a song with screeching, inaudible lyrics.
I felt a tap on my arm. "Don't let him do that again," my brother said to me.
Jim's eyes had become slits by the time the subject of Debra came up again.
"I thought you guys had worked everything out."
Jim sat there trying to think and talk at the same time. Something tried to bubble to the surface. One of my brother's recessed lights shone directly on Jim's face, making it seem as if he were being interrogated. However, he didn't move out of the light.
"The plans have been made, right?" I asked him.
"I don't want to marry that bitch."
I shook my head a couple of times like a deer flicking off flies.
"Everything was perfect the other night."
"The car goes off the road, and then we nearly drown."
"You two were all lovey-dovey. You put your ear to Deb's belly."
"That kid. Stupid," he said, banging his fist on his thigh, then swilling another long draught. "This is good beer," he said.
"We're going to have to come up with a few dollars for the beer."
"All I have is a twenty."
I spotted Juanita, standing within earshot.
"Hola," I said, summoning my knowledge of two years of high school Spanish.
Juanita smiled, making her cheeks even plumper.
"Hello," she said, moving closer.
"Como estas? "
"You idiot," Jim said to me.
"Good, and you?" She asked.
"Muy bien. Yo estudio espa-ol hace Jim, do you remember how to say it makes so and so many years that I studied Spanish?"
"Dos, you idiot." Jim had been in one of my classes.
"Please," she said. "In English."
"Pero, yo "
"Please, no Spanish."
There must have been drama in the way Juanita held up her hand and shook her head "no" that made Diane walk over and grab her arm.
"These two bothering you?"
"Come over here," Diane said, after she eyeballed us. A couple of old lechers, she probably thought, though she did smile at me. I figured she knew I was Timmy's brother. As Diane turned, her thick sandy-blond, shoulder-length hair fanned out.
"Cunts," Jim said.
"Why do you have to talk like that?"
"And Deb's the biggest cunt of them all."
This last thought hung in the air like cigarette smoke. Maybe he assumed I was pondering his profundity, but what I was pondering was why the hell he wanted to get married and why the hell he didn't tell Debra about Lynette.
"What are you going to do?" I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders and took another long swig, finishing the contents of his plastic cup. This time he didn't immediately get up to refill it — probably too tanked to exert the energy. He waited for me to finish mine then had me do it.
"You gonna get married or what?"
"How can I get married to someone I don't love?"
"You don't love her?"
"I'm in love with Lynette."
"I thought you weren't seeing her anymore?"
Jim looked to the side, probably some expression he learned as a boy after his father asked him if he knew who broke the neighbor's front window when he'd known full well he'd done it himself.
"You're not, right?" I asked.
"Look at this Beatles album," Don said, interrupting us. "This is pristine. There's not a scratch on it."
"Fuck the album," Jim said. Don took the cue and buzzed off. I poured us two more beers.
"Lynette's the best fuck I've ever had," Jim said when I returned.
"I don't want to hear about it."
"She's incredible. You know what she did Thursday?"
"I thought you weren't seeing her anymore."
"She was a virgin you know."
"You're right back to where you were a couple of weeks ago?"
"There's nothing like popping a cherry."
Jim assumed the position of Rodin's Thinker, but sitting Indian style, his chin held up by one arm.
"I don't know what I'm gonna do," he said.
"Why don't you tell Debra you're seeing Lynette and get it over with?"
Jim let out an audible breath of air, put his head down, and ran his hands through his hair.
"Well?" I said.
"Well?" he said, imitating my voice.
"Why don't you just tell Deb?"
"Why don't I just tell Deb?"
"Are you making fun of me?"
He looked up and eyed me with a mean, penetrating stare.
"I'm just asking a question," I said.
"If I knew what to do I wouldn't be sitting here drunk."
"If you told her, she could have an abortion."
"She's not having an abortion."
"We talked about that already."
"What if she knew about Lynette?"
He must have misread the tone of my voice, because he started to rise. "You better not tell her about Lynette." And then I think I misread his actions because I thought he was going to punch me.
"I gotta take a piss," he said. He stood for a moment, lost his balance, tried to catch himself, thumped the floor hard enough to make the room shake, and then fell onto one of my brother's friends who helped him stand upright. The kid said, "You all right?"
"Yeah. Where's the bathroom?"
"Downstairs in the garage," I said.
He steadied himself and slowly descended the stairs, a hand holding up each wall.
A few songs later Don came over to me and said, "Where's Jim?"
"The sonofabitch probably passed out."
"Maybe we better check on him."
"He's old enough to take care of himself."
"He looked pretty drunk."
Don descended the stairs. I bummed another smoke and inhaled very deeply, causing a long portion of the cigarette to glow. I looked up at a balloon, then at the end of my cigarette, pulled myself up, took a furtive glance toward my brother in conversation across the room, and popped the damned thing. A couple of guys looked over. My brother, from across the room, said, "Hey." Then I, too, made my exit.
I didn't see Jim in the toilet or in the garage. As I walked outside, the screen door snapped back, echoing in the alley between the houses. It wasn't enough that the neighbors had to endure the house vibrating or the cars revving up their engines, they also had to put up with that freaking door.
I could see Jim's red pick-up truck but where the hell was he? As I approached the truck, I heard the gut heave of a man puking, walked around the truck and saw Jim on his knees behind a blue van, his arms on the bumper, letting go the contents of his stomach. He groaned. Don stood aside looking on.
"You all right?" I asked.
"I didn't think he had that much to drink," I said more to myself than to Don.
"He was drinking shots at Harry's Tavern before we came here," Don said.
Jim let go again and then groaned some more.
I stood there thinking maybe Jim deserved to heave out his innards. Maybe if a person poked around the alcohol soup he'd deposited, they could find his heart or his brains.
"You gonna drive him home?"
"Yeah," Don said.
"You got your keys?" I asked Jim
Jim reached into his pockets, a hand still on the bumper. He vomited one more time.
"Oh, God," he said.
I grabbed him by his arm to drag him up. "Come on," I said but, as he stood, Rodney, one of my brother's friends, slipped out of the shadows.
"What the fuck did you do to my van?" he asked, looking straight at me, obviously judging me by the company I keep. I didn't respond. "I said what the fuck did you do?"
"Nothing," I said, but better that I hadn't because, with his pointed boot, he aimed a kick at my crotch. I flinched backward, barely escaping serious injury.
"Puke on your own fucking car," he said, then got into his van, revved up the motor and spun out, flinging stones.
"Asshole," I said.
Not until Jim and Don had situated themselves in the cab did Don realize that Jim's truck had a standard shift, and he didn't know how to drive it. He nearly backed into a tree before I realized that I had given him opposite directions on how to shift gears, but he finally figured it out and lurched off slowly.
After they left, I walked along the garage approaching the snapping door to my brother's lair, sure that I would continue past it and into the house, run upstairs and fall into bed. But as I neared it, three of my brother's friends emerged. I could have walked around them, but I stopped and held open the door for them. One of them said, "Hey, take it easy." Then I made a choice. A door had opened and I entered.
As I reached the landing at the top of the stairs, Diane was trying to poke her arm through the sleeve of her varsity cheerleader jacket marked with the school letters. Her girl friends flanked her sides while Juanita stood behind in the shadows.
"You leaving?" I asked.
"Yeah," Diane said.
"Too bad," I said.
The ends of her mouth curled into a smile and her nose crinkled.
"You're cute," she said.
"You are too," I said, and suddenly our faces came within breathing distance, which is probably the closest I've ever gotten to a cheerleader. Her breath smelled beery.
She put her lips to my ear, "You're cuter than your brother." Our cheeks brushed together. Her hair smelled smoky clean.
"God, I think I've had too much to drink," she said, snapping me back to reality.
Suddenly my brother appeared at my side, then pushed in front of me, nearly stepping on my toe.
"Need help getting to your car?" Timmy asked.
"No," she said. "We're all right."
We watched them descend, but, before they reached the last stair, Timmy turned toward me and said "You fucker" loud enough for my ears only.
"What do you mean?"
"Why don't you throw your own party?"
I responded by going to the keg and filling up another plastic cup.
"Gimme some money for the beer," Timmy said.
"I said I would."
"Then hand it over."
"I don't have it on me."
"Then that's the last beer."
The girls were gone; only Timmy's core group of cronies remained. They started a contest to see who could shout the loudest. Then one guy shoved another who pushed him back. He then tried to unbalance another. In moments, a group wrestling match ensued with this tiny mob shifting to the left, and falling en masse, some on the bed and some on the floor, knocking objects off the nightstand. They laughed and shouted. Someone said, "Get off me, you fucker."
I bummed another smoke from the cigarette guy.
"I should have bought a pack," I said.
"No problem. Take a couple."
Then I saw the balloons again — my cigarette and a large balloon. Pop.
"What's that, a gun?" someone asked.
"Cut it out," Timmy said. The mob quieted.
I honed in on another one. Pop. And that was it. My brother extricated himself from the throng and from some deep part of himself shouted "Goddamn you" as he started toward me.
I bolted down the stairs. He must've taken the steps two, three at a time, because in a moment he was behind me, pushing my back. I ran faster, snapping the door, but he didn't relent.
"You goddamn sonofabitch. I'm going to kill you."
I imitated the sound of his voice, no words, only the tone, taunting him. As I ran into the back entryway of Mom's house, I shoved the door in his face. I couldn't quite close it. He pushed with all his might. He didn't have my weight or my strength, but that night, maybe because I was drunk or because of some burst of his adrenaline or some deeper motivation on his part, I could feel myself losing the war. I let go and made a dash for the heavier kitchen door. I slammed it to give myself a minute before running into the kitchen.
"You bastard," Timmy yelled.
We'd fought before, we'd gotten into shouting matches or tussles, but something in his voice made me take him seriously.
The back porch light shone through the kitchen windows, illuminating the stainless steel sink and the enamel kitchen table.
"Knock it off," I said. I ran around the table. "Cut it out."
"I'm going to kill you."
"You're going to wake Mom."
"I don't care."
We circled the table again. And again.
"Damn it. Knock it off."
"No," he yelled, and as he uttered the word he grabbed the table and flung it upward. As it spun, it shattered the ceiling globe.
At that moment, Mom jumped out of bed and thumped through the dark house.
"Goddamn you two. What do you goddamn kids think you're doing? Get the goddamn hell to bed." With each word came the accompanying rhythmic thump of her footfalls, like the telling of a primitive poem. Then, almost like a plaintive refrain, came a very long and loud "Oh, Jesus" as she entered the kitchen.
Timmy bolted. I turned on the light. Mom had made her way to the bathroom indicated by a trail of blood which began from a sharp shard protruding from the bottom of what a moment before had been a drinking glass. It must have set on the table when Timmy threw it.
I found the broom in the corner and began sweeping. Broken glass had reached the hallway by the bathroom, and, as I approached the door, Mom said, "Goddamn you two."
"I didn't do anything."
"What do you mean, you didn't do anything?"
"I didn't fling the table in the air. I didn't break the glass."
"Get me a clean towel."
I hesitated to go in.
"I said, get me a goddamn towel."
I entered. She sat on the tub's edge, her back to me. When she spoke, her words reverberated inside the enamel hollow of the basin. "I wish your father were alive," she said.
I'd never seen that much blood.
"Listen, Timmy's the one that started chasing me. He's the one that threw the table in the air."
"Is that what happened?"
"Yeah, he threw the kitchen table in the air and broke the ceiling globe."
"What did you do to him?"
"You must've done something."
"I didn't do anything."
"Then why would he chase you?"
"Because he was drunk, because I flirted with the girl he's interested in, because I popped one of his freakin' balloons."
"I don't know," Mom said. "I can't stop the bleeding."
"What do you mean, you can't stop the bleeding?"
"What did I step on?"
"The bottom of a glass I think."
"Get me the hydrogen peroxide." I did. She poured it on her foot without flinching. "I can't understand you two."
"I told you I didn't do anything."
"You act like two-year-olds or a couple of drunks. You certainly don't act like brothers." She turned around. "Give me another towel."
"How are brothers supposed to act?"
"Don't start with me." She threw a second blood-soaked towel near the first and wrapped her foot with the third. "I don't know if this is going to stop bleeding."
I went back to sweeping the glass in the kitchen. I upturned the table. As I picked pieces of glass off the stove top, Mom hobbled through the living room and back into bed.
"I'll tell you this much right now," she said from the other room, "you're not getting the car for a while."
"How am I going to get to work on Thursdays and Sundays?"
"You should have thought of that before."
I was too tired to argue. I slumped at the kitchen table with my head in my hands.
"How about turning the light off and getting to bed?"
"In a minute."
"In a minute."
A minute passed.
"Oh Jesus," Mom said with alarm.
"What is it?"
"I can't stop the bleeding. You're going to have to drive me to the emergency room."
"I thought you said I couldn't have the car."
"Don't start with me."