Charlie stood on the porch waving. Well-done Charlie, the oldest son, the abider, the Oak Park of the family, the village closest to their father, who was Chicago itself.
Eric felt more like Oak Lawn, the neglected neighborhood where Charlie and their father still lived in the vinyl-sided house, on whose porch Charlie still stood. It was the same house where, fourteen months ago, at Charlie’s insistence the old man didn’t know, Eric told his father he was gay.
Followed by dropping out of high school and moving to the city with his older boyfriend, he’d KOed the old man. He left in a hurry. The first time back in fourteen months and his car looked just about the same as when he’d left–packed full with a dusting of tree pollen on the windows.
Charlie looked like their father, if their father would ever smile, blonde with small features. Eric’s own looks must’ve been akin to his phantom mother’s. He wanted to be angry–at Tony and himself for failing, his mother, father, even at Charlie who cheerfully grabbed the last box from the car–but he was exhausted. Out of everyone, he could really only be mad at himself.
A jackhammer rattled nearby, and Eric’s head throbbed.
Inside, the brothers sank into the couch where they once piledrived and body slammed each other for fun. It held strong. Eric had closed his eyes, wanting to disappear, but Charlie didn’t let him.
Eric waved a hand, trying to be over it, trying not to care.
“Tony,” he said.
As if this made sense, Charlie nodded.
He moved his hand towards Eric’s leg, but they were too far from each other. He stretched, but didn’t seem to want to commit, and dropped it.
“Nah,” Eric said, still waving, as if he could waft the whole thing away.
“How about a beer?” Charlie said, offering his hand again.
“God, yes,” he begged. “Please.”
From the kitchen Charlie said, “We can watch the Blackhawks play.”
“Goddammit,” Eric replied.
Charlie poked his blonde head around the doorway sideways, being funny. “Or maybe cartoons?” He was funny. Another difference in them.
Eric sighed. “Tony loves the Blackhawks.”
At their comfortable Uptown apartment, Eric would turn the games on in anticipation of Tony. During that final month, he learned the rules of hockey. He learned the Blackhawks starting players’ names, and their record, 30-6-4. Time spent waiting was time spent watching hockey. He’d checked the time on the TV by pressing the cancel button.
The unexplained hours after 5pm were the time when Eric became a Blackhawks fan.
“Let’s see if they’re warming up,” Charlie said, reaching for the remote.
“No, God, please.” Eric gestured, like he was turning something over, again and again.
Charlie dropped the remote and leaned back in the corner of the couch. “Or we can just sit.”
“Sorry,” Eric said, a warm tear hitting his mouth with the cold beer. “I’ll just pull for the other team.”
“I don’t mind a little rivalry,” Charlie said brightly, grabbing the remote.
Eric slapped it.
They were both a little shocked, and Charlie rubbed his hand. A groan purred in Eric’s chest, and then a coughing, wet sob.
Charlie sipped his beer, and outside a jackhammer rattled the concrete bones of Oak Lawn.
They built an aluminum orchard on the coffee table with empty cans. Eric had gotten a little drunk, and Charlie gave him the remote.
“Find something,” Charlie said, as if he couldn’t stand to hear the jackhammer or Eric’s sniffles anymore.
“There’s nothing,” he said.
“Dad will be home soon.”
“Dad?” Eric said.
“He’ll want to watch the game.”
Having accidently invested a lot of time in the sport, he hated to admit he wanted to watch, too. As if waiting for Tony, he began pressing the cancel button.
How was Kane playing?
The refs were probably calling a shit game.
He wasn’t fooling himself, only a few channels from the game, when the deadbolt turned. He dropped the remote.
A squeaking door. Ancient boots, caked with the clay from hundreds of job sites, scraped on the welcome mat. Laces zipped through leather holes. Two thunks on the linoleum floor. Tired toes popped.
In the doorway his father stood broadly, blonde-headed, examining them burrowed into each corner of the couch. He didn’t look surprised at Eric’s presence, just tired.
“Why isn’t the game on?”
Charlie offered the remote with visible relief. Eric closed his eyes. He thought that if he moved, he’d crack, revealing the same broken boy who tried to make himself whole in the city with a stranger. The one who hadn’t spoken to his father in fourteen months.
Shuffling on the rug. When he opened his eyes, his father stood next to the couch. Charlie still held the remote up, hopeful.
A woman’s voice.
Studio audience laughter.
A sigh, and a new weight sank next to him. Everyone shifted their weight until there was a comfortable distance between them.
Eric wanted to run. But moving would mean breaking, with his fluids running onto the floor and mixing with his spilled beer, his broken pieces dissolving and disappearing like soup crackers, just a pool on the floor. He was relieved at the thought.
But little red figures moved across the ice.
1-1. Final period.
Every now and then one of the men exhaled, or a can crinkled in a sudden grip. The aluminum orchard grew, and the old couch held strong.
They didn’t notice when the jackhammer finally quit. It was too close a game for distractions, and the neighborhood had grown quiet in anticipation of a 31st win.
Just people, sharing roofs and televisions, couches and superstitious whispers.
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