Their Mother Didn't Make It Home
He pushes one more pebble down the throat of an empty plastic milk jug. He pokes his sister. She sits on the cement stairs of the front stoop, under the long shadow of the stout grey trash container and the overstuffed recycling bin, twisting red lipstick up and down. Her eyes are stuck to their mother’s lipstick. The brother sees her gaze, mistakenly following it across the street, to the 280D on the door, and the sheriff’s shiny squad car in the drive.
The white paint hangs off the porch railing. He rattles wildly and whines Come on, let’s do it! You said you’d do it with me. His sister stops with the lipstick. Fine, fine. She purses her reddened lips. The boy jumps and jumps. The world be my stage! He stretches arms out wide, bouncing his wrists in the air like he’s dangling dancing puppets. Then he grabs the jug, doing violence with it. His sister chases Hey, hey, hey when you shake it, you gotta have one hand on the cap, cuz the rocks will bust the cap off, and it gets wrecked.
The sister takes her recorder out of the velvet bag with a drawstring. Ok, ready? she asks. Oo, wait, not yet, he whispers. He reaches for the lipstick, and chalks three long lines under each eye. Then, the boy blinks and growls, Fugging cops. His chin is tucked to his chest, trying to match the low lung of his father. Painted in war mask, fingers flailing on rock rattle and a dark brown recorder, they tip-toe across the street, nervous and fidgeting. The brother and sister stand beside the tinted windows. Their nervousness is overlapping.
The girl begins. Ra ra, ra ra ra. Like a cheerleader, first. Then: aye yigh yigh yigh, hand flapping and fluttering over mouth. Then she squeals on the recorder. The boy bobs behind, small hand holding cap down, arms heaving up and down, pebbles smashing against themselves, up and down, up and down. Aye yigh yigh yigh yigh! Then the boy grunts oo ah oo ah oo ah, doing the low notes.
They’re bouncing. The brother after his sister, in step, ovaling around the unresponsive law enforcement vehicle. Their eyes peek inside. A cage separates front from back. They howl and rattle, around and around, grinning wide, eyebrows lifted, and shoulders taut. As he yelps, the brother trips and falls on the uneven place where the curb meets the street. He scrapes his knee and drops the jug. He loses several rocks. He quickly replaces the dislodged cap and tightens up the corners of his eyes, which threaten tears. He jumps up and follows his sister. He shakes his rattle at the front windshield. She sirens the recorder. And the brother adds in fugging cops, fugging cops, fugging cops.
The sheriff’s wife opens her front door. She watches the charade, hand on hip, and smiles as the screaming boy shakes a milk carton. Milkshakes, she thinks, shoulders bouncing, as she laughs to herself.
The sister stops suddenly, seeing their observer. The brother doesn’t notice. What? he moans. Why’re you stopping? He turns. Their mouths surrender. Joining the joke, the neighbor woman kneels down in a lunge, one knee in front of the other, interlaces all ten fingers, releasing the pointers and the thumbs. A gun. Pssshuu pssssshuuu she blasts. Ghost face fades, then grins. The brother crumbles. The milk jug drops, rocks spilling. He clutches his heart, gasping I can’t breathe.
Before the sister can speak, a vehicle like a silver bullet rounds the corner, blinker flashing, and rocks side-to-side over the curb into their driveway. The father steps out of the passenger seat. My first Uber ride, he exclaims to the kids, lifting his fist in the air, not noticing the dead son. Car’s in the shop—dead battery and broke belt—same day. The sister squints, pierced by the driver. Her eardrums rattle with the sounds from the sheriff’s woman’s lips, pssshuu pssssshuuu. Then, the red and white reverse lights. The driver looks over his shoulder. The sister sees his eyes, swollen and puffy, like his cheeks. His bangs are heavy and metal-colored, like his vehicle. Then, the strange car is gone. The brother reaches for the rocks. The sheriff’s wife is still kneeling.
Not a minute later, shots are heard. Distant, pocked metal on the ears. One after another, like a sick joke.
Ryan Loveeachother is an MFA candidate at Georgia College & State University. He writes with one foot on the bass drum, keeping time, BOOM, BOOM, on one and three, til the lights go down and the party ends.