Franklin Hepi Redner
The problem with the world is that people do not think things through. More often than not, they fail to assess even the most important dilemmas, such as “Should I turn now?”, “We don’t have any condoms; should we use a candy wrapper?”, or “Shall I dump the body here?” A wise person would consider these important decisions further, but people are hasty and stupid—qualities that, in these instances, would result respectively in a messy highway, a not-so-mysterious pregnancy, and the most awkward lap dance in the world.
But try as we may to steer our lives, sometimes we just mess up, and sometimes we crash. My brother made that abundantly clear last summer on Father’s Day. In the living room with screwdrivers and wrenches scattered about, my mom and I were assembling a wheelbarrow purchased at Wal-Mart earlier that day.
“Fucking shit,” my mother muttered as we were standing up, realizing that she and I had attached the barrow part on backwards. “Balls,” I replied. The result was actually sort of funny: at the slightest nudge, our mishap would have vomited its contents onto the ground, rendering the damn thing useless. As we gamely prepared to reassemble the wheelbarrow, the phone rang.
An unfamiliar, timid voice was on the line. “Hello,” she started. “Is this Kaske’s house?” Hearing that she mispronounced my brother’s name, I guessed she was no relation of ours. “Yes….?” I stalled, waiting for her to go on and for my mother to stop cursing our little project. “Well, I’m just calling to tell you guys that Kaske’s in jail,” she said offhandedly. I looked over at mom, who was excitedly grimacing at the scattered pieces of the wheelbarrow. “Is that Caske?”
After hanging up the phone, she sat down with me again, resigned but not surprised. We put the wheelbarrow back together, this time with less profanity. It was pathetically modest and had a slight wobble, but it was nothing that my Dad would complain about—or really notice, given the news that would accompany it. Mom wheeled it through the dining room and into the office.
She told my dad. Just as I predicted, he put on his flak jacket from his Vietnam tour, came into the living room and barked, “Get your boots on: we’re going up there.” He acted as if a battle had broken out up north and only we could rescue my brother, awash in the sea of chaos and looting. Though not easily provoked emotionally, my dad frequently dusted off his Vietnam gear. Whatever the occasion—a tornado warning, a funeral (he brought his helmet to both of his parents’ funerals), or just shovelling snow in November—he was always eager to break out his musty fatigues. But I guess I can’t blame him for being so excitable: there are bullet holes in his vest.
But standing in the living room, with his 80’s sunglasses and his ragged daisy-dukes topped off with his bulletproof jacket, I knew he wasn’t serious. Caske lived four hours up north and Dad wasn’t properly suited up. No, we stayed there for the remainder of Father’s Day, eating dinner with few words. The wheelbarrow in the office adjacent, with a red bow haphazardly duck taped to the handle, waiting to be brought back into the dining room, went neglected that evening. The surprise was ruined and unwanted; my dad had already got enough of one in any case.
My brother was arrested that weekend for a DUI that happened in the early hours before Father’s Day. He was driving on the bridge from the nearby town of Superior, Wisconsin (the liquor stores close earlier in Duluth). Realizing that he was about to get off on the wrong exit—one that might have added a whole ten minutes to his drunken commute home—he swerved back to his left and hit the dividing rail head-on. The Police found his car about fifteen minutes later, totalled, smashed in. They were surprised to find a perky, if woozy and trashed, twenty-something in the front seat where they had expected a bloodied body.
The next day my parents drove up and left me and my sister at home. As my mom handed me the keys she said (almost) jokingly, “If that weirdo from next door comes knocking, just give him a quick jab in the eyes with these and lock the door.” She smiled and added, “Just make sure you don’t stab Johnny, he stops by occasionally. I wonder if you guys would even recognize each other now.” Two summers ago, Johnny was charged with possession and intent to sell marijuana grown in his mother’s greenhouse; needless to say, his mother didn’t react very well. She was the kind of woman, after all, who more than once recommended prayer over Novocain during root canals. My mom said that our neighbor couldn’t bear to look at her son when they were removing the plants from her greenhouse. I wondered if my mom felt the same way about my brother, or if all mothers felt that way about their sons eventually. They do have a strong relationship now, but I like to think that she and my brother got off on the wrong foot. While she was giving birth, my brother decided it would be hilarious if he went the opposite direction. Instead of leaping forward into the light, he moved backwards up into her ribcage, almost killing them both. That story always cracks me up.
After the levity passed, I took the keys and they were off.
I got a call later that night. It was my brother, and he sounded hung-over—still—despite the fact that it was 10:00 p.m. He said hello, and I responded as quietly as possible, making sure not to cause him any more pain: though I was tempted to, my sister was asleep on the recliner. I clamped onto the phone.
He said he was back in his apartment now, and that our mom was feeling marginally better. My parents had arrived at the dingy police station in about five hours. They had rushed over to the holding cell, where my brother was still practically passed out.
“It was so awkward,” he said. “Almost as awkward as last night when the cops strip searched me. If that would’ve happened at my apartment instead of at a police station, I’d be great now. Good thing I was so smashed, or else it would’ve been actually embarrassing.” He chuckled into the phone, and I responded in kind, although we weren’t laughing for the same reason.
“Well, all you have to do is total another car and you can get that cop’s number.” My sister stirred.
A few days later my parents returned with my brother in tow. I was hoping that they would’ve put him in the backseat, demean him a bit—but of course he got out of the front passenger seat. After an uneventful and oddly still take-out dinner, my mom and I sat in the living room, looking at the TV but not really watching it. “Well,” she sighed, “he’s learned fucking his lesson, that’s for sure.”
After she went to bed, my brother came down with some slasher-movies. We were mostly silent as we watched some desperate teen try to hide the bloody corpse he had on his hands, having “accidentally” stabbed his father to death with a screwdriver. On a normal evening we would’ve been making fun of the fake looking blood, but we were mostly quiet. Then we talked for a while about nothing in particular. After a long silence, he asked, “Is there anything to drink around here?”
 Pronounced, “CHASS-kay.” – Ed.
Surgam is funded in part by the Arts Initiative of Columbia University. This funding is made possible through a generous gift from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation.