“Am I my brother’s keeper?” The question kept rolling around in Erin’s mind as she walked down the steps, cement crumbling under her patent leather pumps. She left him lying on the couch, his face grey with unshaven stubble, his eyes red from not enough sleep. The house was a mess, but so what. She checked her watch. Fifteen minutes to the office and then her day would begin.
Meanwhile, Jerrod lay on his back, his breathing heavy, his stomach rising and lowering in a steady deep sleep rythm. She knew he’d be out for most of the day, and when he did wake up, well, he’d start all over again. She’d taken the bottles from the fridge, from the kitchen table, and hid them in the garage, though she knew he’d probably track them down. She scribbled a note and left it on the table with a twenty dollar bill. “Get some breakfast,” the note read, but she knew he wouldn’t. He was her brother. She knew him well.
“Erin,” her mother’s voice was still on her cell phone. The message left with the same desparate sound she always had in her voice. “Jerrod called. He needs to see you, right away honey. Please please go see him. I’m scared he might do something stupid.” Erin erased the message now, left last night, her shiny red nails clicking a new number, punching in the familiar pattern. “He’s fine mom.” She said into the phone, and hung up, snapping the lid shut. She got into her car and took a long look at the house her brother lived in, still lived in though Carol and his two baby boys left more than a year ago.
“She left me Erin, for no good reason. And the kids. I still can’t see the kids. I miss those kids.”
“Yah, well Jerrod. What are you doing about it?” Erin asked him the same questions, watching the man cross his arms on the table and lay his head down and sob.
“I got a restraining order against me. She did the restraining order thing.” He mumbled into the thick flesh of his arms. Then pounded his fist into the table. The same fist that Erin remembered growing up. The same fist that he’d raised against his father, against anyone that got in his way.
Erin remembered the way his eyes would change, even the colour from a soft gold brown to what seemed like raging black. She blamed her mother. She blamed her father. But for some strange reason, she never blamed Jerrod.
“You have anger issues,” she’d tell him when she got old enough to understand what made him turn from the sweet submissive man to the raging beast.
Carol’s phone calls came late in the night, to Erin, her voice muffled, afraid, hidden. “You’ve got to do something Erin,” she’d say, breathy. “I can’t take this anymore.”
So Jerrod lived with the results of his anger.
“You gotta help me,” he’d plead with his baby sister. “Get a hold of Carol. Tell her I still love her, I still need her.”
And for a while Erin gave in, tried to be the go between. It was easier than walking away from him. Easier than feeling his pain. So she’d smile and say okay.
And now, a year later, she sat in her car, and continued to watch the house. The lawn grown over with weeds and yellow dandelions. The kids swing set still standing in the front yard, rusted now from the heavy snow and early spring rain.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” The question rolled in her head again and again. Her own body feeling heavy under the weight of it.
But if she stopped helping him. If she walked away, what then. What would happen to him. To her mother, who had an even harder time worrying over him.
She started the car and pulled away, the motor humming softly in the morning air as she made her way to her own home to get ready for work. So much to do. She’d have to deal with this another day. She pulled out her cell phone at the stop light and dialled a message to Jerrod.
“Hey bro,” she said. “Just wanted to say I love you.” She clicked it shut, then felt the familiar sense of relief that she was doing all she could.
After all, she was her brother’s keeper.
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