Things Between Us
by Brandi Wells
Nate and I sit on opposite sides of the porch steps with the dog sprawled across three steps, napping between us. Nate sits bent over with his elbows propped on his knees, flexing the muscles in his forearms, first one and then the other.
He flicks his cigarette butt out into Momma's old flowerbed. It bounces off a sun-bleached brick and lands in a pile of dried out weeds and straw. All the roses shriveled up years ago and now a row of dry stalks stand in their place. They're scorched by the sun and every time the wind snakes through the yard, jagged pieces of brown and yellow float away.
"I talked to the lawyer today," Nate says.
I look at the yard, full of bare spots where grass won't grow anymore and then I look down at the seedless dandelions growing up around the bottom porch step.
Nate smacks his lips, making a sound like a mason jar being opened.
"I'm gonna sell the house," he says. "You're more than five hours away and I don't want the damned place. I might as well make a few bucks."
I scoot closer to Nate, avoiding the nails jutting out of the green grain of the wood.
"Maybe I'll move back here," I say, running my fingers through the dog's hair, picking out pieces of dried leaves and flecks of grass. "Maybe I'll get a job right down the road and even do something with those old rose bushes."
Nate bends down and scratches the dog between its ears. The dog whimpers and rolls over, paddling its feet in the wind. It tilts its head back and I run my hand over the thinning white hair on its neck
"I'm gonna sell it," Nate says. "It's decided."
I grab his arm and pull him towards me.
"Nate, there's no reason-"
He shrugs my hand away and shakes his head.
"It's decided," he says. "Nothing to talk about, really."
He pats his leg hard, knocking dirt off his jeans into a fine brown haze and says, "C'mon boy." When he goes inside, the dog stays with me.
"Bet you can't nail him," Nate says, hunching over, picking through dirt clods by our driveway.
The dog stretches, yawns a long, wide-mouthed yawn, and then flops down in the shade by Momma's rose garden.
"Throw it already," Nate urges.
He hands me a rock that must have worked its way into the dirt clods by our driveway.
I lean back and heave the rock with my good arm. It arcs through the air and lands in the grass a few inches from the dog's face.
The dog leans forward and licks the rock until the clay turns a deep red-orange color. A trail of drool stretches from the folds in its lips and clings to the grass below.
"You can't hit nothing. Couldn't hit the side of my face if I was smiling at you."
I scoop up gravel and dirt from beside the driveway and fling it at Nate. The little rocks splay out in a dirt mist and one of them nicks him. A dot of blood wells up on his forehead, just above his eyebrow.
I take a step back, wiping my hands on my bright red shorts. Dirt crumbles and sticks to the sweat on my legs.
"I'm sorry," I tell him. "It didn't hit you hard, did it? I'm sorry. You just got a little scratch. You're okay."
I shrug at him and stand sideways, like I'm thinking about going inside.
"Damn it," he says, wiping the blood off with two fingers and then dabbing it on his tongue. There's a smear of blood running down his forehead, through his eyebrow and creeping over the bridge of his nose.
I squat next to the dog and run my hands over its thick brown fur. It licks its lips and glances up at me. There's snot and drool running down the sides of its mouth. Its eyes are big and brown, the way a dog's eyes ought to be.
"I said I was sorry," I say, shaking my head.
I grip the loose skin around the nape of the dog's neck and try to pull it up. The dog groans without looking at me and leans back so all its weight falls on its haunches.
Nate turns his head, spits out the side of his mouth and lunges at me.
I let the dog flop back down on its belly. I grab hold of one of Momma's rose bushes and pull myself up. It's a strong bush, thick-stemmed, but my hand slips and catches a few thorns. I rip some of the leaves off too and fall back down.
Nate pushes me on my back and bears down hard so I can only breathe in quick shallow gasps. I can feel the edge of flowerbed's brick lining pressing into my scalp, sliding along the sweat of my brow line. I try to twist away and the brick digs further into my skull.
The dog scampers up the porch steps, with its belly swinging back and forth, and whines at the screen door.
"Snoop?" Momma calls out. "Snoop, is that you?"
Nate slides his knees off my chest and stands up.
I roll over, pick myself up and circle around Momma's rose bushes. I hop up the stairs three at a time and lean over to pet the dog.
"No, Momma. It's just me," I yell through the screen.
I slam the squealing door behind me and leave my brother standing outside.
About the author:
Brandi Wells is a student at Georgia Southern University, pursuing a B.A. in Writing and Linguistics. Her work is in or is shortly forthcoming in Ghoti Magazine, Zygote in my Coffee, Vulcan, Agua, Toasted Cheese, Storyglossia, Thieves Jargon and Monkeybicycle.