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Before 19

Embers of the Evening Sun What should have pulled us together pushed us apart. I reminded him of the divorce and he reminded me. Chris’s parents never beat him but his older brother Derek did. Derek would kick him until his ribs turned red. Chris stopped trying to fight back. Soon he learned to pass it on to his little brother. Chris tortured Hudson so that there was someone who felt the same pain he did. When Halloween came, Chris told Hudson he’d built a haunted house. Hudson walked in through the doorway; Chris cut the lights and punched him in the face. His little brother swayed, deathly cold in the darkness. Chris’s anger towards Derek grew like a thundercloud soaking up the sky’s tears, just waiting to let loose. Rain slapped the roof. Chris chased Derek through the slate-floor hallways; tears rushing down his red face. There was no reason for it. He had a saw in his left hand and a hammer in his right. “I fucking hate you, I fucking hate you,” he screamed at Derek. Over and over and over the words spilled out like his only prayer. His brother had said something, but I hadn’t heard. I don’t think Chris heard either. Rain drowned the words. Derek slammed the door shut just as Chris wound the hammer back and hurled it at the doorway. The hammer stuck straight into the closed door. I stood there unsure whether I should yell or scream, run or cry, wishing it wasn’t happening, wishing Chris and I were in our underground fort—even if the rain did leak through the roof. When Derek wasn’t home, Chris and I would go searching through his room. We were never looking for anything in particular. I remember the day we opened his drawer and found a bunch of needles and thick yellow rubber bands. I remember thinking it was weird Derek sewed. He always acted so tough. Once, when John, Chris’s father, yelled at him for spray painting the big rock out in the woods, Chris ran out to the garage, grabbed a red fireman’s axe, and swung it down on a can of black spray paint. I followed him outside wondering where he was headed. Turning out of the garage I saw the axe come down, the can explode, the black paint spray, coating Chris and covering me. The fragments of sheet metal spread like the memories written on a page. Chris stood there frozen sky black. He was so full of anger, but that fullness seemed to grow from emptiness. He was like the sky the night we heard of our parents’ divorce: perforated by a thousand pinholes. His innocent childhood glow seemed to spill out the holes to join the murky lake water. I wanted to plug all of the holes.

Embers of the Evening Sun By Jack Bynum

On warm summer mornings Chris and I would walk down to the lake below his house, pull his red canoe to the shore, and paddle out into the glass cathedral. It was silent except for the occasional honk of geese or chickadees or the crack of a paddle against the gunwale. Chris would rock the boat to taunt me, but often enough he flipped it entirely. We would tug the sinking canoe back to shore, our feet kicking furious strokes in the warm water. I remember one morning well: mud splattered on his chest and shrapnel flew into his dirty-blond hair and just missed his eyes, his mouth stretched out into a wild grin. Mud flung through the air until our skin turned to earth. Chris dove into the lake, breaking through the mirrored image of the sky. I stood there with a frown cracking the drying mud on my face, wishing he didn’t want to go back in the water. I was terrified of water. The sun poured embers over the mountain’s brim as I hesitantly joined Chris’s fish-like circles under the surface. We sat on the pond floor, among tangled green algae, a stream of bubbles erupting from our mouths. There is an image on my bedroom bookshelf of Chris and me when we were ten. Chris and I sit on a mound of garden dirt, I have a two-foot shovel in my hand, and the dirt has just left it. Our faces are alight with laughter as the dirt rests silently suspended in the air. One of Chris’s arms is thrown loosely around my shoulder and the other stretches into the sky, his hand curved as if trying to grasp something. His hair is short; my hair is long and down to my shoulders. His face is round, his chin nondescript and his eyes blue like the soccer shirts we’re both wearing, his stained from a black pen exploding in the wash. There’s a tree house out in the woods that we used to visit. We would sit up in the canopy for hours swaying in circles with the wind. When I went back years later a swarm of wasps erupted from their nest. I froze until the first one stung me like a shard of unwanted memory. I slid down the ladder and ran. My left eye blurred as the lid inflated. My cheeks rounded as they swelled. Both of our parents divorced the same year. I’ve always wondered why. When we heard, we sat out on the patio late at night and cried. The black sky stared down perforated by a thousand pinholes. The pond shore sung silent. 26


Before 19

Embers of the Evening Sun

“See what you did to me John. See. This is how arguments always go. You say one thing; I say something different, so why don’t you just shut the fuck up. I don’t need to hear your shit,” Chris yelled. His mother would laugh, like she always did. She and John still lived together after the divorce. “You’re a bitch too,” Chris would say turning to her, “don’t talk to me. I hate both of you.” His mother would look at him with a slight curl to her lip and glazed manic eyes and walk away. I saw Chris at a party with my old friends a few years ago. His eyes were smeared a few shades darker and I never saw him smile. I did see him puke. He had pulled out a few 40s and was pouring amber Old English 800 down his throat. That golden liquid was the color of his old smile. His skin looked like the white sofa he had lain down on as he threw up red and yellow and baby blue chunks into the steel bowl on the floor. Someone shuttled the bowl out to the woods where parents wouldn’t see, the bile sloshing, spilling over the brim and slipping down the sides. I sat next to him, my elbows resting on my knees, my hands laced together, and my head down. I ran into him down by the river. The sun was casting a thin light. He was stumbling in circles, wearing a grey hoodie, waddling to keep his jeans from falling down. I could smell cough-syrup-cherry and cigarette smoke like it was perfume. He staggered back to the car as if his legs were made of setting concrete and drove off. I stood alone in the deep valley by the river, the same one that I’d grown up in for fifteen years. The sun had slipped through the sky and now left only dancing shadows in the evening half-light, the silhouette of the river, and old repeating memories. I am haunted by waters.

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Embers of the Evening Sun  

Before 19, literary journal

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