My Brother, Laughing

My older brother Thomas pulled out in front of the truck because he was laughing at how mad I was. The truck skidded to a stop. Thomas zipped ahead, out of the way, and laughed about how we almost died. Behind us, the truck held the horn down for the rest of Red Brick Lane, a quarter mile.

All summer Thomas played Monica and Brandi’s “The Boy is Mine” and smacked the cast on his arm against the steering wheel. He had the single on tape. One side was the song, the other side was an instrumental version of the song. I was mad because he wouldn’t let me change the tape.

When we turned, the truck behind us turned too, and followed us. Along Route 23 the truck honked behind us.

I darted a look over my shoulder. Glare on the windshield hid the interior.

“What do they look like?” Thomas said.

“I couldn’t see anything,” I said. “There’s a glare.”

“When we go under these trees,” Thomas said, “I want you to look back there.”

“I’m not going to,” I said.

“Then hold the wheel.”

Thomas had driven us to the mall once with his eyes closed, with me on the wheel, speaking gas and brake pedal instructions.

Thomas turned around. He waved and laughed and this went on through the turn onto Pine. The honking became continuous.

“Whew,” he said, and took the wheel again.

“What does he look like?” I said.

“He looks like he’s killed humans for sport,” Thomas said. “And the woman with him looks okay with it. She’s got a very, ‘go get them, honey’ kind of look.”

“That’s not funny,” I said.

“Yes, it is,” he said. “He’s showing off for her.”

“I hope not,” I said.

“I guarantee it,” he said and tapped his cast. “It’s like with Holly.”

He broke both the radius and ulna in his right arm trying to vault over our Jetta in the school parking lot after learning that Holly would go out with him if he asked her. He said the moment of falling to the pavement on the far side of the Jetta, combined with a moment later that day when he received an injection of Demerol, had taught him what love was.

“If he’s showing off for her, doesn’t that mean he might do something worse than normal, because he has something to prove?” I said.

“But he doesn’t want to prove he’s a psycho,” Thomas said. “He doesn’t want to hurt two beautiful kids in a Jetta, and prove he’s got road-rage.”

“Unless she likes psychos,” I said.

Thomas looked right at me. He bent his eyebrows into a look of thoughtful agreement.

Behind us the horn transitioned into the Morse code pattern for the F-word.

“You could be right,” he said.

At this point, Thomas turned onto our road.

“Don’t go to our house,” I said. “Don’t let him see where we live.”

“Don’t worry,” Thomas said.

I became frantic. I pleaded with my brother in a flurry of words, in gestures of hand-wringing, nearly crying.

“Don’t worry,” he said.

He pulled into our driveway. We rented a farmhouse with an enormous paved driveway spanning the distance between the house and the barn. He turned the car off and got out. I could hear the rumble of the other engine behind us. I did not get out of the car. I started to worry that I should have just gotten out of the car and run into the barn and hid somewhere in the hay bales, and now that it was too late, I’d just have to die beaten to death with a tire iron.

I snatched a look at Thomas. He leaned against the Jetta. The man stayed seated in his truck and screamed many F-words, railed against our entire generation, and described the many ways in which “the Chinese will eat your generation’s lunch.” Thomas stood by the car and nodded and appeared to be listening carefully. For a solid three minutes the man maintained a varied range of and keeping the word fresh for its every instance. Then he drove away. As he did, Thomas leaned away from the Jetta, folded his hands at his chest and bowed.

I got out of the car. Thomas was laughing.

“You’re an idiot, Thomas,” I said. “He’s going to come back.”

Thomas spasmed at this into even deeper peals of laughter.

“He’s not coming back!” he said. “That was everything he needed.”

I went inside to my room. After contemplating my situation, and realizing that I would die if I spent the night in this house, I went downstairs and called my friend Peter. It took me five minutes to create an organic opening, through which I succeeded in getting Peter to invite me to spend the night. I accepted Peter’s surprising offer, packed a bag, kissed my parents, Thomas, and the rest of my siblings goodbye, and rode my bike to Peter’s house. I felt guilty for abandoning them, but I knew that with Thomas’s irrepressible optimism at work, I wouldn’t be able to convince them of anything.

I slept poorly on Peter’s urine-smelling hide-a-bed, woke at 6 in the morning and rode back to my own house. I ditched my bike in the yard and ran inside. I went from bedroom to bedroom, steadying myself before I opened each door, prepared to find carnage. Everyone was fine. Thomas was right.

I went downstairs and got my bike. I wheeled it over to the driveway, to the garage, and then saw the rear windshield of the Jetta. A large piece piece of limestone sat on the trunk, having evidently crushed most of the rear windshield and then settled there. I went inside. I sat at the kitchen table and waited.

Not even sleep could constrain Thomas. He bounded downstairs at 6:30. I motioned for him to follow me. I took him outside. I pointed to the window. I expected to see his face fall for once. I wanted to make Thomas sad.

He laughed until he turned purple.

My Brother, Laughing

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