Cameron and Jack had been sitting in the co-op having breakfast. Cameron was Jack’s younger brother. Sometimes, when Jack had to listen to Cameron talk for long periods of time he would wish that—unbeknownst to anyone—the impending nuclear holocaust had been focused on Sweetditch, the town in which they lived and were having breakfast, and that the enemies of the Empire had chosen this moment to execute their terrible vengeance, because that would mean that the conversation could end.
Cameron was finishing an anecdote.
“But then I’m like, ‘I don’t care if it’s sterile, it’s not mine.’” Cameron searched Jack’s face for a reaction.
“Isn’t that great?” Cameron said. “Did you like that?”
“No,” Jack’s mouth said, and Jack’s mouth meant it.
Cameron nodded, and then said something that Jack did not expect him to say.
“Do you believe in Clod?” he said.
Jack was surprised by the sudden theological turn the conversation seemed to be taking. But he wasn’t sure he’d heard right.
“Do you mean God?” Jack said.
“I’ll ask you again: Do you believe in Glod?” Cameron said.
“I can’t tell what you’re saying,” Jack said.
“It’s a simple question, about your belief in Grawd.”
Jack looked out the window, hoping to see a mushroom cloud blooming on the horizon.
“What’s the point of what you’re doing?” he said.
“I’m just curious what your metal-physical views are,” Cameron said.
Jack felt he was being drawn into a trap.
“It’s meta-physical,” he said. “I can’t believe that you know that word well enough to get it wrong.”
“That’s what she said,” Cameron said.
“Up until just about fifteen seconds ago, I did believe in God,” Jack said.
“That’s what she said,” Cameron said.
Jack took a sip of his coffee and fantasized that someone had somehow put strychnine in it just a split-second before. The fantasy spurred him to finish the cup in one swallow.
“Why would you do this to someone?” he said.
Cameron smiled suddenly, a light went on in his eyes.
“That’s . . .” he started.
“. . . what . .” he continued.
Jack watched as the light diminished and Cameron seemed to forget what he was about to say.
“That one would have made sense,” Cameron said. “Why do you hate me?”
“I don’t hate you,” Cameron said. He tipped his head back, and then tipped it forward to look Jack directly in the face.
“I have real questions and sometimes it’s hard for me to get them out. I feel intimidated by big issue conversations with you, and a little nervous. It makes it hard to actually get the questions out. I’m defending myself.”
Jack took a deep breath and felt guilty. He felt that he tried to keep the flow of communication in his family uncomplicated. But he also knew that he sometimes fooled himself about his intentions. He didn’t want to be aloof. He wanted to be open and giving, and he wanted his brother to be able to talk to him in an unmediated way, where the discourse flowed naturally. He’d forced Cameron into this place, this defensiveness, where he hid behind terrible verbal sparring which yielded nothing.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I really am. I know that I probably make it difficult.” He made a gesture with his hands, palms out and open. Just making the gesture felt good.
“What did you want to ask?” he said.
Cameron blinked and smiled.
“I’m curious about the after-life,” he said.
Jack nodded. This felt good, talking like this.
“Okay . . .” he said. “Well, I believe that . . .”
Cameron held up a hand to stop him.
“Sorry,” he said. “I meant to say that I’m bi-curious about the after-life.”
Jack looked at his brother. His vision dimmed, grew red at the borders.
“This is hell,” he said.
He closed his eyes and waited for the blasts to begin, for the end of all things, or at least most things. He savored his breath. The lingering taste of strychnine-free coffee. But right now he would be glad to see them go. He would be glad to feel existence wiped away by nuclear destruction. It would be such a relief.