I think for Markie Joe because he can't think for himself. I live for him, too. Even gave him his name. Our mother died the night he was born, tuckered out from trying to birth an eleven-pound baby. I called him Mark for our granddad and Joe for a mule we had that survived getting hit by a Ford pickup and tossed off a sixteen-foot cliff. Wasn't even lame after that, which is better than Markie Joe fared.
Our father looked in the bedroom doorway that night, pursed his lips and took off on a four-day drive. We were standing in the cemetery when he finally came back--me, Grandma and Markie Joe. Grandma taught me how to fold and pin a diaper. And how to feed a baby. Lord, Markie Joe could eat. Even though he grew like a sunflower, I knew something wasn't right. He just stared at the ceiling. Never laughed. Nor cried. Just ate and stared. He knew who I was though. His body always did this little flinch and sort of came to attention when I drew close to him. No smile, no greeting, but still, I knew he was glad I'd come.
Grandma died when Markie Joe was less than a year old. With that, we were truly alone. Two boys and a heart-dead man. Twice a month my father would cart bags of cereal, flour and sugar in and set them on the porch. He killed our meat. Sometimes one of our critters but more often a deer, rabbit or squirrel. It was my job to clean them, butcher or cook them and freeze any leftovers for later.
He wouldn't talk to me and Markie Joe couldn't. Eventually I took to talking to myself. "How's it going?" I'd ask every morning. "You okay, Markie Joe? Need anything special?"
I talked and talked and talked. Enough for all three of us.
And believe it or not, I learned from my brother. Empty people are more full than we think and full people can be downright void of everything. But as the years passed it got harder and harder to clean Markie Joe, roll him around to the sunlight and prepare enough food to fill him up.
As if it were a sign, one hot summer night we both grew weary of it all. Markie Joe's eyes went dull and my heart felt all hard and cold. I lined the ceilings with colored crepe paper, catalog pictures and even the bright red dog food bags I'd soaked in gasoline. Then I crawled in bed with Markie Joe and tossed just one match.
Better than any Fourth of July.
And Markie Joe finally smiled.
First published: August, 2007
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