Kindling
Kathleen Clauson
I was the middle child, poster child of stereotypes. When my brother Jeffrey was born, I told mom to take him back to the hospital.

Fifty-two years later, I sat at Mom’s red Formica kitchen table, sorting through the photographs that chronicled our lives. Pictures of me blowing out my candles on my birthday cake, dancing in frilly dresses on top of that same table—all were neatly tucked into a shoe box.

Thank God for Kodachrome. Boxes of photos of Jeffrey’s charmed life—his first bath, his senior prom in that ridiculous baby blue tuxedo, a photo of that German woman who was married to doctor but spent her afternoon in my brother’s waterbed.  I crammed a handful of his memories into a padded envelope, including one of our parents and their home.  Even though he lives a few hours away, five years have passed since he’s visited them.

Our parents moonlighted so we could attend college. Mom worked two extra jobs to buy Jeffrey a car. After starting at the university, he moved in with that psycho-bitch Dana and a week later my parents used up their vacation days to move him out of his love-nest. When he wanted a new computer, he sold my parents his out-dated floppy-disk Gateway, even though they never learned how to use it.  Dad said he found a bride in the “funny papers.” Jeffrey placed a personal ad in a newspaper, landing an Oklahoma beanstalk whose daddy had money. Dad loaned him cash for her engagement ring. He thinks he paid them back by sending Dad Depends. By my count, he has 59.5 cartons to go. When he sends cards, he just signs his name, the way you do when you send cards to people you don’t know well.  

For Christmas he sent a photo flip-book of his trip to Europe. My father didn’t even recognize his granddaughter and cried so hard he needed a Nitro pill. I found the album stashed behind the dresser so my Mom wouldn’t see it.

I grabbed my keys to go to the post office. My eye caught the broken milky blue lightning rod on the top of their old garage—another memorable example of my brother weaseling out of blame.

Next door, Mr. O’Brien was trying futilely to burn a pile of leaves. I lit a match and watched the orange blaze devour of the packet of images of this person we no longer knew.

“Off to visit the folks? They’re lucky to have you,” said Mr. O’Brien, raking more leaves into the fire.

“They were always there for us—now it’s my turn. Give my best to Mrs. O.”


 


First published: February, 2014
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