all thumbs down

All Thumbs Down

In Short Story by Andrew Rubin

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Dear Dad,

All right, I know this is a few weeks, or months, or fuck-it even years too late, but with the week I’ve had, you’ve got to cut me some slack. Deal? I swear you would’ve had a field day with this one. Well not this “one,” more like “a series of ones that are strung so close that they might as well be one.” I’m talking about my most recent fuck-up if you haven’t already realized, and let me tell you, she was a beauty. But you can’t put all the blame on me, right? Some of this had to be your fault with how you just decided you were done and we’d have to deal with it, and I swear I was just dealing with it. But right now you’re in dirt and I’m writing this to a gray slab with your name on it. I guess I figured I’d end this week where it started, dew soaked socks at the Oak View Cemetery.

You would’ve liked the service. Karen played that Neil Young song, Steve Drapher came down from Maine and the rest of the place was pretty much empty. It was surprisingly warm for October, a small, simple thing like Mom’s. You’re right next to her, so close you guys could probably knock and scratch Morse code messages to each other. I borrowed a suit, hope you don’t mind. I did good though, thanked everyone individually for coming, no scoffs during the Pastor’s anecdotes, I even shook his hand after. But that was the service.

We went to Aunt Milly’s after. This was when the rest of the family decided to show up. She was dressed in a sundress with multicolored flowers on it. Can you believe that? Then in walks Uncle Brad and Boney, Shane with Jill and the kids, some of Karen’s old high school friends, and the neighbors Roger and Tina Fenmor, all dressed like they’re still in their goddamn living room. Jeans and tees. If I tried to pull that shit two years ago you would’ve disowned me.

Once everyone was inside I said something like, “Don’t dress up,” and Karen pinched my arm and told me to cool it like she always does. She and mom were always more tolerant than you and me. Neither of us had room for bullshit, though we did have different definitions of the word.

Everyone heard me but gave me that sympathy pass because after all, my dad just died, so instead of the usual bickering that filled our holiday dinners, the room filled with a quiet uneasiness as thick as blood. Uncle Brad broke the silence asking me, “How’s school going, Slugger?” although he knows I dropped out of ACC a year and a half ago, and I haven’t played baseball since middle school.

“Wouldn’t know, I haven’t been in over a year.”

“Oh, shoot, that’s right, Sport, it’s hard to keep track of all you kids!”

Yeah Uncle Brad it must be tough to keep your thumb on the whole ten people in Millys living room. What a chore! Go watch the game you fat fuck.

Karen must’ve caught me glaring and threw a net out to try to reel us back, “Yeah, Brad. It’s tough to keep track of you guys, sometimes, too.”

I pushed it away with a, “What’s to keep track of? Sleep, eat, watch the game, and repeat. Right Uncle Brad?”

He let out a chuckle, a sort of “Don’t push your luck, you little shit,” chuckle.

Shane and Jill walked in from the kitchen just in time for Jill to throw her two cents in.

“Anthony! That’s a little uncalled for, don’t you think? Uncle Brad was just making small talk.”

Uncle Brad shot me a look then turned away towards the TV.

There ya go, Brad, do whatcha do best!

“You’re right, Jill. You can call us even.”

“Even?” Shane blurted, always two or three steps behind everyone else.

“Oh, and what did we do?” Jill said in her condescending mother way.

Just as Karen was saying my name and reaching to give me another warning pinch I snapped. Round one of my weeklong hack job. Care to place bets on the amount of profanity I used? At this very moment the timer started, nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the show.

I started with the clothing; they all laughed at my newfound appreciation for fashion, but it wasn’t about that. It was about respect. Then I went a little deeper with the fact that none of their lazy asses made it to the actual service, as if they all had better things to do. This tugged some nerves and got them going. They were all too decent to make excuses for disrespecting you, a recently dead man, so they decided to let me have it instead.

Roger and Tina brought up how I barely visited in the past few years. If it wasn’t your birthday or Christmas, I was gone. Shane and Jill made some comments of how “rude” and “reprehensible” I am. Then Boney closed it off with how, “Your father would be so disappointed if he saw how you turned out.” That one stung.

The worst though wasn’t any of that; it was the look Karen gave me right before I left. Mom’s look and your look fused into one devastatingly unforgiving glare of disappointment that only she could deliver. You feel numb, hollow, small, and useless all at once. That one’s on you and Mom. You created that look. Thanks a lot for that.

The drive home seemed like it only lasted a split second from when I closed Aunt Milly’s front door to when I opened the door to my apartment. An empty, dim space that you’ve only entered once, which was the day I moved in. You called it a “fixer-upper,” which I took as a “shithole.” I was always like that with you, making the worst possible interpretation of your words. I remember when I was younger and you would have me help you around the house with everything. I’d never want to start the work and I’d maybe complain or drag my feet, but by the end of whatever project I’d always feel that warmth of accomplishment. Each time we’d finish something you’d look at me and say, “Show of hands?” and if we did a good job I’d say, “All thumbs up.” There were only a few “all thumbs down” but they were well deserved (e.g. the tub installation accident of ‘03). I pictured you asking me that. But don’t forget, Sunday was just the tip of the iceberg.

I wallowed around my apartment for a while after Milly’s. Replayed the catastrophe over in my head while thinking of better comebacks and points I should’ve made. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. Just kept my mouth shut, smiled politely then thanked everyone for coming. I floated from the living room to the kitchen, washed the dishes and organized the fridge, then to the desk in my bedroom where I stared at my notebook. I hadn’t written a thing in months. It’s one of those beautiful leather-bound things with the smoky white paper and a string to tie it shut. I bought it hoping to encourage me to write but ended up thinking anything I came up with wasn’t elegant enough to scribble across its pages. Then I floated back to the living room and fell back on the couch. I watched the clock hit 1:03 a.m. as my eyes shut and my head fell backwards.

I stared at the flickering lamp in the corner of the room. I knew I was asleep but it didn’t feel like my eyes were shut, only staring ahead waiting for my brain to come to. The clock said 3:48 a.m. and I knew I wasn’t going to fall back asleep. I stood up figuring I’d go walk instead.

There was always something better about this town at night. Really, anywhere for that matter. There’s something very calming in feeling like you’re the only person alive. The streets seem cleaner because it’s harder to see the cigarette butts and bottle caps and all the other sidewalk artifacts. I walked all over but ended up on a bench in the Garden Side public park just in time for the sunrise. It’s a great spot. You always showed me how to find the best spot in these places, you would’ve liked this one. High enough on the hill to overlook Lake Bronze and watch the sun reflect off the water that mirrored the rolling hills on the other side.

Just as the sky was turning I heard something running through the woods by my bench. The point across the lake was turning into a pinkish orange but the rest of the sky was still a deep blue. The sound of paws on the cracking leaves became louder until finally a huge German shepherd emerged and swung around plopping down right in front of me. His tail wagged like it had a mind of its own and its ears stood up like jagged peaks in a mountain range. A slimy dark green tennis ball was resting lightly at the end of its tongue.

“You lost?” I asked.

The dog just tilted its head to the left, brushed my knee with its right paw, and wagged its tail even harder.

“How can I help you?” I continued.

He then stood up, stepped forward and dropped the green ball of slime on to my lap. I watched it roll across my left thigh leaving a streak of shiny goo with chunks of dirt and twigs behind it. He sat back down and watched me eagerly. Then I heard someone running up the hill towards us, calling out for “Bear.”

“Is that you?” I asked my new acquaintance while squinting to make out the name on his tag.

“I would’ve called you mammoth. I’m not sure bears grow big enough to be your size.”

He just looked from me to the ball and back until I saw the person who was calling out in my peripherals.

“He’s over here!” I yelled, while continuing my staring contest with the beast at my feet.

A young woman who looked to be around my age came jogging over. She was dressed in one of those black coats that girls wear when it gets colder that have the big buttons and go down to their knees. She also had a red scarf and white beanie that blonde curls pooled out of like liquid. Although she was overdoing it a little with the winter attire considering how warm it was this past week. I pictured myself dropping to my knees and doing the “We’re not worthy!” bit from Wayne’s World and had to hold back a chuckle. Luckily, her focus wasn’t on me but instead on Bear who was still distracted by the ball and only seemed half interested in her lecture on running off. After a minute or so she gave up on Bear’s discipline and turned towards me.

“Thank you, I was looking everywhere for him!”

“It’s no problem. He found me, actually. I was just watching the sunrise.”

I said this as nonchalant as possible while nervously tossing the still wet tennis ball between my hands. She watched me do this then looked down at the streak of slime on my pants.

“Oh my god, Bear! I’m so sorry about that. He slobbers so much.”

I looked down realizing for the first time that I was still wearing the suit. Everything I had put on twenty-four hours earlier was still hanging from my bones. I needed to change. It suddenly felt like the weight of Sunday’s events were sewn into the seams of those clothes. I felt like ripping the suit off and burning it right there but then remembered where I was and settled for loosening my tie.

“Don’t worry about it,” I blurted then chuckled. It was right then that Bear stepped forward and rested his head on my lap, nudging my free hand onto the top of his head with his snout. It always seems that dogs can tell when someone’s a thousand miles away in their head, and it always seems a simple furry head on your lap can bring you all the way back within seconds.

She let out an elongated “aw” when Bear did this then she re-noticed the stain.

“Ah man, you’re probably on your way to work and now you’ve got to go home and change or deal with that stain all day. Let me at least pay for the dry cleaning.”

“No really, its fine,” I said. “I’m actually not on my way to work and to be honest I don’t even like this suit.”

She laughed at that then looked me over again with a spark of curiosity in her eye. She was realizing that if I wasn’t going to work then I must’ve been out all night, and who goes out on a Sunday night wearing a full black suit and ends up on a park bench at 5:30 in the morning?

“So what happened to you?” she asked then immediately blushed. “I’m sorry. That’s none of my business!”

“Oh,” I laughed, “it’s a long story but let’s just say I was at a dinner party that went awry.”

“Lemme guess, your girlfriend’s family’s place?”

Was this girl actually flirting with me? Goddamn, I gotta go to the park in the middle of the night more often.

“Nope, no girlfriend,” I smiled then changed the subject. “So is this beast yours or your boyfriend’s?”

I’ve always found that no matter what you say when flirting with a girl, it is going to be the cheesiest sounding thing that has ever been said. Luckily she went along with it.

“No boyfriend, just me,” she said while turning the dog’s leash over in her hands. “I’m actually really late for work.”

“Oh, okay.” I reached down and lightly spun the collar around Bear’s neck so she could attach the leash to it. When she stood back up she sized me up one last time.

“Are you sure I can’t pay to get that cleaned, I feel bad.”

This is it, I thought, last chance to make a fool of yourself.

“Really, don’t worry,” I laughed nervously. “But hey, how about we get dinner sometime?”

What did I say? The cheesiest thing that’s ever been said. But to my surprise she smiled and said, “Okay!”

She jotted down her number on the back of an Animal Rescue card from her pocket and handed it to me before walking away. I had finally given Bear his tennis ball back when we made that exchange. As far as I knew, Monday was off to a good start.

I sat for a little while longer, watching the sunrise over the hill then I got up and walked back to my apartment. I was feeling much better. I made a big breakfast, showered, and got dressed for work.

I walked into town and looked up at the Adirondack Outdoor Clothing sign, another day behind a register, sweeping floors and stocking shelves. It’s not a bad job, better than all those dishwashing jobs, and that time I was a janitor. I didn’t tell the manager or any of my coworkers about you or the funeral. I didn’t even tell my friends what happened. I just told them I wasn’t feeling good on Saturday night and asked to have Sunday off. When I walked into the shop, the manager asked how I was feeling. I told him I was fine and that it must’ve just been something I ate on Saturday. He didn’t seem worried. He’s the type of guy that takes his job way too seriously, thinking every problem is the most terrible, unfixable thing ever. He once threatened to fire me when I forgot to flip the “closed” sign at the front of the door over to “open.” He seemed pretty calm that day though.

Nothing much happened for the first half of the day. I zoned out into a work robot and helped the few people who came in and out of the store. But then a man walked in. He was the cliché businessman with the suit and briefcase and spent about half an hour browsing the store. Finally he came up to me with a North Face winter jacket in hand. I could tell by his tone and the annoyed look on his face that it wasn’t going to be pleasant.

“How can I help you?” I asked, waiting for his complaints.

“Yeah, do you have this in any other size besides small and extra large?” He said it more like a statement than a question.

“I’m sorry, sir, we don’t, we might get some more sizes when our supply shipment comes in on Wednesday.”

“I came in last weekend and I was told the same exact thing.”

“They must’ve been bought up, people are getting ready for the winter. I can reserve a coat in your size when they come in if you’d like.”

“I was hoping to get one today.”

I get it, dude, but what did I just say? We dont have any more sizes.

“We could also special order and you could pay now, then you’d just have to come in and show your ID then pick it up in a few days.”

His cheeks turned red as he bit his bottom lip, turned his head to the side then back to me.

“Look, I’ve only been here about three or four times, but your service is shit.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way but we just don’t have the coat. I can order it, or you can come back another time, but I can’t just make one appear.”

Now I was getting annoyed, but this guy was persistent. Then my manager walked out from the back and asked what was going on. The man stated his feelings about our service and my manager gave him all of the same options I did. The man wouldn’t stop. He must’ve been having a shitty week, too.

“This place is fucking awful, you have shit for supplies and your employees are a bunch of idiots!”

“Hey, fuck you, asshole!” I shouted. My manager looked at me with wide eyes and a dropped jaw.

“Anthony!”

“Well this guy’s being a prick! Look dude, we don’t have the coat, so just get the hell out of here.”

My manager’s head shot nervously back and forth between me and the man who now was smiling because he probably knew I was about to get fired.

“What kind of place are you running here,” he said to my manager, “where you let your workers talk to the customers like that?”

My manager caved, turned to me and said, “Get your things. You’re fired.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said, then stepped out from behind the register. “You know what? Fuck you both.”

Round two. That was that. In a matter of forty-eight hours I’d exiled myself from my family and gotten myself fired. The ball was rolling and it gathered as much shit and garbage it could on the way. The walk home wasn’t like the drive from Aunt Milly’s. This took forever. The sun was still out to shine down on all of those sidewalk artifacts that I thought disappeared at night. They don’t though; they just hide in the shadows away from the streetlights. I let them fill me up, taking in not just the cigarettes and bottle caps but also the coffee lids, dirty rubber bands, plastic labels, stray shoe laces and whatever other lost lint that was no longer worthy of someone’s pocket. My clothes felt as heavy as that suit. I walked through the door of my apartment and suddenly felt exhausted. The lack of sleep had caught up with me and I staggered to my bed and fell onto it, passing out almost as fast as my head hit the pillow.

I woke up Tuesday at 9 a.m. I had slept for fourteen hours. My stomach growled and turned as I rolled over to get out of bed. I walked to the kitchen and cut a grapefruit in half and shoveled into it with a spoon as I sat down at the counter. I felt strange, like I had just woken up in someone else’s life. I checked my phone, a text from a friend the night before asking what I was up to and a few missed calls. One from my manager (or ex-manager?) and one from the same friend who texted me. I didn’t reply to either, tossed my phone onto the counter then walked into the living room.

The television flickered bright and loud but it was performing to an empty audience. I just stared blankly at the wall and listened to the white noise. I spent most of that day thinking about our old saying, “Show of hands?” and how after a while it wasn’t just after the house projects when you’d say it. It was after everything. If I got a bad grade on a paper in high school, if I stayed out past when you wanted me home, and especially when I spent an entire day in good health lounging around the living room watching TV. I made a “thumbs down” gesture to myself as I sat there with already half of my Tuesday down the drain.

I ended up throwing my iPod into the stereo and listening to it on shuffle as I cleaned every inch of my apartment. After I finished that I took a steak out of the fridge and let it thaw as I cut up onions and peppers and boiled potatoes to mash. I prepared a huge meal for myself and sat there eating while my iPod, now a hundred and fifty songs or so deep chugged on filling my ears.

My hands were soft and wrinkled as I set the last pan onto the drying rack. I looked down at them knowing that in ten minutes they’d be dry and cracked. Feeling a little better I went into the living room and sat down and read for a while. You always liked those Sherlock Holmes stories. I read three and my head started to nod on the fourth. I felt through my pockets to find something to use as a bookmark when my hand grazed a small square piece of paper. I had forgotten that I had swapped it from the suit to my work clothes before I went to work on Monday. It was the card that the girl from the park had written her number on. I had forgotten all about it after Monday’s incident and even before that I was in such a hurry to get to work that I hadn’t even really looked at it yet.

She had written her number on the back but also under it her name, Madison. I smiled and walked into the kitchen to get my phone from the counter. I stared at the card in one hand and the phone in the other. Nervousness filled me up and I felt my hands tremble. I tossed the card on the table and called my friend back instead.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Max. It’s Anthony. What’s up?”

“Yo, man. Where ya been? I tried to get ahold of you last night.”

“Yeah, sorry dude. I’ve been super busy. What’re you doing tomorrow? Lunch?”

“Yeah dude I’m down. Meet you at the Corner Slice?”

“Sure, see ya.”

“Yup.”

I set the phone down next to Madison’s number then brushed my teeth and went to bed. I hadn’t left my apartment once Tuesday. Days like that always feel like some sort of time lapse. Like the outside world sort of forgot about you. I made a mental note to call Madison Wednesday after lunch with Max then fell asleep.

Wednesday morning and early afternoon seemed to fly by as I went from getting up, to making breakfast, to taking a shower, to reading the job ads in the paper to walking to the Corner Slice Pizzeria and meeting up with Max. He waited in the back working on something in his sketchbook. He had a whole plethora of multi-colored gel pens laid out across the table. He says they’re his favorite things to use because paint is too messy and pencils and crayons are too light. He tells me gel pens are the best for drawing on the go, and still getting deep, precise coloring. It’s almost like he’s a sales man trying to promote his new state of the art technology. I just nod.

I don’t think you ever met Max but I may have mentioned him in passing. He works at the new theater downtown, lives in a place with his girlfriend about a mile and a half from my apartment, and he frequently shows his artwork at whatever local coffee house or library is having a showing. We usually meet up at the Corner Slice and talk about movies, girls or whatever else about two times a week. The middle-aged owner of the place sees me before Max does.

“Anthony! What can I get you?”

“Hey, Pete. I’ll have a slice of white with a water please.”

“Coming right up!”

“Thanks.”

Max looked up and watched me sit down across from him. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and talked new movie releases for a bit. Then Max told me my boss had called him asking about me. I tried to brush it off but he kept at it.

“He was asking what was up with you. He said ya had a freak out, quit.”

“Try fired,” I said calmly looking out the window.

“Well, I can’t make you talk about it,” he paused, “but if you need a job, I can probably get you one at the theater.”

“Thanks, I’ll let you know.”

We ate our slices then I remembered Madison from the park. I told him the story but left out the details of why I was there in the first place.

“So did you call her?”

“Not yet.”

“Well what the hell are you talking to me for?”

I laughed and pulled the card out of my pocket, punched the number into my phone and hit send.

“Hello?” a familiar voice answered.

“Hey, Madison. It’s Anthony. The guy from the park the other day.”

There was no sound for a second and I felt my nerves twisting.

“Hey!” she said, “I was wondering if you’d call.”

I let out a breath of relief that she remembered me. Her tone sounded happy, like she was glad I called. I tried to well up some confidence.

“Well, it’s not every day you get introduced to a girl by their dog.”

“I know,” she laughed, “Bear seemed to like you.”

“That’s good, with a dog that size I wouldn’t want to get on its nerves.”

She laughed again, I was doing pretty well, I thought.

“Oh, he’s harmless,” she replied.

“Well, I was wondering if you’d like to get dinner tomorrow night…”

The time between asking a girl out and her answer is always one of the longest waits of a man’s life.

“Yeah! I’m free after six.”

I let out yet another sigh of relief. I made plans for seven o’clock to pick her up at the blue house on Hanson St., right across from the park, then hung up before I had a chance to say anything stupid. Max had been listening to our conversation intently with a grin on his face.

“Wow, dude. You must like her, I’ve never seen you that nervous over a phone call.”

“Whatever, man. So what are we doing today?”

“Movies?”

“Cool.”

I swear Max spends more time at the theater when he isn’t working than when he is. He’s been there since it opened and he can get both of us in for free, so we go quite a bit. After watching some god-awful superhero movie, we were walking back to his place when Max brought up that he was going to dump his girlfriend. He said this about once a week so I just sort of chuckled and said, “Oh yeah?”

“I’m serious, she’s driving me crazy always nagging me to clean up and do the dishes. I pay for most of our place and work like twice as much as her.”

For some reason I was starting to feel annoyed, like I wanted to piss him off.

“Give it a week,” I said, “I’m sure you’ll change your mind.”

“You don’t get it.”

“Why don’t you just do the dishes and sweep the floors? Who gives a shit?”

“What, are you siding with her?”

“I’m not siding with anyone. I’m just saying that you decide to break up with her like every day so either do it or just be a better boyfriend.”

“Hey, fuck you, dude. I’m a great boyfriend. What makes you the expert, you loner?”

I laughed that off and quietly walked on.

“You know what?” he continued, “I’m so sick of your bottled up bullshit. If you have a problem just say it instead of just holding it in until you snap. Or you just act all fucking cold all the sudden like right now.”

We were just getting to his apartment building.

“Whatever, dude,” I said as I kept walking. “Good luck with your girlfriend.”

“Fuck you,” he mumbled as he shuffled for his keys.

I walked the rest of my way home, cursing myself for being a dick. I knew everything he said about me was right. I’m just too proud to admit it. I got home and heated up a can of soup, ate it in silence, then went to bed.

I spent Thursday looking up some more job options. I walked around noting any “Help Wanted” signs I saw in windows. I was sitting on the couch watching a Seinfeld rerun when I realized it was 6:45 p.m.

“Shit!” I scrambled to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I had a little stubble but nothing too noticeable, my hair looked a little disheveled, and I was wearing a paint stained set of crappy jeans and an old Modest Mouse t-shirt. I ran into my bedroom and changed into a nice pair of jeans and a plaid button up shirt then I ran back to the bathroom and vigorously brushed my teeth. I jumped in the car and floored it towards Hanson St.

I pulled onto Hanson only nine minutes after seven and slowed down to check the house colors. Right when I thought that I missed it I saw a small light blue house tucked away at the end of the street. There was a small amount of front yard space surrounded by a wooden fence about waist high. Then I saw a familiar German Shepard lying in the grass, lazily watching the cars drive by.

I slowed to a stop in front of the house and watched Bear jump up and let out a long howl. I hopped out and walked up to the fence gate and leaned over it to greet the beast. I quickly undid the latch and slipped into the front lawn closing the door before Bear could escape. He jumped eagerly, then circled around the yard to find that same tennis ball and brought it over to me. He let it drop and roll to my feet when I heard the door open.

Madison walked out wearing that same coat but a different scarf and no beanie. She walked towards me with a big smile on her face.

“Sorry I’m late,” I said as her smile melted my brain.

“It’s no problem,” she said cheerfully, “it’s only fifteen minutes.”

She patted Bear’s head goodbye and we got into the car and took off. From there the night seemed to fly by, and it was like I wasn’t even there, I was just watching some very charming and confident person who looked like me. We talked about music, movies and books. She had great taste in all three categories. Then she told me about how she works at an Animal Rescue and loves dogs more than anything. She laughed at every stupid joke I made and there wasn’t really a dull moment the whole night. We went to a nice restaurant downtown and watched a man play songs on an acoustic guitar then we walked around the town and talked nonstop. I swear this date was like a goddamn fairy tale. We held hands and I kissed her goodnight and when I got home I sat on the same couch where four and a half hours earlier I had almost forgotten about the whole thing. I sat and wondered if any of it even really happened. We had already set up another date for Saturday to take Bear to the park and have a picnic.

I walked light-headed to the bathroom and brushed my teeth. I stared at myself in the mirror for a second and thought of the only time you told me about when you and mom met. You said you felt lighter. I walked into my bedroom and sat down on my bed. I noticed I had a missed call so I opened my phone and saw that it was from Karen. I knew she would still be up but I didn’t want to call her back. I was afraid I’d ruin my mood so I just set my phone on the nightstand instead and fell asleep replaying the night in my head.

I woke up the next morning to the sound of rain outside. My room looked dim and ominous as the raindrops slowly oozed down the windows, but I felt rested and awake. I made myself an omelet then went to the desk in my room. I took out the notebook and started to write down an idea for a romantic story that I based off of my date with Madison. After a while I took a break and watched some TV, skimming through the classifieds for new job openings, circling a few here and there. At around four my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number.

“Hello?”

“Hi, is this Anthony?”

“Yeah, who’s this?”

“This is Sheryl Nathan from the Hospital. I work with your sister, Karen.”

“Is something wrong?”

“Well, we don’t know because Karen didn’t show up today and she’s never missed a day without calling so we were a little worried. Have you seen Karen today?”

My heartbeat picked up, I remembered the missed call I had.

“No, I haven’t heard from her all week.”

“Do you know where she might be?”

“I’m not sure but I’ll start calling her friends.”

I was about to hang up when the woman stopped me.

“Oh, Anthony?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry to hear about your father.”

I immediately dialed Karen’s number and listened to it ring then finally go to voicemail. I ended the call then clicked the “Contacts” button on the screen. I scrolled through looking for the friends of Karen’s that were at Aunt Milly’s on Sunday. Finally I found one, Hope Ames. I hit send.

“Hi, Hope?”

“Hey, Anthony. How are you?”

“Do you know where Karen is?”

“No, I haven’t seen her since the day before yesterday. You should really talk to her. She feels awful about what happened Sunday.”

“Did she mention anything about what she might be doing today?”

“No, not that I know of.”

“Okay, thanks Hope.”

“Oh, Anthony?”

“Yeah?”

“I never got to tell you on Sunday. I’m very sorry for your lo—”

I hung up. I found the numbers to her other friends that were with her Sunday, they all went in that same cycle. I hung up after the last and threw my phone on my desk and paced around my room. I looked down at my notebook with the cheesy love story written on the first page. I ripped it out and threw it away, grabbed my keys, put my phone in my pocket then ran out to my car.

I tried to drive slowly so I wouldn’t get pulled over but I was so anxious it was almost impossible. How self-centered had I been to not even think about my own sister’s reaction to your death? To go about my week bumming about my own life like I’m the only fucking person in the world. That look she gave me as I left Milly’s was all I could think of. She even called me. She called and I threw it aside because I didn’t want to feel bad. I drove through a stop sign and finally rounded the corner to the duplex house she lived in. Her car was gone. I went up and knocked on the door. No answer.

“Karen?!” I shouted but there was no reply. I stepped around the porch to the window and looked in. There were no lights on and the furniture sat still like statues in a museum.

I pulled out my phone to dial anyone, starting with Aunt Milly.

“Hello?”

“Aunt Milly. It’s Anthony.”

“Oh. Hello Anthony. What can I do for you?”

“Have you seen Karen in the past few days?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Thanks.”

I hung up. Dialed Uncle Brad, hit send.

“Hello?” It was Boney.

“Boney, it’s Anthony. Have you seen Karen?”

“Not since Sunday.”

“All right. Not you or Uncle Brad?”

I heard her consult with him while whatever sports game played in the background.

“No, he hasn’t either.”

“All right, thanks.”

“Is that all, Anthony?”

“Yup.”

“You sure you don’t want to apo—”

I went through the rest of the family members, no one else had seen her since Sunday. My stomach was twisting and my heart was pounding like a jackhammer. I took off walking around her neighborhood, calling her cell every twenty or so minutes. Each time that disappointed look of hers burnt holes in the back of my head. I got back to her apartment and saw her neighbors had gotten home. I asked them if they’d seen her and they told me they saw her drive off early that morning.

It was getting late, my eyes were dry and my hands were numb. It was finally starting to get cold again. Then I realized where she must’ve gone and I cursed myself for not thinking of it before.

I got into my car and drove into the country towards our old house. Your house. I pulled in the driveway. When I saw her car I let out a sigh of relief. It was about midnight and the rain had let up but there was a thick fog over everything. I ran to the door and turned the handle, it wasn’t locked. I walked through the kitchen and saw the hardwood floors we put in together, the new sink and the pantry doors. I went through the living room and saw the brown paint and the green molding. Up the stairs with the wall lined of picture frames, and the railing that we could never make sturdy enough, it was always loose. I saw the light on under Karen’s old bedroom door and stepped in. She was sitting on the floor leaning against the bed frame I helped you make when she got rid of the bunk beds. She was flipping through an old photo album, and didn’t look up when I walked in.

She wasn’t crying but her eyes were red and a crumpled tissue was clenched in her hand. I walked over and sat down next to her.

“I’m sorry about Sunday.”

She didn’t answer.

“And I’m sorry about this whole week. I should’ve called you back.”

“It’s okay,” she mumbled then gestured towards the photos. “Have you seen these?”

“Probably not for years,” I said then leaned over to look at them.

There were pictures of all of us from when we were babies up until when I graduated high school, there were only a few scattered from there. Almost every page had a picture of you and me standing next to some part of the house that we just added or fixed, with our thumbs up.

Karen and I leafed through photo albums and told old stories of you and mom almost all night. Around four in the morning I went and crashed in my old room. My band posters still tacked on the wall, and an alarm clock shaped like a spaceship sat on the nightstand.

I woke up late and walked downstairs where Karen was drinking coffee and eating an English muffin.

“You want some?” she asked, holding up her mug.

“No thanks,” I said, yawning as I walked to the fridge and pulled out the orange juice.

“What time is it?” I asked through another yawn.

“1:30,” she replied.

“Oh shit!” I shouted then put the orange juice back. I ran to the door and stumbled trying to put my shoes on.

“What?” Karen asked confused.

“I’m supposed to be on a date!” I yelled as the door shut behind me.

I drove back to town muttering profanity under my breath the whole way. I drove right to Hanson St and screeched to a stop in front of the white fence. Bear came barreling around the house to greet me, I was only hoping Madison would be as forgiving. I ran up to the front door, which swung open just as I was about to knock.

“Oh.” She stepped back after almost running into me. “Look who decided to show.”

“I’m so sorry,” I blurted, “I got really busy and I—”

“It’s okay,” she said coldly, “I’m actually running late to work. They called and asked if I was free and I assumed I was since it was already three hours after you said you’d be here.”

“Madison, I’m really sorry,” I pleaded but she had already brushed past me, patted Bear on the head, then got into her car and started it up.

I tried calling out again but she pulled away before I could get a word out. I stood dumbfounded on the front lawn next to Bear who looked just as confused as me with that tennis ball in his mouth.

I drove home suspended in air replaying my entire week in my head. What would have happened if I had just kept my mouth shut at Milly’s, or if I had just returned Karen’s call, or if you just hadn’t died.

I walked the ten miles from my apartment to the Oak View Cemetery, found your grave and sat down in front of you. The only thing I brought with me was this fucking notebook and a pen. I’ve spent all week reacting to your death but not once did I have the urge to cry. But now I’m starting to feel that swell. If you were here you’d show me how to fix it. I’d let you. But I guess I’ll just have to teach myself. Trial and error. I think the reason you used to use that saying on everything was to make sure it got stuck in my head. To make sure that when you did die I’d be able to keep going and look back every once in a while and ask myself, “Show of hands?”

About the Author

Andrew Rubin

Andrew Rubin attended Adirondack Community College in Queensbury, NY where he was given the Fiction Writing Award in the Spring of 2015. He currently lives in Portland, OR where he works at a movie theater and writes in his free time.