From the Fall Issue: Barbara Harroun’s story “Rerouted”

4 Oct

REROUTED

Our work was God’s work and it was never ending. I was the only girl, with 9 brothers, one of whom was not like the other 8 and yet he was the one I loved the most, and he was the reason I left. We left together, and he waited at the end of the lane, the soft dust braceleting our ankles. My head was still covered and bowed under the gaze of God. In many miles, we’d use most of our money to buy cheap tee shirts and khaki pants at the Dollar General. My legs had never known pants, nor my body clothes made by hands other than my mother’s or my own. My brother fairly danced into those pants, behind the store, his torso wriggling into the tee shirt, and once we’d tossed the clothes in the dumpster, he went back in. He came out with a plastic bag holding shaving cream, a set of disposable razors, and a face shaved pale and naked. He wanted to be a different person, immediately transformed by his freedom, but he was the same, and a spot on his cheek bled. I watched it bead up fat and then run. His shirt was so white and I didn’t want it ruined, so I went back to the dumpster, my koppa on top of the pile, and I pressed the fine white organdy to his skin, skin I had not seen since his wedding. He looked at me with such tenderness that I turned my eyes to blue sky, the heavy sun.

I was with him in a hotel room in New Orleans when he died. I lay beside his emaciated body, curled myself against him, my ear to his back, listening, and I called up that blue sky, that love, and God so near to us even as we were shunned and truly alone. We’d left our family and took up the yoke they’d placed so heavy upon our leaving. We didn’t believe we’d burn in hell, but they all believed it so hard it mattered not what we thought. And I stayed with him until he was cold, and then I washed his body, the body of my best, beloved brother, and laid him out, folded the sheet with precision, and smoothed the coverlet. Placed his license on the bedside table, rinsed the glass made gritty with all the dissolved pills he’d hoarded, the bowl with a bit of applesauce to aid in keeping it all down. All was just as we’d agreed months ago. His apartment was across town, scrubbed clean. Everything he owned was labeled with small pieces of tape with his friends’ names on them, written in his tight cursive script. He’d explained he had fled once, but now he’d confront his suffering and the “invariably fatal” nature of the disease. He wanted to choose his death. Hotel doors shut heavy and the sound of the lock taking was terrible and finite. I was fine until the elevator dinged, the doors parted, and a woman pushed her cart out and smiled at me, her eyes finding mine. As she pushed her cart out, one wheel got stuck. I moved to pull the cart, automatically, and she placed her warm hand on my forearm, gripped it, and asked, “Are you all right, miss?” I nodded mutely, and felt the weight of her hand more forcefully once it was gone. I was outside when it occurred to me, the woman from housekeeping would be the one to find you.

I walked past a church and thought about going in, just to rest, but the doors came open and a wedding party flooded out, blowing bubbles from miniature bottles. The woman wore a simple dress and her thighs flowered beneath her tiny waist like a tulip. The man wobbled slightly. I thought of you, grave at your own wedding. Solemn. Your eyes glassy with tears. I knew from whence they came truly, who they were really for, and I prayed to God that you could be free, and that I could help you and a way to do so would be shown. And it was after considerable time that a way was shown, though it meant us both leaving, but still I was properly grateful.

I walked until I was tired. Until I couldn’t go on. Then, I took a taxi to the airport. You would be cremated. You didn’t believe in God, but you loved the water and your friends would dump your ashes in the river the cab snaked along. At the airport, I had a long wait, the rest of my life was waiting really, waiting in a world that you were no longer in. I found an empty terminal. I closed my eyes and when I woke, it was to crying. The crying came from a young woman, probably my age when we left, Caleb, probably 16 or 17, and on each side of her was a brother, it was clear in their faces, both in resemblance and concern. For as she cried, her hair a curtain for her hidden face, they exchanged such a look of grief and bewilderment, each an arm about her, that I knew where they were taking her was for her own good. And one said, “We’ve only been rerouted.” It haunted me, Caleb, that look that passed between them and it made me think of Mother. You waited at the end of the lane for me. It was still dark. A light bloomed in the kitchen, and then the curtain parted. There was her face, brother, so known to me it shocks me that I must now struggle to remember it. Such a look of grief and bewilderment. I prayed. I beseeched God that she raise her hand to me, she show me her soft palm. If she did so, I vowed I would run to her and bury my face in her neck. I would stay. I would not go and be of the world. But she didn’t. We gazed at one another and then the curtain dropped and the light was blown out, and I ran to you, my brother. Then together, we walked away, not understanding, not understanding at all what we must carry, what we can never put down.

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