John Greenslade Skewes
I never expected my brother Donny to live to be old, always figured Mason the neighbor would kill him. After all, Mason killed that girl Erin Summer, the one on the bicycle. Big Spanish kid came up the drive that day looking for work, asking Mason, wanting to know, “Do you need any tree work? I see your trees are tall, and that one hanging over the wire, man. I do good work. What about it?”
After he told the kid, “Fuck off spic.” Mason raised his pistol, fired at the kid’s back. The shot went wide, hit a girl was out for a ride.
“Kid came on my property,” Mason testified, “I felt threatened.”
Judge gave him suspended sentence.
Erin Summer being killed was just every day. A headline you’d skim past—before The Pop-Up Wars. Now I look back and think, I should have seen it coming.
When we were young Donny burned from the inside, it was a thing to see, handsome as morning, smile like free beer, took shit from no one. When Mason did target practice, Donny’d take his truck into the field, blast Hendrix’ at Woodstock from a boombox in the bed. Wasn’t afraid of confrontation, he craved it, hollering, “He was a kid looking for work! She was a girl riding a bike!” Always figured one day Mason would take the bait. But it wasn’t Donny died. Wasn’t Mason did the killing.
Ellen is broken now. She might as well be dead. Light was in her when we married is gone. Moves from stone to stone. Eats, drinks, shits and pisses. Acts out bits of a life; like maybe if she retraces her steps often enough, she’ll find where we missed a turn, what we lost when Louisa, the life she grew inside her was taken by a bullet before she was even born. Ellen does for others when she can. Insists on feeding everybody. Donny helps. Uses his good arm to knead bread, mix things. Stands leaning against the counter, take pressure off his stump. Sometimes he sings the words of old songs; Four Dead in Ohio, Came Upon a Child of God, There is a Season Turn Turn, Almost Cut my Hair.
Ellen cries, works on her maps—where she finds order. Sealing off the old roads and boundaries, colors them in, makes notations, what happened when and where–protests, battles, headlines and crimes. There is no why. Things got done. No one wants to go back over it. People were alive, now they aren’t. You dream a life, try to be an example, plant things.
Today Donny and Mason are putting a roof on Mason’s barn. They look funny. Donny thin as a pipe, hair all gray and wild, one useless arm and a missing leg, and Mason, big bald head, sleeve tattoos, has to lean back to counterbalance his gut.
Louisa would have been four.
Ellen needs a bath.