By Bry White
In the mind of my mother, Teddy once went missing for two months in 2008. I lied to her and said his phone was broken. I told her he was in Mexico relaxing. I told her he was busy at work. My excuses about his whereabouts eased her questioning, but I knew I only had so long. It was so painfully obvious what had happened. His flashy little existence was coming to an end. The company he worked for just suddenly ceased to exist.
The lies I spoke to cover for his absence were really not all that fictitious. At this time, my brother Teddy was a twenty-five-year-old juvenile. He was riding a roller coaster, earning almost a million dollars in commissions the year before. Teddy had no children and no significant other. Quite honestly, how did we expect him to behave? Still, his refusal to visit or contact our mother transformed into something that angered me, and affirmed my long standing opinion that he was a selfish and conceited person.
A couple of weeks into his disappearance he finally called me. “I know. I’ll come back this week. I’ve been in Tulsa.”
“Tulsa?” I asked. “What is in Tulsa? You didn’t have time in the past month to call either one of us? Mom is worried sick. I’m tired of the questions about you. Thanksgiving was terrible. Even with the new baby, it was nothing but worry about little Teddy.”
“Tulsa was the last branch I closed. They sent me around to close them all. I’m the grim reaper.”
“I know your job stinks, but all you have to do is call her,” I pleaded.
I knew things were bad, that the state of the world was a mess, but he would survive without this job. Big deal. I had been laid off three times. I didn’t use it as an excuse to run away and hide. He could try something else. He was acting like banking and finance were some kind of holy work. His self-importance always annoyed me, but now it was at peak level. I worked at a grocery store and had little interest in the glorification of money. I didn’t understand any of it.
“He’s fine. He’s been in Tulsa and his phone is broken,” I dutifully reported to our mother the next day.
She was the kind of mother that didn’t want to hear bad news. She was a self-taught expert at compartmentalizing worry and fear. If you didn’t say it to her, it never happened. His phone was broken. He was busy at work. He was young. He drove a really nice car. He had a condo. She was waiting for the fall I think. She had to have known. She watched the news just like everybody else.
On a Tuesday in the rain, my brother returned from wherever. I knew it wasn’t Tulsa because that was three weeks ago. Nobody could stay in Tulsa that long. It was almost Christmas.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to ruin your Halloween,” he said to me on my front porch.
I stared at him with disgust, “Halloween was like six weeks ago, idiot.”
I was happy to see him but also relieved that I could talk to my mother without twenty questions about where in the hell Teddy was. She’d thought he was in prison.
“Dude, Halloween? You missed Thanksgiving. You can’t do that. All you have to do is call her,” I said as I handed him a beer and we sat down at the kitchen table. The legs were uneven and I suddenly felt embarrassed by the shabby state of our second hand furniture.
“I missed her Halloween. I wanted to see her. What was she?”
I was confused by the question and paused to think. Our daughter was born in September and my wife and I weren’t sleeping much. My wife wasn’t sleeping at all really. She was a breastfeeding zombie.
“Alice was a strawberry.”
My brother smiled and shuffled his beer can between his hands, “Do you remember when we used to hide in the bushes and jump out at the Fitzgerald sisters?”
I laughed, “Yeah, those were the best times, that feeling of freedom and danger.” Teddy struck a nerve in me. We were surely brothers. We often thought of the same things at the same time.
I glanced down the hallway toward the baby’s room. “This kid of mine. She’s rekindled that feeling in me. I love Halloween again. I hadn’t thought about it in twenty years. All we did was hand out candy. She slept through all the little kids in costumes coming up to the door.”
Teddy looked down at my kitchen floor. “I was on my way to your house, I had just cleaned out my office. They made me surrender the key card I used to get into the building. That small little thing. They suddenly didn’t trust me.”
I shook my head. I didn’t care about the sad parting of his key card, I was simmering about how difficult it apparently was to dial up our mother just once.
“I come down the exit ramp and there they are. A mother and two boys. The mother has a cardboard sign asking for money. Those boys though, they probably had never known Halloween. They reminded me of us. Way back then. Then I realized how none of that was important. None of it. My life, my squandering the last few years. All they needed was food and a safe place to be that night. What does Halloween matter?”
I was unsure if this was deflection or more of his self-importance seeping through.
Teddy stayed the night with us. He slept through the late night feedings and most of the next day.
By late afternoon, we were on our way to see our mother. At a stoplight, I suggested he work at my store. We needed the help, Christmas time was always busy.
Bry White lives in the woods of Southern Illinois. He occasionally emerges for staff meetings, dog food, or really good people food. He is currently working on his second book and runs a small literary website in his spare time. You can find him at rudderlessmarinerpoetry.com