Bobbling on the Ocean

by Melissa Juchniewicz

Arlene looked out her kitchen window and saw her brother Will sitting on the frayed lawn chair out back, his hair sticking up everywhere and his jeans black with motor oil. He was slumped down and staring off at nothing.

“Oh,” she said, then went back to buttering the toast for Joe.  She put the plate on the table with Joe’s coffee and poured his orange juice. “Shit,” she said.

“I told you to watch your language,” Joe said as he walked into the kitchen.  “I don’t want my kids to hear it.”

“They hear worse from you,” Arlene said.  

“Don’t start with me,” Joe said and sat down with his back to her.  “What are you cursing about, anyway,” he said.

“You’ll know in a sec,” said Arlene.

Joe threw his spoon down.  “Is he here again? I told you no more.  You want me to tell him? He’ll stay away for good if I tell him.”

“I’ll tell him,” said Arlene.  She looked out the window again. Will was still sitting, not moving.  The leaves were starting to come down and some were blowing around at his feet.  

“I’ll tell him when you leave.” 

Joe shoved himself out from the table.  “I’m leaving now,” he said, and grabbed his jacket from the hook.  “The war’s over,” he said.  “It’s 1975.  Tell him to get over it.” He went out the front.  The pick-up sprayed gravel when he took off.  

Arlene knocked on the kitchen window and Will turned around.  She pointed to the back door, and Will got up and went in.  “Hi sis,” he said, his big shoulders rounded.   He sat down in the chair Joe had just been in, drained the orange juice in three gulps and started on the toast.   His hands were filthy, and Arlene smelled motor oil and cigarettes as she picked up the juice glass.

“You want me to make you something?” Arlene asked.

“No, don’t.  I’m sorry, Leeny.  I know I said I wouldn’t do this anymore.”

“You always say that.”

“I’m sorry.  I’ve almost got it licked though.  I’m never touching another drop. I’m quitting.  That was it last night, I promise. I’m done,” he said.

Tina came into the kitchen in pink flannel pajamas and almost tripped on the bottoms that were too long.  Kitty and Jimmy were right behind her.  “Hi, Uncle Will,” Tina said and went to the cupboard.  She stood on her toes to get out three bowls.

“I didn’t wake you up, did I Angel?” Will said.  He smiled, and Tina stared at his yellow teeth as she put the bowls on the table.

“Never mind,” said Tina and poured Rice Crispies into the three bowls.  “Hurry up or we’ll miss the bus,” she said to Kitty and Jimmy. They always did what Tina said even though she was the youngest. They turned to her for many of the things they needed. 

The four of them sat silently eating at the table, Will finishing Joe’s toast.  Arlene sat on the stool at the counter and lit a cigarette.  When the clinking of spoons and bowls slowed down, Arlene said, “Go get dressed and ready.” They picked up their bowls and drank the rest of the milk.  

“Uncle Will you stink,” Jimmy said as he walked by, and they went back down the hall to their rooms.

“Let me throw your clothes in with the wash when they leave,” Arlene said. “Where’d you sleep, in the woods again?”  

Will didn’t say anything.

“If you behaved yourself before you could still be staying here,” Arlene said.

“I know,” Will said.

“He doesn’t even want you to come around,” Arlene said.

Will stood up. “I’ll go.”

“No, sit down.” Arlene pushed him back down in the chair. “What am I gonna do with you?” she said and smoothed his hair down. He put his arms around her and hugged his face to her belly.  “You’re the only one who cares, Leeny.”

She gave him a rough push.  “Don’t start with that ‘poor me’ stuff Will,” she said. “You’ve burned through everyone else.”

He lifted his eyes to the ceiling. “Go ahead, give it to me again.”

“I don’t have to tell you again.  Two brothers and three sisters.  They all tried.  You had it good at Stevie’s, that nice little house.  And you come back there at night yelling your head off that you took the beating when he did wrong.  It was a long time ago, Will.”

“You don’t even remember,” Will said.  “Dad never took the strap out with the girls.”

Arlene picked up the bowls and put them in the sink. “He was only home a couple of times a year,” she said. 

“And he let me have it to make up for time.  Ma didn’t help.  She’d tell him all the stuff we did when he was gone.”

“She was just trying to tell him she couldn’t do it alone, that she needed him home,” Arlene said.

“Well it didn’t work out that way,” Will said.

“It was a long time ago,” Arlene said and turned back to the sink.

“Leeny, has Joe got anything to drink here?” Will asked.

“Will for Christ sake,” Arlene said.  “That was the last straw for him, you drank every drop in the house.”

“I’m sorry,” said Will.

Arlene turned the water on in the sink.  She heard a little sound and turned to see Will’s shoulders shaking, his head in his hands.  She shut off the water and sat down next to him.  “Let me get you something to eat.  I’ll wash your clothes and we’ll figure something out,” she said.

“Like what,” Will said, his face still covered by his hands.

“The V.A. can –” she started.

Will slammed the table. “I’m not going back to that place!” he shouted.  Arlene flinched, then very slowly pushed her chair away from the table, watching him.

“I’m ok, Arlene, I won’t – I’m ok. But you don’t know what that place is like, it’s worse than jail.  The way those orderlies treat you. All those old guys doing the Thorazine shuffle down the hallways.  They smell.    I’m not gonna end up like them. I’d rather sleep in the woods.”

“Winter’s coming,” said Arlene.

“If Joe won’t let me stay here, I’ll go back to the shelters,” Will said.  “Or I’ll do some little crime and go back to jail.”

“That’s your plan,” Arlene said.

They sat for a minute.  Will wiped his nose with the back of his hand and Arlene handed him a paper napkin from the holder.

“It’s not fair,” Will said.

“I know,” Arlene said.

“I picked those guys up from the ocean,” Will said.  “I was the first one to spot the capsule and I got them onto the ship. Those three guys.” He looked out the window with a little smile.  “They have a funny look on their faces when they get back from the moon. They put the Rover on the moon, Leeny, the moon! And I hauled them out.”

“I know, Will,” she said.

“I look up at the sky when I’m in the woods at night and there it is.  The moon.  And they were there.  And then I spotted the capsule first and I got them onto the ship.”

“I know, Will,” she said.

“Nobody knows,” Will said.

“Will,” Arlene said and took his two hands. “You can’t stay here.”

“I know,” he said.

Arlene faced him.  “Will, when you’re out there tonight and you look at the moon,” she said, “think of the rocket.  Think of Apollo 15.  Put your anger on it.  Send it up to the sky and up to the moon.  Leave it there.”

He looked at her.  “Give it a ride on the Rover?” 

“That’s it. Give it a ride on the Rover.  Leave it there,” she said.

They sat for a minute.  “Could you get me something to eat?” Will asked.

“Sure,” said Arlene. “I’ll fix you something.”

                                                                   *   *   *

Melissa Juchniewicz writes short fiction, flash, and poetry and has been recognized with regional awards around New Hampshire. Her work has seen publication in Orca, Light, Poet’s Touchstone, and The Offering. She is on the faculty at UMass Lowell, and lives in Chester, New Hampshire.


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