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Niles M Reddick

Sibling Rivalry

Niles Reddick is author of the novel Drifting too far from the Shore, a collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured six anthologies and in over a hundred literary magazines all over the world including Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Spelk, Cheap Pop, The Arkansas Review: a Journal of Delta Studies, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Miscreant, Slice of Life,Faircloth Review, among many others.

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          When my middle brother Steve was wrestling my youngest brother Coleman, six years younger, skinny, and defenseless, I yelled at him to stop. Tears in Coleman’s eyes, his face red, and him giving it all he had stimulated my adrenalin, and I yelled, “I said get off him, you son of a bitch.”

          “To hell with you,” he snapped back, slamming Coleman’s little bag of bones hard on the shag carpet in the living room.

          Glancing around, the closest thing I could find was the Electrolux vacuum hose. I snatched it out of the vacuum cleaner, gripped it hard, flung it back, and then forward, slamming it into Steve’s head. “I said stop it, asshole.” He did stop. His face was red, he got up, and I backed away and up against the wall. I figured he’d attack, but instead, he stormed into the bedroom and returned with a shot gun, cocked it, and I took off running through the house as fast as I could, nearly knocking the screen door off the hinges. I sprinted across the yard and jumped into my Mustang, cranked it, heard a shot, and another that sounded like it hit the trunk.

          I spun out and drove to a friend’s house, told him what happened, and called my mom at work, seeking understanding. What I got was, “What did you do?” Of course, I had done something, but hitting someone with a vacuum cleaner hose didn’t compare with trying to kill someone with a shot gun. What I should have done was call the sheriff’s department. I told my mother I was going to my grandmother’s house, and when she and my dad took the gun away from him, I’d be back. She hung up on me, partly out of exasperation at getting calls from the three sons and one daughter all day long when she was at work and because nothing on the phone kept us in line. At night, our dad’s belt might.

          I told my grandmother and she said I could stay as long as I wanted. I had no idea she would call my aunts, uncles, and cousins and share the story. My mom and dad weren’t thrilled to hear our dirty laundry had been aired by relatives in multiple counties. I don’t know that they ever did anything to my brother, but they did take the gun away from him, and eventually I went home.

          After that incident, we didn’t communicate much at all. I was the oldest, we had played as kids, and there was always a sibling rivalry. He was the one who I often convinced to do something and got hurt or in trouble in our adventures; at least that is my shadowy recollection.

          We did, however, bury our hatchets. I made the move to reconnect when we were both in college when Steve worked at a Wendy’s next to a hotel where I was a night clerk. One night, I saw his car, walked over, and offered to buy him a beer after work. We drank and talked for hours. Whatever had been there was water under the bridge. I was in his wedding and he was in mine. We were very different in adulthood, and he was the first in our family to die from heart disease at a young age, even before our parents.

          The vacancy seems most real during the holidays when his wife and children show for the annual gift exchange and calorie laden meal. I was the last to leave the gathering at my parents’ house, partly because I live so far away and don’t come home much anymore and partly because I know it could be my last time to see them. I had a casual conversation with my parents about a gun my son inherited from his maternal grandfather, one I keep locked up, and how I wanted to enroll him a safety class.

          “You wouldn’t want him to shoot his sister or you, like you tried to do to your brother,” mom said.

          “I didn’t try to shoot him. He tried to shoot me.”

          “Nope, he wouldn’t have done that,” she said.

          “He certainly did.”

          She shook her head back and forth and I held my tongue. My dad looked into his cup. A stroke had left him confused or slow to respond most of the time. I realized for the first time she, too, wasn’t completely there, confused. I watched her pick up the cup, the coffee splashing back and forth like a wave pool because of her tremors. I also realized she had recreated scenarios about our earlier family life, and her grief for Steve had made him better in death than he’d been in life. What she remembers most is what she sees every day---a picture of him giving her a kiss on the cheek, something he rarely did when he visited around the holidays. The picture is on the refrigerator held there by a vinyl magnet of President John F. Kennedy who, himself, had become even better in death.


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