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Fiction Issue #49

Judas Sheep

By Bill Bruce

 

Like most everything else, they arrive by boat. It’s morning. The plank lowers. They trot naively onto the dock. Fear and uncertainty are met by the presence of a single, stoic figure in black. He reassuringly calls them to attention. The discordant chorus quiets…
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Image: “Kited,” by Pat Tompkins, digital photograph, 2019

Judas Sheep

By Bill Bruce

Like most everything else, they arrive by boat. It’s morning. The plank lowers. They trot naively onto the dock.

Fear and uncertainty are met by the presence of a single, stoic figure in black. He reassuringly calls them to attention. The discordant chorus quiets. Then, without fail, they fall in line and follow this charismatic wether of the streets.

Their cloven hooves beat out a rhythm on the damp cobblestones that pave Hudson Avenue as they pass tenement buildings and shops. The new arrivals don’t question where this lead sheep is leading them. They simply follow. After all, he’s one of them. Better, in fact. Confident. Strong. With an air that says he knows exactly what he’s doing in this strange new place. He’ll look after them. They will follow him anywhere.

And so the flock walks willingly beyond the two imposing iron gates into the Tillary Street Slaughterhouse.

#

My name is Connor. I’m nine years old. Six months ago, my mom died. I wish it wasn’t my fault. I wish it was me instead. I wish a lot of things. But mostly those two. I think my dad wishes those two things too. He never said it, but he doesn’t say much. At least, not in the last six months.

I live on Chapel Street in Irishtown, which is along the docks in Brooklyn. If it was a normal summer day, I’d be climbing the iron skeleton of the Manhattan Bridge rising over the East River just a few blocks from our apartment. People in Brooklyn hate the name, but I don’t care what they call it. It’s been my playground for as long as I can remember.

We mostly get chased off with someone yelling this isn’t your playground and about all the workers who’ve died. But I don’t see it as a graveyard. Neither does Sean, whose uncle fell fifty feet and disappeared into a cement pour. We see it as a place to stay clear of the shenanigans surrounding the Navy Yard and the beatings and killings on the docks. They say it’ll be finished in 1909. I’ll be eleven by then and probably stuck in the same spot I’m in now. My new normal. But, God willing—as my mom used to say—if I ever see that bridge again, I don’t think I’ll look at it the same.

Most days, I wonder if I’ll ever see my friends again. For a while, they passed by our apartment to look up and wave. But not so much anymore. I guess they’ve got better things to do. I don’t blame them. I also guess their parents think I’ll give it to them too. I don’t blame them either.

It’s strange to one day have everything and then the next have nothing. And by strange, I mean terrible. Which still isn’t close to how it feels, because Sister Mary once said my composition grade was terrible. And believe me, in a world of terribles, those two terribles don’t even belong in the same universe. But I don’t have any better words. Which is probably why my composition grade was terrible.

Father McGuinn comes to see me once a week. Though mostly he spends it talking to my dad.

The other day, they were talking in the kitchen and Father McGuinn said we shouldn’t question God, after my dad questioned God. My dad asked why should God put us to the test and not expect the same back? Father McGuinn was quiet about that. My dad then asked him what he even came for? He said if he didn’t have any answers, he’s wasting both their time.

Father McGuinn said something about the answers coming in due time.

After that, my dad just kept repeating the word ‘okay’. He said it loudly, as if expecting something. Knowing my dad, I imagine him standing there with his hands in the air, looking at the ceiling, waiting for his due time. Okay…

Then Father McGuinn started to say something, but my dad cut him off and said some stuff I’d better not repeat.

When Father McGuinn came into the room I was in to get his hat, his face was beet-red. Either from being mad or being embarrassed. Given what my dad said, it could’ve been either one.

He seemed surprised to see me. Like I have any choice in where I am at any given moment. I don’t think he knew how loud they were.

Anyway, that’s how I get to know the truth—by what people say when they think I can’t hear them.

#

It was polio, by the way. I got it first. I don’t know where I got it. Everyone kept saying it was just a flu. But four weeks later, after feeding me, washing me, holding me, kissing me, my mom got it too. We prayed for each other. I guess God only listened to her. Maybe we should’ve prayed for ourselves. But I don’t want to think about that right now.

I know my dad thinks I gave it to her too. The nuns at my school would correct me and say I don’t know it, I believe it. But they don’t know him. Because even though he never said it, he never needed words to say what he wanted to say. Besides, it’s usually what people don’t say that says the most. And what he hasn’t said says a hell of a lot. I know I’m not supposed to swear either, but no one’s ever going to see this, so who gives a damn.

What I don’t know is what’s more crippling—the fact that I’ll never walk again or that he’ll never look at me again. He still asks about my day, if I’m hungry, that sort of stuff. But never to me. He speaks instead to the newspaper, or his shoes, or Mom hanging on the wall.

I heard her once say to our neighbor, Mrs. Sullivan, that the worst thing in life is to be ignored. I didn’t understand what she meant till now. So even though I believe there are worse things in life, I know it’s way up there.

It’s not like they were perfect, Mom and Dad. They used to fight. But always the same—Mom would yell, Dad would get quiet.

Watching them fight was like watching my Uncle Quinn at the gym over on Atlantic. He would send a flurry of monstrous punches at a big heavy bag hanging from a rope in the middle of the gym. The bag would twist and groan and absorb it. ‘Cause it had no other choice. My mom would holler and scream and rant and cry and basically punch herself out. My dad would just absorb it. He never got mad or yelled.

Except the one time she said something about his mother. I didn’t hear the whole thing, because mid-sentence, the kitchen table went flipping, sending dishes and glasses and lunch crashing onto the floor.

Mom didn’t say a word afterward. I think she was satisfied just to get him to react, because while she was cleaning up, she was talking to herself, like she liked to do. And she was saying how he kept things locked up inside, which was funny since he was a locksmith.

A couple days after the table-flipping incident, my mom told me my dad’s mother died while giving birth to him. She told me to never bring her up, after I brought her up. He was in the other room, so we were whispering. When he came in, we both got quiet and looked at him. He didn’t say anything, but I think he knew what we were talking about. Probably because living with something like that is like having someone like Uncle Quinn skip rope on your chest—you feel trapped and it’s always hard to breathe. At least that’s how it is for me.

So now I sit all day, every day in apartment 2B, above Bowles Bakery, in a worn, brown leather chair facing out the smudgy window like a potted plant. And all I can think is that the whole world has been reduced to the shape of my mother’s coffin, which got buried like a potted plant.

Most days, Mrs. Sullivan brings me lunch. She smells like wet wool and she likes to talk. I hate the smell of wet wool and I don’t want to talk. But I really don’t think she cares if I do or not. So I eat and listen.

She seems to know everything about everyone. Which is why I shouldn’t be surprised when she tells me the sadness she feels for my dad losing the two most important women in his life. She nods knowingly when I turn and look at her mid-chew. She nods again, which tells me to keep chewing.

She keeps talking, though she’s basically talking to herself. My mom would call it thinking out loud. My presence isn’t even needed. But I guess I’m better than talking to an actual potted plant. Anyway, she says maybe my dad feels cursed. That maybe it’s difficult for him to know that he caused his mother’s death and then for his son—

She stops talking, but I know what she was going to say. And even though I’m not looking at her, I hear her lips part as if she’s about to say something else. I don’t want to hear anything else she has to say. I’d rather she keep her thinking inside her head. But there’s nothing I can do. I’m stuck here. A geranium. So, I close my eyes and pray that she leaves. Why God decides to listen now, I have no clue.

I hear her footsteps move slowly across the room like she’s thinking of something else to say. The door opens quietly, and after what seems like a long time, I hear Mr. Sullivan in the hallway ask her what she is doing standing there like a statue. Before the door closes, I hear him ask her why she is crying.

Uncle Quinn starts skipping rope on my chest. My face is hot and my ears beat like I have two hearts thumping in each one. That’s when he shows up. Right on time. He’s dark, lightless. Makes me feel that way too. He lets me know he understands me. He sees me for what I am—alone, forgotten, worthless, ashamed, to name just a few. He leads me to believe it’s okay to feel this way. I believe him. He seems familiar. Sort of sounds like me.

A little while later—maybe a little more than a little while—I realize I still have food in my mouth. I don’t know what to do with it, because my throat won’t open. I also realize the sun is down. Eventually, I spit it back onto the plate and hide it under the rest of the food I’m not hungry for.

#

In case you were wondering, another terrible thing about getting polio and then giving your mom polio and your mom dying and you living and your dad hating you for your mom dying and hating you for living and her friends blaming you and everyone looking at you with a mix of shame and pity, or not looking at you at all, is not being able to just stand up and run far, far, far away.

#

Each morning, my dad picks me up from my bed, carries me to the toilet we share with the Sullivan’s by the building’s stairs, then takes me to my chair by the window. Each night, the process is reversed. And each time, I try to find his eyes. But they don’t search for me. They look at my useless legs. Even still, these are the best two times of my day.

Most mornings, he says I should eat more and I should read more. And because his walrus mustache curtains his mouth, I wonder if he’s hiding something. Maybe I hope he’s hiding something. Maybe his mouth would show me what’s in his heart. Because his eyes tell me nothing. So I can only wonder: Are eat more and read more him being concerned or a way of pointing out more deficiencies? I can’t tell. I hope it’s concern, but he always says it while looking at my legs. Which, obviously, should work more.

Since getting sick, I’ve learned a whole bunch of new words. Mostly from the doctors. Words like deficiencies, crippled, contagious, prognosis, paralytic. While I wish I didn’t know them, I bet Sister Mary would be impressed.

Before he plants me in the worn leather chair, he says when I’m ready, he will get me a wheelchair so I can get some fresh air. I guess he will carry me down two flights and out to the front of our building after bringing down the wheelchair. Then reverse that process too. He never asks me if I’m ready. So, I guess maybe he’s the one not ready.

#

I miss how her lower lip juts out lopsided as she blows the hair out of her eyes when she’s rolling bread dough. I miss how sweat beads above her upper lip. I miss how she smells like sweet ginger. I miss how she makes me feel smart and important. How she calls me sweet boy.

So I guess I don’t just miss her. I also miss what’s now missing inside me. Which isn’t just a quiet, empty space like this apartment. It’s a living, breathing, dark emptiness that only gets bigger the longer she’s gone.

Father McGuinn said I should remember all the little things about her and keep her alive in my heart. I’m sure he thinks that’s helpful. Maybe he read it somewhere and thought it sounded like a good thing to say to someone who will never see their mother again.

My guess is that Father McGuinn’s mother isn’t dead.

#

Once inside the tall, rectangular slaughterhouse gates, the black sheep leads them to a fenced pathway, where they are funneled single-file, ass to face. The collective high-pitched bleating farther ahead gets thinner, quieter. Still they move forward. Perhaps they feel they have no choice. Perhaps they are drawn by the thought of food at the end of the line.

Either way, they are met by the large, powerful hands of a bloodstained German immigrant holding a long knife. The deep cut across the throat is quick and no doubt surprising. Their legs give way. Bleeding out on the concrete floor. One after another. Led to slaughter by one of their own. But it’s too late to worry about that now. Now there’s no turning back. Now is all there ever will be. One irrevocable moment in time is all it takes.

#

Peter’s dad got stabbed and bled to death outside Murphy’s Bar. Tommy’s brother was run over and killed by a meat wagon. Samuel’s mom and dad both died after pulling him from a fire that started in the café below their apartment. Brian’s dad got kicked in the head by a horse; the sad part is he didn’t die. You already know about Sean’s uncle.

Bad stuff happens to just about everyone. At least, just about everyone I know. Uncle Quinn says it makes no difference if you get knocked on your ass—his word—what matters is how fast you stand back up. Which makes sense, I guess, even if you’re not talking about boxing. I think that’s how he means it anyway. And since I’ll never stand back up again, I suppose he means it in spirit. Either way, he makes it sound easy.

You learn a lot sitting in a second-floor apartment window like a potted plant. People on the street below forget you’re there. In more ways than one. But one thing’s for sure. I hear everything.

On any given day, I can tell you who’s in jail, who’s in debt, who’s in love, who’s cutting out, who’s running the docks and shipments, who’s getting paid—and how much. And which cops are on the take—all of them.

Even though Mrs. Sullivan still brings me my meals, she doesn’t stay to talk anymore. Maybe I make her feel something bad inside herself. At least that’s the way she makes me feel. But I don’t need her to tell me what’s going on. All I really need to do is just be still, let it all come floating up.

Like the other day, Uncle Quinn came to see me. But before he came up, he spoke to a man, short and muscular, wearing a black wool sweater and a black flat cap. I didn’t recognize him. Though right away, I knew he was Italian. Not just by his accent but by the eagerness in his posture.

I looked down from my window to see Uncle Quinn tower over this man. The man tried to light his cigarette, but either his fingers or the lighter failed him. Uncle Quinn took the man’s lighter, lit the cigarette for him, then pocketed the lighter. My uncle stood there, silent. Waiting for the man to say what he came to say.

He asked my uncle to introduce him to Dinny McMahon. Uncle Quinn stepped back, spit, and said he was surprised to see him in this neighborhood—especially out in the open daylight and not in the shadows, sweating with a knife, looking to stick it to some hardworking Irish. He said don’t get him wrong, the Italians have good reason to hate the Irish. We were here first, he said. So we run the docks. Which means we control the money. Which means we control the town. The Irish, on the other hand, don’t hate the Italians. We only hate up. No point in hating down. But be that as it may, he said, he’d be happy to introduce him to Saint Peter.

Then Uncle Quinn took a step forward. The guy slowly backed away, all the while looking over his shoulder. His hands balled at his sides.

Uncle Quinn lit a cigarette with the man’s lighter and watched till— I imagine—the short, muscular man vanished from view. He smothered the cigarette under his boot and looked up at my window. I tried to lean back, but it was too late.

He came by to bring me a book: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Said it was about a boy who ran away but never from his friends. He said this while looking out my window at the street below. After standing there silent for a long time, he looked at me and held my gaze as surely as if he’d grabbed me with his fists. Then he said someone with character, someone like Huck Finn, never, ever breaks the code of silence that binds you to your neighborhood, your friends, and your family. Ever. He did not look away till I nodded. Then he asked me which comes first.

I said family.

Which must’ve been what he was thinking, because he gave me a big smile.

Even though Uncle Quinn is family, Dad doesn’t seem to approve of him. Uncle Quinn talks loud, laughs loud, smokes, drinks, and curses loud. My dad does none of those things. But I get the feeling my dad’s problem with him isn’t so much what he does as who he is.

More than once, I’ve seen Uncle Quinn completely silence a noisy, crowded café just by stepping inside. It’s an odd thing to see. Some people whisper. Others look down as he walks by. I asked my mom why people acted like that around him. She looked at me like she was hiding something and said he’s always been a charismatic devil.

I like my Uncle Quinn. I’m more like him than my own dad. Or, maybe I just want to be.

Before I got sick, while we were having lunch, I asked my dad what Uncle Quinn did for a living. He and my mom exchanged looks like they did when one of them didn’t know what to say. He stroked his mustache with the palm of his hand like he was thinking about how to translate the look on my mom’s face, since it’s her brother we’re talking about here. Then he said he made his money using his hands. He and my mom went back to eating, satisfied with that explanation. But the way he said it made it seem like he didn’t approve of that either.

#

I think I’m going crazy.

Mom once told me her grandma heard voices. When she started talking back to them, Mom said they took her to Bellevue. When my mom said that, she crossed herself and made me promise I’d never let anyone take her to a hospital. Only after I agreed did she whisper people go in but they never come out.

Anyway, the voices I’m hearing is just one voice—my mom’s. It’s as if she’s in the next room. So it’s not like when he shows up to make me feel dark, lightless. This is different. She’s present. She says stuff like come to supper, go out and play, time for church, come give us a kiss. Normal, everyday kind of stuff. I hear her plain as day. Alive.

I know. Crazy, right?

Sometimes after I fall asleep in the worn leather chair, she whispers to me. Soft but close. Like her lips are right next to my ear.

She says look at the bird, my sweet boy.

And every time I wake up, the same bird is on the windowsill. Each and every time, the little bird looks at me, like it acknowledges me, and flies off.

#

I’m asleep. At least I was. I hear voices. This time, they’re not in my head. They’re in the kitchen. It’s my dad and Uncle Quinn arguing about something. I’m still a bit groggy, but as far as I can tell, my uncle needs my dad to help him. He says it would be good for both of them.

I hear footsteps. I know they’re my dad’s and I know where they’re headed. He opens the door, and though I can’t see his face, I know the look he’s giving. Neither one says another word. My uncle leaves. The door is closed.

When I ask my dad why he won’t help Uncle Quinn, he seems surprised I’m up.

You don’t know what he’s asking, he says.

It doesn’t matter what he’s asking, I say. We’re family. And you don’t turn your back on family.

He says sometimes you do. Then he turns his back on me and walks toward the kitchen.

So I say what do you know? And this makes him stop and look at me. I can see his body get quiet like it did with my mom. I feel my face get hot and my ears begin to beat. And right on time, he shows up. Dark and lightless. He tells me it’s okay, let him have it.

He’s a good man, I say. Better than you.

My dad shifts his weight to his other leg, like he’s settling in for an onslaught.

I start quiet, but before long, I am yelling. I say Uncle Quinn talks to me. He cares about me. He doesn’t ignore me. Put me in a window like a plant. You act like he’s so bad. Well, what’s so good about you? I’d rather be like him. People respect him. People don’t even know you!

And by this time, I’m screaming. My whole body feels like it’s on fire from the inside. But I’m not done yet. I saved the worst for last.

I hate you! You hear me? I hate you! You are a terrible father. A terrible human being. It shouldn’t have been me instead of mom. It should’ve been you!

As those words fly out of my mouth, I start beating my legs with both fists. I’m slamming these useless meat sticks with all my might. I hate these legs. I want them punished. These useless, stupid legs. It’s a barrage of punches that would impress even Jack Johnson.

And then I just stop. I’m looking down, breathing hard like I used to when I actually did stuff.

Feel better? he asks softly.

No, I say and I begin to cry and I don’t know if it’s because of the awful things I just said or the awful feeling I feel. Because I can feel an ache deep inside my legs. And it hurts. It really hurts. But right now, I don’t care about that.

My dad gets a strange look on his face. His lower lip disappears under his mustache.

I tell him that I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any of that. I ask him to please forgive me.

Once again, he’s not looking at my eyes, he’s looking at my legs. And somehow, he knows. He knows what I am feeling. That I am feeling. I can tell he knows because he starts to cry. And I’ve never seen him cry. Ever. Not even for Mom. At least, never in front of me. And he bends down to me and looks me in the eyes. And I know right then that when I remember this day, I will remember his eyes. His bright-as-the-sky, blue eyes. Because I cannot look away.

He blinks. His mouth opens to talk, then closes. He clears his throat. He blinks again. He swallows as if he doubts what he’s about to say. He strokes his mustache with the palm of his hand like he’s thinking how to translate something, but my mom isn’t there to help him.

Finally, he says he’s been praying to his little bird—

But before he says anything else, I ask him to repeat that.

He shakes his head, smiles an embarrassed smile, wipes his eyes, and says that’s what he called my mom in private. His little bird.

So I tell him about my dream whispers and the little bird that visits me.

Now he doesn’t blink. His embarrassment and doubt disappear right before my very eyes. In an instant, all of it vanishes into a memory I thought I’d never have.

He thrusts his arms under my body and lifts me up, hugging me tight, and we dance, yell, and scream all through the apartment. Before long, Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan are standing in our doorway looking confused.

My boy feels pain!

Still, they are confused.

My boy feels pain, he says again. In his legs!

Their faces open up like the Fourth of July. Now we’re all dancing, yelling, and screaming.

Who would’ve ever thought that a little pain could bring so much joy?

#

The doctor doesn’t seem to believe me. I’m in my bed, staring at the ceiling, and he’s stuck my legs at least a dozen times in a dozen different places. Each time, I wince. But I don’t mind. In fact, I smile after. This seems to make him even more doubtful.

Now he has me close my eyes so I don’t see the needle enter my leg. Still, I feel it. I wince and then, still, I smile.

Each time he says it’s the damnedest thing.

As he packs up his things, my father and I are silent. We share a look and an understanding.

The doctor says I may still never walk again, but this is certainly a good first step. But still, it’s the damnedest thing.

I’m just happy that my dad or my legs aren’t ignoring me anymore.

#

Every so often, the slaughterhouse workers grab the tin cup hanging from the nail on the wall and fill it with the warm blood emptying out of the dying sheep. They gulp it down fast. The overflow seeps from the corners of their mouths and onto their already bloodstained shirts. They claim it gives them strength. Makes them feel alive. Maybe all it does is make them grateful they’re on the living end of the blade.

But one thing’s for certain. There is no denying death. It comes unexpectedly and it comes without permission. And it comes without ever seeing it coming.

All save for the black sheep, the one locals call the Judas sheep. Having done his job, he sidesteps the carnage into a warm pen where a reward of clover and forb waits. Followed by a peaceful, uninterrupted sleep until he is called upon to do it all over again.

#

I sit in the worn leather chair. This is still my world. Although somehow, I feel less like a potted plant.

It’s here that I first hear the news about Uncle Quinn. His body was found just outside the gates of the Tillary Street Slaughterhouse. His throat cut. His thumbs gone. His legs broken. They say he was beaten so badly they needed his wife to identify his private parts. But they also say he still had his tongue. So he didn’t talk. If he had, they wouldn’t have hurt him as bad.

They say Uncle Quinn was muscle for Dinny McMahon. Dinny runs the docks. Well, I guess I should say he ran the docks. Which means he ran the gambling, loan-sharking, extortion, and rackets.

The interesting thing about running the docks, perhaps the most interesting thing if you are the one running the docks, is that it’s a short career. They say two years, tops. Most are then retired. By retired, they mean either shot, stabbed, beaten to death, or simply made to disappear.

In this case, Bill O’Leary had his eyes on moving up in the world. So, Bill and a group of other guys in Dinny’s crew lured Dinny and his inner circle to a glass warehouse near the Manhattan Bridge.

Apparently, while Uncle Quinn took out Bill O’Leary and two of his men, Dinny and the rest of his guys ran for the hills.

They left my uncle on his own to face the other six or seven O’Leary men. The voices below my window said that even with those odds, most money was on Big Quinn. Still, they overpowered him and tied him up. Then they traded him to the Italian mob. No one knows what they got for him.

I get angry when I think how your friends could betray you like that. How trust can be sold like something off the shelf at a general store. I get angrier when I think of how the coward bastard—my word—Dinny McMahon could just leave my uncle behind. Like he was disposable. He wasn’t disposable.

Which, I’m not sad to say, Dinny discovered a week later when someone crept into his bedroom and slit his throat.

I guess I should be grateful to get the information, but I don’t understand how people in the neighborhood can praise someone for not talking while they are talking. I’ve seen this in a lot of people—the fact that they hold others to a different standard than they do themselves. Uncle Quinn called them taffy sonsabitches. The nuns would probably say the correct term is hypocrites.

Maybe it’s because people need to connect with other people and information is the only thing of value they have to offer. Or maybe they just need to get it out of their system, like a flu. Or polio.

All I know is that my uncle may not have done good things, but he was a good uncle.

#

I can stand but only if I hold onto something. I just can’t walk yet. So I stand holding onto Uncle Quinn’s coffin inside St. Ann’s Church. I look around at the arches and stained glass and paintings and marble statues and all I can think about is something my dad said to Father McGuinn: Having faith is believing in something you just know ain’t true. He said we’re all raised for slaughter. Just like the damn sheep. Only difference is, the damn sheep don’t know it’s coming. Father McGuinn said that was our blessing, the root of our faith. That’s when my dad said the line from the book. Funny thing is, I didn’t even know he read Huckleberry Finn.

But I don’t think I agree with that line. Because we knew the earth was flat. We knew the earth was the center of the universe. And we knew that boys who got polio would never have feeling in their legs again. So maybe my mom was right. Maybe our hearts are smarter than our brains. Because my brain will convince me it’s impossible that my mom is spending her heaven  here with me. But if I listen to my heart, I don’t doubt it for a second.

So now I say a prayer and ask God to please let my uncle be with his sister. Because I know where she is and because I also believe Uncle Quinn could use some help getting there.

After Father McGuinn and my dad talk and shake hands, I get a piggyback ride all the way back to our apartment. I can’t see his eyes, but I know they see me. More importantly, I see him.

#

His body is bent like the river. Legs twisted, set awkwardly. Eyes open, staring into the nothing. He was most certainly driven off the dock, slamming head first into the jagged rocks below. Some kids throw stones.

The smell is unbearable. The new guy on the dock is told to take care of it. He ties a handkerchief around his nose and mouth and carries down a large saw and wooden barrel.

He notices something lying next to the Judas sheep. A book. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He tucks it under his belt and starts to work.

#

Uncle Quinn doesn’t skip rope on my chest anymore. I don’t think it’s because he died. I think it’s because something inside me did. I sometimes worry he will show up again. Dark and lightless. Convince me to follow him down a path of sadness and hopelessness. Sometimes, that seems like the only comfort I deserve. But another voice in me, a new voice, rejects that. This voice swears. It says go to hell. So I push it away. And when I do, the space that was dark and empty suddenly becomes warm and lit. Like sunshine flooding through an open window.

Now I sit in my chair and wait for Dad. Lately, he’s always running late. But I don’t mind, because lately, we’re less like a balled fist and more like an open hand.

He’s teaching me the business. The business of a locksmith. I really like it, and he says I’m a natural. He says I can follow in his footsteps. I don’t say it, but I would follow him anywhere.

So every morning, I get up early and sit in this worn leather chair and talk to my mom. I tell her I miss her. That we miss her. Plus other stuff I’ll just keep to myself.

And like most days, the little bird comes to the windowsill, looks at me like it acknowledges me, and flies off.

 

Bill Bruce
By Bill Bruce

Bill Bruce is a writer/director currently living in the Northeast United States with his family, spending his days working on a collection of short stories and a film while playing as much hockey as time will allow. His work recently appeared in Lunate and also was awarded first place in Streetlight Magazine’s 2019 Short Fiction Contest.