I only realised how long you’d been gone when I saw the cracks in your soap on the shower floor. The air had got into that bar and broken it up real bad.
I mean, we all knew how long you’d been gone. We were the ones who took you to the airport at four in the morning. I can still see you, bags all over. You’d always been so tall but that day, going through those silver gates, the world dwarfed you. Mum cried all the way home in the car. The windows fogged up so the daylight came through all hazy.
The last postcard you sent us was from Wichita, Kansas, your school’s logo across the front. It’s still on the fridge. Terrible town. That’s all you wrote, your name scrawled at the bottom. The other day it fell off and Mum couldn’t cook dinner that night. Dad made toasties but burnt the cheese so bad we had to get another toasty maker. Mum wouldn’t let him throw the old one out.
Remember the time you were in that play at school? We came and saw you. It was about those guys who wore big black jackets and shot all the kids in their school cafeteria. In the last scene, you and all the other people in your class lay on the stage with white sheets over your faces.
I saw you breathing, I said on the way home.
Fuck off you little shit, you said, quiet so Mum and Dad couldn’t hear you.
You were great, Jamesey, Mum said, and we rolled our eyes at each other as the streetlights flashed past.
It was all over the news for days. In those first weeks I guess we were all surprised that time kept passing like it did. You were still just gone. The fridge was jammed with bowls that had other people’s names on them and we kept putting that food in our bodies, sucking in air like we wanted to keep going.
Dad took me out to the zoo two days after. I didn’t really wanna be out but he said it would be good for me. We walked around but we didn’t say much. The animals behind those bars made me hell depressed. I pictured you, cornered like that, and I shat myself before I could get to the men’s loos. Dad said it didn’t matter, bought me some shorts from the gift shop that made me look like a ranger and we caught the tram home.
On the news they showed all the families who rushed there when they heard. That same logo from your postcard on the fence where they all stood holding each other. I wondered how many of those kids inside ran faster cos they knew people were waiting for them out there. I kept watching those faces coming out of the building, over and over, like that Wednesday we sat on the couch and watched the planes go into the towers all afternoon, like the next take there’d be a different ending.
How many of your friends are packing? I asked one night when we skyped you.
Some kid the other day just pulls it out in the locker room while he’s putting his sneakers on, you told us. They take defence positions more seriously here, you said, laughing and balancing a basketball on your knee.
Remember that time Dad took us camping with Trevor from his work? What was his kid’s name? The chubby guy with acne all over. That smug little smear of a face looking at us out the 4WD window as he drove it on his own even though he was like thirteen. They had guns. They used them to hunt stuff for dinner. But Mum had packed us a whole esky full of meat from the butcher down the road. It seemed like a bit of a waste. Trevor let us try shooting cans but that fucking kid of his gave me like one go before he said he could do it better. That was the only time I’d ever touched one. It was so cold my fingers went all purple.
When they brought you back, the people at the funeral place put powder all over you to hide the parts where the blood had pooled funny. We’d gotten so used to you being away, I kind of wished they’d left you over there in that nowhere place behind the silver doors, could pretend you were still off becoming one of those basketballers you have stuck on your wall. Not shoved up against cheap satin, your skin so cold.
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