by Rob Coapman
Ray watched the seaplane take off from the small lake and disappear into the low clouds. He’d messaged his brother to say he was coming; the one word reply of ‘ok’ spoke volumes.
The shout came from above and behind, “Ray? That you?”
Ray turned from the water to look up at the high bank with wooden steps snaking up its side. “Yeah, Jimmy, I’m here,” he called back.
“Come on up. Lunch is on.”
Ray shouldered the canvas bag and made his way toward the voice. At the top of the stairs, the old familiar path wound through the trees for a short while before the cabin appeared. A vision out of time; nothing had changed since Ray was a little boy chasing his brothers around the yard. Firewood was piled high for the long Alaska winter, billows from the smoke-house chimney this late into January told of a good salmon harvest, and the usual assortment of snowmobiles in various states of disassembly filled the garage.
Ray went to the door, opened it, and his entire childhood played out before his eyes.
“Jesus, close the door, Ray!”
“Sorry. It’s…just a lot being back.”
“Biscuits and bear gravy? Probably ain’t had bear since you left.”
Ray shook his head, attempted to smile, and looked at his brother for the first time in many years. Jimmy was prematurely grey around the temples, his skin had weathered like exposed rock, and he had a permanent squint from years of snow glare; his face gave nothing away.
Ray tried to hug his brother, but Jimmy brushed past to serve the food.
As they began to eat the only sounds were the snapping of logs in the fireplace as biscuits sopped gravy.
Jimmy broke the silence, “Why’d ya come, Ray?”
“Isn’t ‘I wanted to see my brother‘ a good reason?”
“Would be, if I’d heard from you more than once in twenty years.”
“It hasn’t been twenty…”
“I was fucking fourteen, Ray. Fourteen! I was still a kid. You knew what Dad was, and you just left. Let’s not get particular with the specifics on how many goddamn years it’s been, ok?”
Jimmy took the dishes and rinsed them off in the sink. The water pump hummed to life.
Jimmy turned and leaned back against the counter.
“So really, Ray, why are you here?”
“I guess I finally got the balls to say it to your face; I shouldn’t have left. I’m sorry, Jimmy, but after Mikey…I just couldn’t take any more. I was the oldest, but I couldn’t stop Dad. So I ran.”
“You’ve both been gone a long time. You rode a plane out of here, Mikey rode a bullet. Same outcome far as I’m concerned. You were both cowards; left me to fend for myself with him, so fuck the both of you equally.”
“Don’t say that, it wasn’t Mikey’s fault.’
Jimmy threw a dishtowel onto the counter. “It wasn’t any of our fucking faults! But the three of us were all we had and then in the space of a month it was just me, alone with that fucking monster. Hard not to resent that, Ray.”
“I heard the shot, Jimmy, all the way up in the hills, when Mikey killed himself. I knew, somehow, I just knew. I was afraid you’d be next; I couldn’t watch you die, too. I wanted to kill Dad but I was too afraid; I was still a kid, too.”
Jimmy slowly folded the towel he’d thrown. “Sound carries in these hills. Old man Peters was out hunting and heard the shot when Dad died, too. Nearly ran into him on the way back; had to hide under some leaves ’til he was gone so my story would stick.”
Ray stared at his brother.
Jimmy’s face remained granite, “Let’s get you settled.”
After a moment Ray nodded and picked up his bag.
About the author
Rob is, at varying times, a writer, IT professional, entrepreneur, photographer, hunter, fly fisherman, psychedelic therapy advocate, and a few other things. At some point he hopes to decide what he wants to be when he grows up but there is no indication that he is going to grow up any time soon.