Excerpt from ‘Mortals’ by Jack Lee Taylor
She hates him so much. Down to his little bones. Bones that can break; but – no – Lisa, stay away; you’ll just make things worse. We’ll take care of him. Every time.
Stupid little brother.
Even at this moment, when the rain has stopped, and the clouds are thin vapors where the blue of the sky cuts through, he’s there stomping on the puddles, making the bottom on his jeans turn to the color of shit. Like their driveway. A shitty driveway. A shitty house. A shitty family.
“Look how high I can make the water go,” the little turd says. And, yeah, there he is jumping up and down on brown water and ruining his sneakers. They won’t care. Mom will say ‘boys will be boys’ or something meaningless like that.
He never gets in trouble. He never gets yelled at the dinner table. Or in the morning. Or at night. Or at whenever.
He’s perfect. And she’s not.
“Leesee-“, he says. “Did you hear?”
“No,” Lisa says and then goes back to gazing up at the sky. When does the blue end? She had asked her father more than once and dismissed whatever nonsense he spewed back at her. He doesn’t know. No one does.
When does the sky end? That’s easy. There is no sky. It’s just space. Clouds, atmosphere, and space. And then after that? Nothing. No heaven. No god, no angels or fairies or dead grandmothers. There’s nothing after that. And the crazy part of it all is that she’s brave enough to admit it. Why lie about it? Or even worse, why try to brainwash her with churches or bible verses? We live and then we die. How difficult is that to accept?
A red car. A muscle car, she thinks. Because if it’s loud, bulky, and all bulging like on steroids, it’s called a muscle car. It streaks pass her driveway and she thinks: wow, Seb was probably five feet away from the speeding car. He probably would have died if he got hit. Or even worse, the driver would try to swerve and miss him and hit their neighbor’s two-story and die on impact. That would totally screw Seb’s chance of not getting in trouble. My brother, the murderer of the muscle-car driver.
And all that is stupid, too. Because, Seb’s just five. He’s just… five. And that means he’s stupid, but he’s still five, and that, she guesses, is the reason why he’s stupid. Why he so perfect and doesn’t get in trouble.
Lisa imagines a digital rewind button dangling in front of her, a white button suspended in the air beckoning for her to push. She takes her thumb and presses it in the air, noticing the gloss of her blue fingernail polish reflecting the sharp blue of the day.
This time the car doesn’t speed by. Seb is jumping. Talking. Laughing. He’s jumping his small jumps that barely impact the ground, and he becomes a three-foot tall Pogo stick, bouncing and bouncing like an ugly Tigger. His eyes are shut and full of stupid glee. She’s guessing he thinks he’s made the perfect storm from shallow puddles. Inches. Inches. Then feet. The driveway below his water-stained sneakers becomes asphalt. Becomes the street. And here it comes.
Lisa sees it all happen in real-time. And, no, it’s not slo-mo or, what is it? Every second feels like an eternity. It’s real-time, and she watches.
Seb is a Pogo stick and then plants himself on the street like… like, well, a kid on the street. And the muscle-car runs him over so fast, he goes from vertical to horizontal in an instant. Real-time. That’s the only way to know if it really happened. Real. Now.
But it didn’t happen.
Pogo stick is still there, chanting, jumping, and making stupid little brother noises.
Sunlight beams down on Seb Freeman like a spotlight, the boy’s eyes and smile glinting in the daylight. He’s cute. Of course, he’s cute. And he’s special.
Lisa knows he’s special, more than her parents want her to know. She remembers the scraped knees. The band-aids that covered the fingernail scratches on his face. Her scratches, a reminder to him a few years before of who was boss in the family. They would cover up his wounds. But she knew even then, there were lights and sparks underneath the bandages. Doors closing so fast. Get out, Lisa. Go to your room, now! In other words: nothing for you to see here.
It’s not a muscle car this time. It’s Mrs. Burton’s Prius humming four houses down. Humming, but humming a bit louder and faster than Lisa cares for.
Because Pogo stick is now on the road. Laughing. No, not just laughing. He’s talking. Talking to no one. He’s such an idiot.
Except, he’s still on the road, and Lisa’s already on her feet, her pace slow at first and then picking up speed.
Because it’s in real-time, and she knows she’s paying for wishing there was a rewind button before. This time there is no rewind, pause, or stop button. It’s just Lisa. Thirteen. Full of ideas and dreams that no one knows or cares about. She just happens to be the older sister of Seb Freeman, and she understands now that she has just killed her brother.
She feels her feet moving faster, her brother growing in height and size in front of her eyes as she reels toward him. To her right comes Mrs. Burton’s silver orb on wheels, not slowing but moving forward like a rolling snowball gaining size as it heads downhill toward Seb Freeman.
Lisa is yelling. Of course, she’s yelling. And before she can bring the hate she has toward her parents – where the hell are they? – she is pushing; her hands connect to boy-body, a feeling of a bony, bird frame in her palms.
The smack of ground leaves a pain so intense to her nose that her eyes water. For this brief split-second of real-time as she lands face down on the road, she takes in the wet, tarry smell of asphalt. She barely feels the heavy weight of the car tires crush into her back. Only after Mrs. Burton’s Prius rolls over Lisa does the young girl understand she can’t suck in breath. For a fraction of a second.
Then it’s many seconds.
How foolish had she been? Real-time. Really?
Seconds without breath do feel like eternity.
When she does breathe again, her body shudders as she takes in a weak breath, trying to fill her broken lungs with life. Her ears ring and then follow a melody – an awful one. Her brother’s screams.
She draws breath once more and has time for one last thought before she dies.
He’s so stupid.