The little boy screamed, Shane come back! Shane! Shane! Come back Shane! Not having seen most of the movie, Little Brother just found it funny. “Great lisp.” Father-son camaraderie was lost on Little Brother. Even if he had seen it on screen, he’d have missed it. From the corner of the couch, little brother pointed at the 15” black & white TV. Between his thumb and forefinger he held a popcorn glistening with real butter. Salt sparkled on its edges in the TV light. Shane, obscured by a popcorn cloud, continued riding away in spite of the pleading shouts of the boy. “You . . Stupid Idiot”, thought Little Brother. In his mind, Stupid Idiot was a proper name.
Alan Ladd could pull off that fringy suede that made him look like a hippie on a horse. Maybe Little Brother would get one of those jackets too. Hanging on the vacuum next to the wall heater, his light blue denim jacket screamed anything but horse. Not even iron horse. Just bike. All holes, Little Brother’s pants could have used some mending. While they were at least down to his ankles, they gave an economic impression close to the situation of the boy in the movie. His hair once made Terrance Hicks ask, “Is that the wet look or the dry look Little Brother?” Of course, Little Brother had the benefit of free medical services, free education, free lunches, and free food. Even the bike had been free. None of which was available to the boy character in the movie.
In the years before the divorce Little Brother had been just a toddler. During that time Big Brother had experienced a paternal relationship with Dad, ballgames, Saturday matinees, tickle attack, but also task master, mean drunk, and hostile father due to sexual remorse that no nobody knew about and finally hide away time. Weekends were dad’s time with the kids, but only ones big enough that he didn’t have to change. Between Friday and Monday in his dad’s world, there had been no wife time. Ten years after, Big Brother’s heart was aching for the boy on the TV. Big Brother was the boy. He was also the teenager with a little brother who dressed like Oliver Twist, cracked jokes that would have embarrassed Groucho Marx, and hated their dad. Ten years before, watching as his dad rode away into the sunset in his brand new Buick in search of leaner pastures he’d felt so alone. The blue Skylark with the white top disappeared down the street. Choked, he couldn’t yell out, “Come back Daddy! Daddy come back!” Couldn’t cry. Several weeks later, the neighbor, Mr Landers remarked to his mom that his knuckles had been white and he could have counted every muscle in his jaw. Standing alone, he’d patted the top of his own head. Like his dad, he felt the comb of his crew cut poke into his fingers.
Before their parents split, every time their dad would come back to Metairie from a business trip, his brief case was full of toys. On weekends when he wasn’t pretending to work he’d take Big Brother to ball games, movies. Holding the boy in his arm, he’d smile like he was enjoying White Comanche, and maybe he was. Big Brother enjoyed the scratchy worsted wool grey sleeve on his ear. For Dad, even laughing wasn’t so hard once in a while. Something Little Brother had never experienced. Dad didn’t much like babies, though he’d always loved pregnant women. “Go get em Kirk” their dad yelled at the screen. It drew a couple frowns in the crowd but he’d just chuckle and stuff his face with oily popcorn.
As Shane rode away, Big Brother had forgotten the bad times, and he’d remembered only those moments in Planet of the Apes with his dad. Dad was a racist southern bigot who’d had to move south to fit in.
More than average, dad had a particular love for Planet of the Apes and took Big Brother to it on several Saturdays in a row. Futuristic science fiction cascaded into Big Brother’s
psyche. Big Brother dreamed up stories of flying cars, space travel, bug eyed slimy aliens. Talking apes made dad smile, as did cute girls in torn up clothes who couldn’t talk.
Watching Shane with his little brother, Big Brother had wondered if the love Shane had for this boy would sink into Little Brother’s soul. It didn’t. Big Brother had become the dad after the Buick had slid away in the afternoon sun with his hopes, dreams and his baseball glove in the back seat. How he ached to have dad’s arm around his shoulder again. To be the little boy again. Now a teenager, Big Brother sat in dad’s recliner with his feet up. By right of conquest, he’d won the recliner from Little Brother and Big Sister. Leaning back he watched the TV between his Converse Allstars. Clean pant legs of new Levi’s 501s ran down to the shoes. Big Brother earned his keep by mowing all the neighbors’ lawns for $4 per hour. Maybe he should have sat on the couch with his arm around his little brother, and been the father for a day. In his left hand he held a salad bowl of popcorn covered in salt, melted butter and a bit of black pepper. Dad had always brought little pepper packets from Denny’s to the movies for the popcorn. Pepper and butter smells combined to remind him of those few hours on Saturdays when Dad wasn’t yelling at mom.
Back when he was around, one of dad’s jobs had been as the family’s source of sarcasm. And he’d done it so well. Say something mean to a person. Laugh like it’s supposed to somehow be funny. Get mad at the person you’d just made fun of when he didn’t subscribe to your brand of humor. Make fun of them for being hypersensitive babies. That was Dad. Bastard. Big Brother had had to take over that job, though his heart wasn’t always in it. Doing his best, he’d worked hard to fill those shoes. Oddly, Little Brother had learned that dad skill to the best of his ability from his big brother. On top of that he’d spiced it up and made it his own. Clearly it was important to have sarcasm in the family. Little Brother could bend a situation to the funnier side with just the cruelest hint of sarcasm. Alienating the rest of the audience at the same time, not just the target of the ironic invective had often been the result. Who knew? Probably Little Brother won’t have a lot of friends and probably he’s going to be a lot like Dad.
There they sat, one on the couch, one on the arm chair watching Shane ride away. Little Brother laughing at that lisp. Big Brother’s heart aching for the boy with the crew cut whose little brother never knew a fun Saturday with his dad. Little Brother said: “What’s your problem? It’s just a stupid movie.”
“He’s watching his best friend leave, his father leave,” Big Brother answered.
“Pffft, like that’s never happened before,” Little Brother responded.
“Cut it out Little Brother, he’s probably never going to see him again.”
“Like, that’s, never happened before. He’s better off anyway. We were. Besides what’s your problem? Big baby.” Little Brother had practiced that one. Big Brother leaned back in the arm chair a little while longer and nursed his bowl of popcorn.
“Hey” Big Brother leaned forward, put his feet on the ground and said, “you want to go to a ball game?”
(c) 2011 by David Nelson, All Rights Reserved