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Thaddeus Rutkowski

          On one occasion, I saw my brother while I was visiting our mother. Usually, he didn’t want to see me when I was there—he was busy with other things—but this time was different. He offered to take me for a ride in her new car. Actually, the car was his as much as hers. He lived there with her. He’d moved in after losing a job in California.

          I sat in the front passenger seat—it was soft and comfortable—as my brother drove smoothly on the unmarked road out of town. A low cloud blocked our view of the surrounding hills and fields.

          “I hate it here,” my brother said. “I agree with the old man on one thing. I wish I could see the sun. It’s been raining for four days.”

          I remembered my father saying such things as he worked in his studio on the ground floor of the “house”—a converted social hall. He valued natural light. My mother had kept his studio pretty much as it had been when he was alive. His artworks, silk screens, tables, and tools filled the room.

          My brother stopped at a crossroads for gasoline. I waited in the car while he got the fuel.

          “I could pump gas for work,” he said when he returned. “I could also sell my blood.”

          “Maybe you could find something better,” I said. I meant, maybe he could get legal work. After all, he’d kept his license after leaving his job.

          “If a law firm in California makes me an offer, I’m out of here in a second."

          “Yes, do it,” I said.

          “But if I stay, I’ll get the house.”

          “How would that work?” I asked.

          “If a person is living in the house when our mother goes, he becomes the owner. We’ll have a contract.”

          No one other than my brother would be living there. My sister and I lived far away, and we weren’t about to move.

          “Have you asked our sister about this?” I asked.

          “I’ve talked to her. We understand each other, not like you and me.”

          “Would you pay us for our shares?”

          “Can’t do that if I’m pumping gas.”

          “Well, will I be able to stay in the house?” I asked.

          “There’s no room.”

          The house was large, but my brother’s accessories—his boots, jeans, and leather coats—were stacked on the beds, even on his bed. He slept in a cleared space in the middle of his stuff. His appliances and bicycles filled the floor in my father’s former studio.

          I didn’t want to be having this conversation, but I was strapped into the seat of my mother’s—actually, my brother’s—new car. I realized that he’d planned it that way. I could not leave until I agreed that he would take our mother’s house.

          I remembered a silk-screen print I’d seen in my father’s studio. It showed a butterfly framed by the words LIFE MAGIC. Magic could come into anyone’s life, and we were all waiting for that to happen. But some of us would have to wait longer than others.

          “We can’t tell the future,” I said.

          “It’ll be legal,” my brother said.


Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of eight books, most recently Safe Colors, a novel in short fictions. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and Columbia University and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

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