She was at work, working at the usual things. The work was piling up and she was doing more and more of it, but it kept on piling. She was frustrated. The phone rang. She got annoyed. It was a woman from G’s nursing home. The woman said her name. Lenora. She said she was calling about her brother. She sighed and thought, What now? Then she said into the phone, Yeah, how is he? Lenora said, He’s dead.
Or Lenora might have said, I’m calling about G. Exactly that, because that was her nickname for her brother since they were kids. For while, in her Greek philosophy phase, she called him Zeno, to get his goat. He could dish it out pretty good, don’t worry. He was the mischievous kind of kid who inspired other kids to string him up in a tree like a set of Christmas lights. Who knew what he’d done to them? Anyway, G stuck, though she didn’t know at the time that Zeno, inventor of the paradox, would have oddly suited him better.
So Lenora might have said she was calling about her brother, and she might have said, Yeah, what’s going on? Because there was always something going on with G and she was always getting calls. Before he was in the nursing home, it was calls from the police: your brother set his building on fire, your brother is eating garbage out of trash cans, your brother is running around the streets naked, or one of the last police calls: your brother got hit by a car.
Broken leg, fractured hip, malnourishment. Six days in the hospital. From the hospital he was sent to live in the nursing home that specializes in people like G. People, who despite their essential sweetness, had minds that had turned on them, minds that made them hear voices telling them they were the devil, that made them take a swing at the nurses trying to give them their meds, that whispered urgently into their ears to trade their shoes for a half-empty lighter or a broken watch.
Now the call from Lenora: He’s dead. Or she might have said, a little softer, He died. But this she remembered for sure: she said, NO! Quite loudly. Pencils dropped. Heads turned. She forgot where she was. She forgot everything. Everything. Dead.
People stared at her as she left the building. She didn’t care. She only thought to run as far away as she could, find an escape route. The realization that there was none made her mad. Then sad.
She lit a cigarette, her hands shaking. She would have to do something now. There were doctors at the nursing home to talk to, arrangements to make, papers to sign. There was much to do, and she would have to do it. Sister out of state, Mother across town in a different nursing home. Then she thought about that, about telling their mother.
When she went back inside, her cheeks were wet. Her nose was running. She slipped into the bathroom and locked herself in a stall where she sat and sat, until finally she couldn’t sit anymore and stood up. She unlocked the door and moved over to the bathroom mirror. Her face appeared fuzzy and red. She splashed water on it and patted it dry. It was still fuzzy and red. It was annoying, but little else. Nothing mattered.
She went back into the office and tried to focus on what she needed to do first. She looked at her desk, looked at her computer and her papers and her files upon files. Then she looked at her phone but it had grown into the size of a baby elephant. She turned and left.
Her boss was sitting in his office and when he looked up at her and saw what it was he saw on her face, he rose before she could say, Brother. He put his long, boss’s arms around her and there they stood. She didn’t want to appear ungrateful, but they were not the arms she wanted.
She moved away, and told her boss about G. She said, I just got the news.
He followed her to her desk and watched while she shut everything down and picked up her backpack and began rummaging for her keys. He wanted to make sure she could drive. She said she could. The boss looked skeptical. He had a very compelling look on his face, the face of empathy. She had to look away and looked into her bag instead. She had a downer in there but she couldn’t find it. She opened every compartment she had and no little white pill. Then one appeared. She picked it up and looked at it. Her hands were still shaking, she saw. She said, Is this something to take? Then she swallowed it down with the cold coffee on her desk.
She sat in her car in the parking lot. One nursing home, then the other, that was the plan. It was November, still morning. Wet leaves stuck to the cold windshield. She turned the heater on. She remembered a warm day in May, G’s last birthday, his fortieth, and remembered how their mother had called his nursing home and asked them to sing Happy Birthday, remembered how it made him smile, big. Ear to ear.
She could imagine then how surprised their mother would be to see her. How she would know by her being there in the middle of a workday that something was going on. She could picture it, could picture their tiny eighty-pound mother, sitting in the chair for hours, watching the news on CNN. She could see the picture tube. See the news trailers, hear the solemn voices. See her mother expecting the news.
Sue Powers’ stories have appeared in numerous publications, including Saturday Evening Post. She was a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her book of stories will be published by Atmosphere Press soon.
This is the author’s first print publication.
JANUARY 31, 2020 / MUSEPAPER STORY PRIZE #46 / IT'S A JOB