The Seven Five Nothing

The Seven Five Nothing are a collection of hyper-short stories, each written in a single sitting with no editting.

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11. Towers.

I'd not seen him in years. I tried to count just how many, but I couldn't settle on a number. Maybe seven, maybe more. Either way, it had been enough to leave me with a belly full of guilt.

The bus pulled up and I stepped off. Nothing prepares you for prison and its imposing walls. I felt sad for him - this is where my brother had spent most of his adult life.

We were always close as kids, scrapping hard when we rutted, but pulling so close when anybody tried to run up against us. He taught me how to throw a punch, how to take a kick, how to stand up to our father, how to deal with girls who knocked me back, how to break somebody's heart. He was a fucken hero in my eyes, nobody was more real to me than him.

He was always in scrapes. We both were. He'd come home with blood on his shirt, cuts on his fists. The police had their eye on us from early days, stopping us for all kinds of shit. But my brother didn't care, and for that, neither did I.

Our mother used to worry so much about what would happen to me.
'You'll get your brother killed,' she would crow.
Still, he was too maverick to care. 'He's good with me. Ain't nothing going to happen as long as I'm around.' But she was always concerned. Always worried.
'One day, a dark cloud will come and rain on you, son. I can see it already.'

Then, when he was nineteen and I was just fifteen, my brother proved her mother right.

It started as something stupid, us and all his friends, fucken around, throwing some bottles against a wall, trying to see who could smash them the highest up. Some guy came out, pissed that we were fucken around, told us to stop. But we were full of bravado, full of that cocky energy that you get swilling around inside you at that age. Almost in a chorus, we told him to go fuck himself, but that just made it worse. He came over, hulking shoulders, face twisted in anger, scary as shit. I was ready to get out of there, but my brother stopped me.
'Where you going?'

It was benign really. I think back to that night, and I remember how small we really were. Yet we felt so big.

The guy had his nose pressed up against my brothers, his friends flanking his shoulders. Then, a shove, and then one back, and before you know it, a fist. They jumped the guy. It was exciting but scary, all at once.
'Fuck him up!' I yelled.
I'll always regret that.

I sat across from an empty chair, waiting for them to bring him in, nervous, unsure of how he’d feel about seeing me after so long. I thumbed some photos I'd brought, pictures of my kids. He'd never met his nephews. I looked at their smiles as they hung from the monkey bars, the mischief and the delight - what an intoxicating thing. I tried to remember who we were when we were as young as my boys, but it was all too hazy. Hard to project yourself back in time when the heavy stuff blocks the path.

Although he was twice as big as I remembered him, he sat down quietly, a gentle air around him. His body had changed, but it was still the same smile on his face.
'How you doing bro?' His voice had changed too, deeper than before.
'Hey.' I was juggling anxiety.
'I missed you. Where you been?'
And I was stuck for words to say.

When I ran home that night, I couldn’t have known how serious it was. Maybe if I’d been braver, I could have stopped them, got in the way maybe. But I saw the blood, this time not just on my brother's shirt, but on the ground as well, and it scared me to the root. I wasn’t as tough as I’d thought. I flirt with it sometimes, about how I could have saved the guy, stepped forward and in turn, saved my brother from himself. But I was so shocked, so full of fear, I just didn't want to witness any more. I ran, ran from my brother, the animal.

My mother was there to calm me down, to make it okay. When I managed to get my words out through the breaks in my breath, I could see her heart fall to pieces. This, she knew, was the day she'd been dreading. She held me tight and I felt like a child all over again as we rested on the stairs.

My brother snuck in the house late. I was in bed, but I got up and pressed me ear to the door. I heard her talking to him, though I couldn't quite make out the words. It was strangely calm. And then, after a moment that seemed to wind on forever, he left.

I saw him only two more times after that. This was the third - much longer than I’d anticipated. He smiled at my nephews.
'They're good looking kids,’ he said as he passed back the pictures.
'Thanks.'
'They take after their uncle,’ he cracked, that charm bleeding through once more.
'Yeah. They want to meet you.'
'You told them about me?'
'Of course.'
He changed, he looked sullen.
'I told them how you looked out for me.'
'I was stupid.'
‘Yes,’ I agreed, 'I told them that as well.'
'Good. It's important for them to know.'

We talked a little longer, talked till it was time to leave. I was glad that I'd finally done it, and let myself off the hook for not going before.

I called my mother from the bus, watching the towers of the prison slip behind me.
'Hey,' I said. 'He's okay.'
'Good...' She was quiet. 'I'm glad.'
'You should go and see him some time. He misses you.'
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