A FINE YOUNG MAN
Very Early Saturday Morning
Ten-year-old Roy Brown sits in his chair at the kitchen table alone. Yesterday his brother, Billy, was killed on Pine Landing Road.
Everything’s dark. The outside pole light is on. Big Red hasn’t crowed.
Roy is barefoot. Wrapped in a quilt over long johns. Striped flannel pajamas under his brother’s old bathrobe. Rubs his feet together. Wiggles his toes. Tries crossing the one that went to market over the one that stayed home.
They immediately snap apart.
Shakes his head back and forth. I should’ve worn socks.
Usually his dad lights the gas heater before leaving for the barn making the kitchen as cozy as the inside of his bed, but he isn’t sure if his dad is up. Striking matches is another too young thing to do. They were still talking around the table when I fell asleep last night. Maybe he doesn’t have to milk this morning?
Roy yawns. Rubs his eyes. Listens to his stomach growl and rumble. This morning pea soup would seem like water. Puts his knees up, feet in the seat of his chair. Pulls the quilt closer. Grandma Laura and her sisters pieced the different colored stripes, prints, and solids together when his mama was a little girl. “No pattern, just patchwork. Leftover scraps. A stained glass rainbow.”
Sighs deep and drawn-out. Sounding as empty and as hollow as he feels inside. Wishing the day is over or hadn’t even begun. Later today Billy’s body is coming home. Sunday is the funeral in the Methodist Church, then burial in the cemetery opposite the ‘Welcome to Hartsville’ sign. It will be the first grave of somebody I really used to know.
Billy was sixteen, in the ninth grade. The swellest brother ever. Tall, slender, strong with black hair and dark eyes. Always tan. What Roy wanted to look like instead of freckles, big ears, rabbit’s teeth, green eyes and reddish-brown curls. Always pale.
His brother was number 33, the best basketball player in Hartsville, Wilson County, Alabama. Could have been better than Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, and Jerry West all rolled into one.
Billy was the son every mama wanted. Would make any dad proud. Loved by the girls and envied by the guys. But not hated because he was so nice. It wasn’t phony either like some guys pretending to be big shots!
Roy was going to grow up to be like him, all of the fourth grade boys were, but guessed he couldn’t now. Heroes like big brothers weren’t supposed to be dead. (more)