By Kelly Marks
It is both terrifying and remarkable how quickly I became invisible to those closest to me. My best friend Mindy and I used to speak and text every day. Our words, clicked and clacked onto our illuminated phone screens, whirled through the airwaves boasting of mundane things. Job interview outfits, happy hour plans, ordinary third-date sex, scorching first-date sex. Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by the abrupt departure Mindy took from my life. Our friendship was surface, shallow. Unable to weather the alleged actions of my brother.
The neighbors, people who once had us over for Fourth of July cookouts and lazy summer afternoon swims in their salt-water pool, refuse to look us in the eye. They scurry into their homes away from us, the wicked. Heads down, belongings tucked close. As if the stealer of things, the stealer of lives lived within us all. A spotlight on our genetic flaw.
Mom and Dad’s church asked them to “take a break” from coming to Sunday services. How hastily they forget their leader, the man and messiah they’ve based their hypocritical doctrine on took in strays, lepers, prostitutes. But not us. Not the Walkers. We are sinful.
Whispers carry on the oppressive humidity. They are near impossible to ignore. They drip onto our skin like thick, burning oil. They lick the inside of our ears, disgusting and menacing. Our skin crawls and pebbles with goosebumps. We, as a family, decided drive through food will suffice for now. What’s an overload of salty fries and greasy meat patties compared to what’s happening to our brother? Our son?
Since it happened, since my parents woke late in the milky night to the fiery red and chilling blue lights, we’ve all gone our separate ways. We’ve retreated into our inner psyche, questioning the murmured voices, tallying the distorted facts, and wondering. Wondering how it was missed. Wondering if what the burly man in a wrinkled suit jacket, 9mm on his hip, said was true. How is it possible? He was a mailman. A simple man, with a slight dip in his IQ compared to us, his sisters. The result of head trauma. But still, he was ours. Broad smile with chipped incisor. Muscular physique. The gym, his sanctuary. And they, our friends, neighbors, strangers, call him monster.
The house that raised us, that watched with silent eyes as we morphed into what was to come, sat at the edge of a forest. Knobby pine trees welcomed the three of us from the time our chubby, adolescent legs could run.
“Wait up, guys,” my unusual deep voice rose in panic at the thought of being left behind. I was the youngest and often seen as a pest. I could just make out my sister’s golden ringlets cascading down her back. No doubt her emerald-green eyes were rolling in their sockets. My brother set out on a diagonal pattern. Strange and focused.
I made it to the clearing in time to catch Rachel, my sister and the eldest, practicing her baton routine. Rachel lived for her pageants. Faux diamond crusted crowns littered her room. She was good. Beautiful. Already reined high and supreme at the age of fourteen.
“Where’s Beau?” My breaths came out in pants. Where Rachel was lithe and blonde, I was squat with mousy brown hair. I slapped away a chunk of bangs dangling and frustrating my stubby eyelashes.
“Off doing his thing. Playing solider or whatever.” Rachel dismissed my question with a flick of her delicate hand.
“Hunting.” I murmured. “He calls it hunting.”
“How can I help you officer?”
My mother’s cracked and broken voice grates from the front foyer. I peer my head out from the kitchen, where I’ve learned to nurse my unease with Capri Suns and Little Debbie Snacks. As if my brain is desperately retreating to the leniency of childhood. When things were normal. Safe. When the police stayed in their cars instead of assaulting our doorbell.
“We have a warrant to search Beau’s room.”
A sigh. Ragged and rough, like exposed flesh.
“It’s this way.” Mother turns toward me, and my first instinct is to flinch. She looks old. Older. Her eyes are bloodshot and wrinkled. Her hands hold a dish towel. The threads screech and scream from her constant wringing.
I brush the chocolate crumbs from my mouth and shift my eyes from mother to the officer. He dips his hat at me but continues walking. He’ll be back. They always have questions.
Like when was the last time I saw Beau? How close are we? Do I live at home?
Rachel, the Queen, is shielded from the barrage of inquiries. The rutting through our lives. Five years ago, she won Miss Texas. Three years ago, she married a prominent pediatric surgeon. One year ago, she had a child of her own. The three of them live across town in a gated community where monsters don’t lurk. Where your brother doesn’t exist except in hushed whispers and catty gossip.
“Do you think he did it, Rach?” I whispered into the phone three days earlier.
“I don’t know. He always was strange.”
I wasn’t sure how to answer her flippant words. In Rachel’s eyes, we were all strange. Not quite right. Not quite fitting into her ideal of the perfect family. Too plump, too odd, too drunk.
Curiosity finds me washing my hands of the overly processed snack and walking toward Beau’s bedroom door. Unlike Rachel, who escaped these walls to entertain the masses with twirls and fake eyelashes, and myself, who ran headfirst toward a classic literature degree, Beau never left. His accident from when we were young left him forgetful and frustrated. Serious. But again, unlike Rachel, I came back to the family that needed me and away from the taunts and stares of my small, private university.
“Sarah, right? When was the last time you saw your brother?” There it is, the question. The detective pauses, his hands resting on one of Beau’s sketch books, and he raises his tired brown eyes to mine.
“A couple of months ago, maybe?” My shoulders shrug. “He came to visit me at school. We went out for ice cream.” I cross my arms across my ample chest. All of me is ample.
“How did he seem to you?”
“Like he always seemed. Quiet. Focused.”
“What did you two discuss?”
A sigh escapes my lips. “As I’m sure you’ve noticed, detective, Beau isn’t a big talker.” I stare hard at the man invading my family. He doesn’t blink, just waits for me to continue. I stifle the urge to roll my eyes and speak again. “I don’t know, he asked how my classes were going. I asked about his work. If he was enjoying it.”
“As a mailman,” the detective mumbles.
“Yes, as a mailman. That’s what Beau was. Is.”
“Oh, I’m aware Sarah.”
He turns his back now, dismissing me. His tone halts my breathing for a split second, and I almost prepare my throat to utter more words.
But I don’t. It’s none of their business what Beau and I talked about the night he came calling. I return to the kitchen, plastic-like chocolate and sugar urging every step. Flashes of cuts and a deep gash etched into hairy, pale skin flitter through my mind. Beau, pacing like a caged animal.
No, nothing out of the ordinary happened that night.
My teeth sink into the cake. The memories fade from view.
“Why do you like being a mailman?” I ask my brother as he sits, or perches, on the hard, wooden booth. He’s calmer now. His pointed, pink tongue flits out and traces the lumps of his rocky road ice cream cone.
“It’s good exercise. All the walking.” His tone is flat and to the point, as it has been since that far away summer day. Beau works a route delivering mail straight to people’s front porches. A door slot. A metal bin to the side of an entryway.
I stare at him and slurp at the melting tendrils of my mint chocolate chip. He knows I want more. A connection. A moment.
“Plus, it’s interesting. Being so close to people’s lives, but never actually being a part of it. Looking at the letters they receive, the packages, and wondering what’s inside—” Beau pauses, his eyes bright and wild, his tone raised and almost shrill. “What dark secrets do they hold?”
It’s an odd answer, but Beau flirts with oddity. “I don’t think you’re supposed to go through people’s mail, bud.”
He shrugs his shoulders at my soft reproach and returns to his tentative consumption of the ice cream cone in his hands.
“You asked,” he says.
I change the subject.
The detective finishes his mauling of my brother’s room. By the time he’s done, it looks as if we were robbed. The twin-sized mattress is upended. Sheets and blankets are balled and twisted in a corner of the room. Latex gloves snap, their powdery residue settling on Beau’s belongings. The detective bags multiple sketchpads. Another man enters the room, silent and skulking, and makes away with Beau’s computer.
I watch from the doorway. Paralyzed and unable or unwilling to interject. My ears perk up when I hear the front door open and shut with a loud slam. Immediate voices rise from the living room. Hushed shouting. Silent blame. Furious accusations. My feet travel in their direction.
Father sways and leans against the back of his Lazy Boy. His nose and cheeks beam with ruddiness. Mother sits on the couch, stone-like, the damn dishtowel continually wringing in her hands.
“You did this,” she hisses.
“I? I did this?” Dad bellows, unaware of our company.
Detective no name rushes to my side. No doubt his synapses are firing, jowls drooling, with hope secrets will spill forth.
“Guys, detecti—” My words are halted by a chunky, unwelcome hand landing on my forearm. I swat away the intrusion, refusing to be a pawn in his investigation.
Mother and Father, though, continue their argument.
“He never would have ended up this way if you were paying attention that day.” Mother places an emphasis on the word you incase my father’s gin-riddled brain is unable to decipher her wrath.
“It was an accident, Marcy. A god-damned accident.” My father places a bony hand over his eyes, but the loss of evened balance causes his legs to wobble, and he slams both hands down on the back of the recliner. “And how is he, anyway? He’s still our boy.” Father lowers his voice, and his head sways and dangles on his neck.
“They are calling him a monster.” Mother takes a deep breath, followed by another, before the torrent of tears floods her face.
My father rushes to her side, a blast of warm air and alcohol settling in the nostrils of the detective and me. I watch, as does the intruder, as my parents fall apart in one another’s arms. Whispers of “my boy” and “everything will be okay” patter the air every couple of seconds.
“I think it’s time for you to leave,” I tell the detective.
For once, he has the decency not to speak. He turns his booted heels on the carpet and retreats out the front door.
Muffled words fall on battered ears. After two long years, the verdict spews from the jury foreman’s mouth and everything and nothing changes.
Eight women’s families whoop, holler, and sob from the other side of the dingy room. Our side, which consists of myself, bloated and uncomfortable, my pot-bellied, red-nosed father, and the skeletal remains of my mother say nothing. Express nothing. Rachel didn’t make it. Too hopped up on the numbness of pain pills coursing through her veins. Too horrified and furious to face Beau after her beloved surgeon left her and the baby alone to fend off nosey reporters and vicious country-club wives.
Beau nods his head at us and is escorted from the courtroom. With each step his lumbering legs take him closer and closer to his new abode: a cold cement cell in maximum security. He’ll die one way or the other. It is Texas, after all.
It takes an hour for the other families to clear out of the courtroom. Each one gawks our way, sneering, before morphing back into gleeful tears when a camera is shoved in their face. The cameras wait for us as well. I can’t comprehend what they want. For us to say sorry? For us to beg the forgiveness for the actions of my brother? I use my extra girth to corral my parents through the vultures. Beady eyes ready to pick our bones and souls clean.
We drive home in silence, our shattered lives awaiting us.
The prison is humid, with creaky, unbalanced plastic chairs and wobbly overhead fluorescent lights. I expected cold. A terrifying frigidness that would seep into my bones and take up residence. Instead, I pull my cotton t-shirt away from my stomach and worry over the sweat lines marring the fabric.
The extra padding on my bottom is no match for the cracked, worn chair I wait for Beau on. I passed inspection and all the other hoops I was made to jump through before being led to this tiny cubicle. He will be here soon.
The man they sit in front of me no longer resembles the toe-headed boy from my childhood. A scraggly beard shelters his face. His hazel eyes, deadened by the injury and repercussions of his actions.
His hand reaches out toward the phone, and I mirror his movement.
“Mom’s gone.” I mean to ease into the reason for my visit, but sweat droplets are accumulating under my breasts and on my lower back. My breathing increases, panicked, and I swipe a chubby finger across my upper lip.
Beau doesn’t speak. His eyelids flutter and close and remain there for nearly a minute.
“What’s happened to you, Sarah?” Beau’s voice is scratchy and deep. Unrecognizable. His eyes take in my appearance. Fat. Sweaty. Pale.
“It’s been hard. Things have been hard since your arrest.”
He nods, but never apologizes. I choose not to dwell on what this means.
“Are you doing okay?” I ask him. Every drop of blood in my body is churning, begging me to retreat. To leave this place of anger and despair.
Beau shrugs one shoulder then brings a hand up to his face, fingers bent, and rubs his knuckles along his bearded jaw line. My eyes burn, and one traitorous tear falls onto the creamy-yellow laminate counter top.
<callouttext> It takes an hour for the other families to clear out of the courtroom. Each one gawks our way, sneering, before morphing back into gleeful tears when a camera is shoved in their face. The cameras wait for us as well. I can’t comprehend what they want. For us to say sorry? For us to beg the forgiveness for the actions of my brother? I use my extra girth to corral my parents through the vultures. Beady eyes ready to pick our bones and souls clean. </callouttext>
“Why’d you do this, Beau? Why?”
His eyes never leave mine, even when he blows a ragged sigh from his lips. “Do you remember when you asked me why I liked being a mailman?”
I think back to our ice cream date, his odd answer, and nod.
Again, he shrugs a shoulder and leans back in his chair. His arms cross over his chest. Defiant. Proud. Comfortable in his natural habitat. “The wondering got to be too much. That’s all.”
Our mother wasted away to nothing. She practically took that ragged dishtowel to her grave. It held her anguish. Her guilt. Her pain. She was the first to escape the new reality to which Beau introduced us.
I envy her.
Dad’s liver will give out one day. Rachel’s once luscious and beautiful life is now reduced to a gray landscape of split ends and oxy. And I, I will continue to seek solace in the comforts of my childhood. Before the accident, before Beau chose to play the worst form of God.
I read once that love and hate are mutually exclusive. But that’s not true. Just look at us. Take a glimpse at those left behind. The love for my brother runs deep. It’s coated in summer-time memories, belly laughter, and companionship.
But underneath lies a mountain of hate. For the unspoken deeds. For the missed clues and torturous shame. For the mailman.
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