My brother Victor talks while he eats, or maybe eats while he talks. Mama busies herself endlessly, cleaning her house, our lives. Our sister Monica is in her bedroom; she’s been crying all day.
“We should kick his ass,” decided Victor, mouth full of baked potato. The ass in question belongs to Dean Dahlquist, Monica’s fiancé. Rather, ex-fiancé, hence Monica’s self-imposed exile, alternating between crying, shrieking, and hurling objects against walls. Mama stops cleaning, gingerly taps her door and begs her to come out.
I ask why.
“The asshole dumped our sister. No one does that to our sister, Vincent. It’s a question of honor. We should kick his ass. That’s what we’re going to do.”
My brother Victor speaks clearly and confidently, certain of his unimpeded sense of justice, to be meted out, by him, life on hold until balance is restored. As a brotherly gesture — or as ethical support — he always includes me. I sink with dread when Victor has ideas: Hey, why don’t we do this? Let’s do this. He’d ask and then answer his own questions.
When I was four, Monica two, and Victor seven, Papa went out for a newspaper and didn’t return. Lacking a father figure, my brother Victor channeled some patriarchal, force-of-nature deity. I, Vincent, have not. The bravery, the confidence, the penetrating gaze, have gathered swirling like vengeful ghosts in my brother, our fearless leader.
I eat quietly, nodding without agreement. I remember when I was seven, on the sidewalk, riding. Someone’s barking dog had rushed hugely out at me, and I fell, bowled over by its presence. I retreated in terror, unable to retrieve my bike lying breathless on the sidewalk. My brother had to get it for me. I believe Victor created his opinion of me on that day, trying ever since to make me a man. Like him.
Monica breaks something — a flat click that sounds like a framed picture — and Victor shakes his head, chewing his moral outrage. “We’re going to avenge her honor, Vincent,” he decides for us. “No one does that any more.”
I scratch my head, which I always do when Victor commandeers me for duty. I don’t think this is a great idea, and I tell him so.
“Tomorrow, Vincent. When you get off work.”
Always protective, Victor is. Like in junior high, when Aaron Carlson pushed me around outside the lockers without warning or provocation. My brother was on him like a tornado. No one ever bothered me again, but not because of any quality I possessed. No, it was my guardian angel. Victor, whose valiant efforts to save me only keep me under his protection.
I have a sour gut throughout my day. I tap at keys. I don’t enjoy it. It is comfortable work, safe. Data entry will never go away, and I will never have to defend myself. I’m just entering data.
My brother is waiting for me, and we get into his car. Victor’s not a stalker, not a criminal. He’s an avenging angel, an officer of justice. Our sister’s honor has been tainted. I don’t think this is the right idea. Shouldn’t we talk to Dean? Maybe there was a reason.
“Beside the point, Vincent. This is something brothers have done for sisters for time out of mind.” He gets philosophical when he’s pursuing his justices. “Sleazeballs like Dean should fear a girl’s brothers. Men don’t respect women nowadays.”
I’m not violent, I tell him. I’m not used to this.
“Look, don’t worry, Vincent. You don’t even have to hit him. Just hold him. I’m not going to cripple him. I’m just going to make sure he respects Monica.” My brother Victor drives like he talks: direct, with precision.
Dean Dahlquist is blond and crisp, with smug, upright hair. He’s just emerged from a restaurant, hailing a cab for a woman he’s with, obviously coaxing permission to come with her, and she’s refusing, just barely. Dean is a handsome man.
When the cab leaves, Dean shrugs and walks, whistling. That’s Victor’s cue, and he comes out of the alleyway to take Dean by an arm. I grab the other arm, and am dragged along with him by the force of Victor.
Dean protests, but it does not occur to him to shout for help. Victor speaks with very little preamble. “You shouldn’t have treated our sister like that,” intones Victor, and he nods to me. I am behind Dean, and manage to take his arms up behind him in a manner I hope is correct.
I never really thought about what beating up a person means. I have a vision of old movies, belligerent men in suits. An angry exchange of words, then crisp, decisive action. One good punch in the gut: Oof! Are you gonna talk, Charlie? Or do we have to rough you up some more?
My brother hits the handsome blond face, and keeps hitting it, his elbow going back and forth like a piston, like he is hammering in a nail. His voice is not the resonant, calm tenor: “You son of a bitch! You son! Of a bitch!” Over and over. There is a brief spray of blood as something clicks in Dean’s face.
No one should get hit this much. I let go, imploring Victor to take it easy. Dean’s arms are free, reaching down into his waist. The gun is drawn and fires, twice. A third time. A fourth. All of them sink into my brother’s muscular torso while he gazes in disbelief, male deity fading from his eyes.
Something in me breaches, a barrier behind which the waters of my meekness have gathered, and I erupt, swarming over Dean. The arm holding the gun is suddenly broken, the forearm snaps. Someone is howling. My own arm begins to hit Dean, Aaron Carlson, the barking dog.
Then I am standing alone, over two men leaking blood in an alleyway. I rush to Victor, but it is too late to save him, or me.
David A. Elsensohn has been a toy store sales representative, a plumber’s apprentice, a Web designer, a spotlight operator, a production artist, a pizza maker, and a student, but enjoys coaxing language into pleasing arrangements more than any of these. He does make very good sandwiches, however, and his chili recipe gets appreciative nods from friends. He lives in Los Angeles with an inspirational wife and an curmudgeonly yet energetic black cat.