Here is the second-to-last very short story in a weekly series of fifty-two. Thank you for reading.
Les looked up at the mark on the wall, then back down at the floor. He was sitting in a comfortable chair. Les is more, he was told several times a month, usually as a kind of song whose melody rose and fell. He looked up again. The room was dim and the mark resembled his brother’s face. Milt had been killed in the war, not by a bullet or a bomb. His armored vehicle had tipped over the side of a low bridge and Milt got pinned down, his head submerged in the mud of the riverbed. The initial description of Milt’s death given to Les by the uniformed captain who came to his house six months ago to tell him the news did not include the detail of Milt’s head in the mud, but Les had insisted on knowing exactly how his brother had died, and the captain had told him, and now he knew and could not stop knowing. He drank, not every day but three or four or five days a week, enough so that each time, the knowledge of the manner of his brother’s death was submerged in the whiskey. Les had indeed been more, when his brother was alive. His brother’s body and thoughts and deeds had amplified Les’s own. This had often been a source of pain for Les. Milt was taller, stronger, smarter, braver. Les was older and lazy and tired and scared. His daughter came into the room. She was twelve. Her name was Dorla. “Thinking about Uncle Milt?” “Yeah.” “I miss him so much, Daddy.” “See that mark on the wall?” “I think so, it’s kinda dark in here.” “Doesn’t it look like him? Come here, doesn’t it?” “I don’t know, I’m not really seeing it. Want to play basketball?” “Sweetie, I’m drunk.” “I know.” “I can’t.” “Come on. Seriously. Get up. Please.” Les stood with effort. Dorla was beside him. He smelled coffee and saw now that she was holding a cup in her hand. “Put your right hand on my shoulder and take this cup in your left hand and drink it.” He did. “Okay now we’ll just go shoot some baskets.” He eased down the hall and out the door onto his driveway where the hoop was set up. The sun was going down. Dorla stood at the foul line Les had drawn several years ago and she threw the ball up into the basket. She took three more shots, made two and missed one. She passed the ball to Les and he nearly fell over catching it. He stood halfway between the foul line and the basket, aimed, shot, and missed everything except the side of the house. “You shoot and I’ll just watch, darling,” Les said. “No, Dad, shoot it again, come on, you can do it.” “Dorla, I can’t.” “Dad, look, the energy in the house has gotten pretty bad. Make some shots and then we’ll go in for dinner, where you should try to not be quite so drunk.” “Okay, okay, pass the ball.” She threw it, he caught it and wobbled again. He tried to bring himself more fully into the world through the feeling of the textured rubber against his fingertips. He would try to sink a basket, because for reasons beyond him to understand, this seemed to matter to Dorla, and to Kathy, his wife, who now stood at the kitchen window, her face obscured by the dusk she was looking out into.