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Native Son

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Rubber hit pavement like an angry punch as Brett sped out for Lena's place, his truck fishtailing out of the garage parking lot.

She did it again. Good thing Richie can dial a phone.

Two mating flies flew apart when Brett thundered through the screen door. He scooped a screaming Lily from the heap of battered toys on the floor, holding her and cooing.

He gently put the baby in her crib and hurried into Lena's dark, dank bedroom.

Six-year-old Richie sat by Lena as she lay unconscious on her dingy bed; tattered sheets intertwined around her legs. Brett winced at the odor of old beer and overflowing ashtrays. The little boy, clad in a dirty Star Wars t-shirt and underwear, patted Lena's brow with a moist washcloth.

"Richie," Brett said. He warily toed a pile of dirty clothes with his boot as if he feared something would crawl from beneath them.

The boy turned and nodded at Brett with a milky gaze, his eyes like dull agate marbles. He turned back to his mother.

Brett scanned under the bed and saw a syringe, belt, pipe and other instruments Lena used to escape.

"Damn," he said. He knelt beside Richie, grasping his tiny arm. Lena moaned awake.

"Richie, get your momma some water or something, okay?" The child nodded and obediently left the room. Momma needs something more than water.

"Lena?" Brett lightly smacked her cheeks. She was back to her old habits, but didn't appear to be in trouble this time. No need for the hospital--at least not the emergency room. He looked at her ruined arm--tattooed on her delicate limb like a rusting rail yard was a messy map of tracks.

"Huh?" she said, slurring and beating the sheet with her fist, slowly.

"Wake up Lena. Time to wake up."

"Damn you Brett, fuck off," she said into her pillow.

Richie brought water in an old McDonald's cup to the bedside.

"Thanks Richie," Brett said, taking the water from him. "Buddy would you do me a favor and go check on Lily?"

The boy nodded and did as he was asked.

Brett closed the door behind the boy and threw the water on Lena's head. She barely moved. He picked up his sister-in-law and shoved her wrecked body in the shower. She screamed, outraged at the cold water and Brett. She made no attempt to cover her bare breasts with her hands.

"God dammit Brett let me go," she wailed. His hand held her by the neck under the cold water. The water climbed up the length of his denim shirtsleeve.

<><><>

Brett's brother Chuck married Lena right out of high school. Brett was best man. Brett kept a crumpled wedding snapshot in his wallet: Chuck popping a cheap bottle of sparking wine as Brett gave the bride a brotherly kiss on the cheek. He thought of Chuck and his vow to marry Lena because he got her pregnant. No amount of convincing would get Lena to end the life growing inside her.

They had a good first few years, even though money was tight. Chuck worked a series of odd jobs--including a stint at the garage Brett managed, but he just didn't have the knack for working with tools. He took care of little Richie and Lena, but he needed college if he was going to make what he called "real money, " so Chuck shipped out with the Army Reserve.

He was at Fort Benning after the towers came down. By the time Afghanistan was in full swing and Iraq squarely in America's crosshairs, he was on a plane to places he couldn't pronounce.

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