“Older Brother” by Robin Wyatt Dunn

“Older brother?”

“Not now, I’m busy.”

The papers shuffled make a noise like a river on a bank.

“Older brother?”

“What is it?”

“Nothing.”

Outside it is dark, and the crows are standing on the electric wire. She goes to the window and watches the tram hitch past.

“I need more ink,” Older Brother says, staring at the screen.

“I’ll get you some.”

“Now.”

She puts on her coat and goes out into the dark. No one will be selling ink at this hour, she thinks. The newsagent is shut, and the bodega. But there is a vending machine, catering to writers, by the subway. 

“Give us some love, eh, Sally?”

“I’ll give you my boot up your bum!” she says, flashing her teeth.

“Oh please say you will.”

The ink is two pounds. She was saving it for a donut, the kind she likes. She hasn’t eaten one in three weeks. It’s the French cruller with the curls.

The ink is in a small satchet, like take-out Kikkoman. She drops the coin into the slot.

“Jesus I’m lonely!” the old man cries.

“Better go downstairs, you old bugger, it’s cold.”

– – 

All the days are the same. The morning. The wash. The electric telephone. Her nap under the bed, while her brother works. Sometimes she dreams. Outside, the city is attempting to kill both of them, in the ordinary way of cities, through a combination of neglect and menace.

Today it is sausage, which she hates. She cooks it open it in the pan, and ties up her hair so that it will not stink. She hates the smell of it; the way it sticks to her fingers, and her skin, and the walls. 

She hands the plate to Older Brother. He doesn’t look up. He is staring at the screen he will not let her use.

“Older Brother?”

“What.”

“I’m going out for a minute.”

“I need you.”

“Just for a minute.”

He watches her like the crows do, dark and light moving over his face.

It’s cold. She walks to the trees by the park because they have a smell that reminds her of her home when she was little, before they had come to town, and the accident.

She lights a cigarette under the lamppost and watches the birds. Starling, grackel, pigeon, wren. Robin, seagull. And on the pine, high at the top, she can just make out a hawk. She is like the hawk too, only smaller, with lighter coloring. She watches the street and waits for it to come for her, which it always does.

– – 

They’re dreams too, just the kind that happen while you’re awake. The images fluttering behind her eyelids.

– – 

The ink goes into the pen like a stick of glue into an old fashioned gun, rammed in at the end unceremoniously, screwed in tight. No other brand will do for Older Brother. He writes his art on fine paper she buys from the newsagent. He keeps it inside his jacket. Sometimes they are ransom notes. Sometimes love letters. Once she helped him write an executioner’s plea, asking the public to help him find his mark, fled from the gallows. 

All winter she has watched the sky change color, from lead to gray. Now it is almost white.

“I’m going out,” she says.

“You just went out.”

“I’m going out again.”

– – 

Her hair is the color of honey, but she has taken to coloring it, like the birds at the approach of Spring. She never wears lipstick or eye shadow. She used to wear high heels but the boys took them from her, as a jape. Now it is only flats. She is quite short; she has to stand on her tiptoes to see the train over the railing. 

“Missy, wear a scarf, you’ll catch your death.”

The man is from some previous century. Like a landlord before they were taken over by computers. 

“Do you think death is real?” she asks him.

“Real as your cute face.”

“Can you buy me a scarf?”

“What color?”

“Red.”

– – 

The train is coming; roaring like Wendigo flung over the tundra. In her mind she can see him, a red flash over the white, like the wool against her neck.


Robin Wyatt Dunn was born in Wyoming in 1979. You can read more of his work at www.robindunn.com.