Excerpt from "Dunedin":
There have been times in my life when I have wondered what is real. When Max had his stroke, I wondered for a second. Was it happening? Was it a cartoon? Was it a nightmare? Was it the end? I was prepared to think this way. We had this babysitter when we were kids. Max went to bed earlier than I did, even when he didn’t have to. He liked it. He thought in bed a lot, and that gave him peace. Other people that just destroys. The babysitter was my friend’s older sister. She was in high school and everyone called her the Blow Queen because she sucked off a lot of guys. Or that was what was said. So maybe it wasn’t true. Max had gone to bed and I used the small bathroom near our kitchen which was the one the Blow Queen used. I only used it when she was over. You could barely turn around in there. No shower. There was shit everywhere. Sink, mirror, on the tiles. Human shit. I didn’t go in. I closed the door. I heard our parents come home when I was in bed. I heard the Blow Queen say goodnight and leave. I went downstairs after everyone was asleep, and I opened the bathroom door. It was spotless. I didn’t say anything to my parents. She babysat for us again, and each time I’d check the bathroom. She never did it again, and I wondered if she had done it in the first place. There was no shit on the walls. Only the places you could easily clean it from.
Max was born in that same house that he almost died in. I don’t know why our parents opted for a home birth. The room he was born in became his room when he was a baby, before we shared one because we wanted to. My mom told me that one night, after I was born, and before Max was, she was in that room. There was a rocking chair there. She read mystery novels, rocking, when she couldn’t sleep because of what was on her mind, or my dad was snoring. And she said that when she was really tired one time but definitely not asleep, she saw her dad’s ghost come to her in that room. I knew about the Blow Queen by then, so I let my mom talk, and didn’t say, “well, you can really think something happened and maybe it didn’t, just like you can think nothing happened and something bigger than everything did.” I never saw the ghost, but I definitely saw that shit—probably.
Share had a birthmark under her left clavicle. It was a darker brown—trending to caramel, only scumbled by the sun—than it had been the last time we were here, and scapula-shaped, as if her chest were a flesh-based aquifer, and this shrunken-down image of her shoulder blade had leeched through to her front portion, becoming something your eyes went towards, with certain people’s eyes naturally going further, because that was the directional flow, among other forms of flow.
“Sleepy,” she said, as she mock-rolled backwards—she had been sitting forwards—against the couch.
It was our first night there. Three in the morning and we were sitting up. She didn’t go to bed until almost dawn. Rhoda reruns were playing on Nick at Nite. We were at opposite ends of the couch, and the way she moved, as she rolled backwards, with her arms in their casts, and only the glow of the television set, made her look like Frankenstein’s lurching monster--or Caligari’s, given the somnolent element—but obviously not like a monster at all, the furthest thing from a monster.
“I can’t believe you’re still awake,” she said. I said nah, of course I wasn’t tired, though I was, and as she fell asleep and tilted towards me, I noticed that the scapula birthmark was on her left side rather than her right. You could see down her shirt. I knew it was wrong to look, and I didn’t. But that was probably only because of what she had been telling me—as someone who was not drunk, but who sounded as if she were, like all that tea made her slur her words, or maybe it was sadness or confusion. But who knows. I acted like I did, because I thought that I did.
Blow Queens and shit, mothers and ghosts, peripatetic birth marks—or what someone tells you about what their brother did. Or didn’t do. It’s funny: the things you later think could have been so many things, tend to occur in our lives such that, in their very momentness, we think they could only be one thing. Not “ha ha” funny, obviously.
Sometimes, instead of laughing, after his stroke, Max would actually say “ha ha,” which also allowed him to start and end his sentence with the same word.