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"Cartoon Hearts," short story excerpt

Monday 5/3/21



“Grow up to be like me, and you’ll be doing all right,” my brother Ken liked to say, even though we had started out almost the same age.

I imagined him talking to me after he was dead, because I still had a brother. Had had. I hoped it worked so that he still had a sister, though I figured he wouldn’t have much need for me. But our parents liked when we got along, especially at the end, which they knew about in ways I did not.

Previously I had wanted to kill Ken a bunch, like sisters do, as if he were a cartoon character but he’d really be fine, because I was also a cartoon character, and cartoon characters kill in bunches because nobody is really killing anybody. They’re just using fire and anvils like the rest of us use looks and words.

Once I said, “You are working my last nerve,” which was a line a great aunt of ours used, and hot chocolate came spewing out of his nose like one of those tapped fire hydrants on August vacations in towns that seem to have different rules than yours. He couldn’t stop laughing, and I told him he sucked and his suckage was of ass, but in reality I was proud I’d made him laugh that hard.

He used to pretend he was a vampire and the toy chest at the end of his bed was his coffin. You could go into his room and open the chest and sometimes he’d be there. God knows how long. Devotion in all caps. I’d just be able to see him close his eyes in time so that I wasn’t totally sure if they hadn’t always been closed and he may have been part vampire really.

When he most pissed me off, I’d think, “I’ll show him.” I had an elaborate plan to put stacks and stacks of books on the top of the chest so he couldn’t open the lid and climb out. He’d suffocate, or else just be totally fine because he was more than a kid.

“Time to walk the walk, bitch,” I’d think, because I was experimenting with swears in my thoughts, though I wasn’t ready to try any out loud.

“What are you thinking about?” he’d ask me on the rainy Saturday mornings, when they came and became the only kind we knew, when we watched real cartoons. We were so peaceful then and it wasn’t leftover sleep. Our parents weren’t even awake for the first couple hours. That’s how early it was—like it was still yesterday, only it wasn’t. I would be thinking about how those were my favorite times. No one else knew we had them. We wouldn’t go at each other. We shared animal crackers out of the box. I couldn’t say to him, “Thanks for asking,” my gratitude real because that wasn’t a question I ever got from anyone else, and it meant so much to me that he did the asking, and him of all people, or “you.” I’d have been a kind of naked in front of my brother that had nothing to do with clothes that I wasn’t ready for yet. And “us” always sounds selfish because there’s a “me” built into it, even when it’s true.

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