Guilty by MJ McGinn

“You think he deserved it?”

My kid brother shrugs at that and looks out the window which I figure is a yes. A soft yes, but a yes nonetheless. Also, I guess he’s not a kid anymore since he’s a college freshman and everything. The waitress brings our beers, well just my beer seeing as Timmy is only drinking water.

I say, “I think he deserves it. Like what if that was our grandma, dude?”

He sucks his water through the straw, still looking out the window. He says, “Both our grandma’s are already dead, dude.”

I sip my beer, well it’s more like a gulp. I’ve never been too hot at this older brother thing. I mean, Timmy’s always just been a little kid to me. Like eight years is a big difference, a huge difference. I was getting my MBA before he even graduated high school. Besides it’s not like there’s a playbook for how to talk to your kid brother the day after his best buddy gets seven years. If we’re being honest it should probably be more like seventy. Dude killed a grandma. They didn’t call it murder, but that’s what it was.

Timmy says, “You know those bombs they dropped on Japan?”

Well, that came out of nowhere. One second we’re talking about his best buddy, the murderer and the next we’re talking about World War II, but I figure I’ll just go with it. “Yeah. What about them?”

“Well, I read this thing that said the explosion was so hot and so fast that the only thing left of people in the blast zone was their shadows.”

I take another gulp of beer. I ordered it because it was 8.5%, but it tastes like what I assume dysentery tastes like. I say, “I never heard that.”

“Yeah, well it’s true. It’s science.”

I look out the window to try and see what he’s looking at, but there’s nothing. I mean, there is shit out there but not shit worth staring at. This part of Philly is pretty bleak. Gas stations and row homes and entrances to the highway. I say, “So what?”

“What do you mean ‘so what’?”

“I mean, what’s the point of your story about the bombs?”

“I just think it’s kind of beautiful. Like even a nuclear weapon can’t really get rid of you. It’s like this is all so permanent, you know?”

I gulp my beer again and make the international sign for a refill to our waitress who ignores me. I say, “That’s a fucked up thing to think.”

He coughs into his elbow like a vampire and looks me directly in the eyes for the first time since we walked in, “Fuck you, Casey. Seriously, fuck you.”

He gets up and dips out of the bar, leaving his stone gray pea coat hanging from the back of his chair like a ghost. I chase after him. Well, chase isn’t really right because I’m walking and I take a quick detour to ask the waitress for another dysentery beer, but technically I’m chasing him.

Outside, Timmy is lighting a cigarette. Well, he’s struggling to light a cigarette. I hold up a hand to block the wind and say, “I didn’t know you smoked.”

He inhales deep, looking at the gas station across the street. He says, “Dude, the night Pat killed that lady—I don’t know—it shouldn’t have happened.”

I make a face like no shit.

He takes another pull from the cig and the smoke gets in his eyes so his tearing up a bit when he says, “Fuck off, dude, just listen to me. Like for once just shut the fuck up and listen to me. McCabe’s parents came home that night and kicked everybody out of their house and Pat was like ‘I can’t drive home’ and they were like ‘whatever you have to’ and then he called his brother and his brother was like ‘fuck off figure it out’ and then he drove home and t-boned that lady and now she’s dead and he’s in prison. Like I’m in college and Pat is in prison and this shit is forever. What we do is forever.”

I know what he’s not saying, what he’s asking me. I’m not completely oblivious. It would be so easy to stand there and say if everything was different, if he was the one calling, if he was the one who needed someone’s help; I’d have been there. It would be so easy to say that.

MJ McGinn grew up outside of Philadelphia and received his MFA from Adelphi University. His work has been named to Wigleaf’s 50 best very short stories of 2017 and has previously appeared in the Guernica/PEN flash series, Village of Crickets, Tiferet Online Journal, Necessary Fiction, and PEN America.

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