Our family owns three cars between us. The family car which Tim had driven. Marty’s car which he had driven and Donna’s car which was at the garage for a tune up, and had been since last Wednesday. Poppa and I had hopped the bus since it was only a few blocks from the station. Getting my family into the parking lot was hard enough; the real battle was over who would ride with whom.
I had no say in the matter. Momma and Poppa would be in the family car and so would I if I knew what was good for me – and I did. Normally everyone wants to ride in Tim’s car – mostly for the novelty. Not today, of course. All the squabbling was over who got to ride in the family car. I sat silently beside my father waiting for my mother to select the winning contestants and get in. There was no point trying to convince anyone to just get in already – when you are a big family who’s in what car is a big deal. Had I been less tired, I’d have been more understanding. After all, I’d had my fair share of those arguments, too.
Ten minutes and one small fistfight later, Donna, Lisa and Jane piled in the back with Kevin as Momma slid in beside me. Bucket seats have never been an option on any vehicle our family has owned for obvious reasons. Kevin kept rubbing his eye and Momma started fussing over him, much to my relief. For myself, I figured it served him right for yelling at Mike like he did. Mike is the runt of the family and he fights like it. Kevin knew better and is bigger. As eldest brother, I had no sympathy for his black eye at all.
I sat back and closed my eyes, listening to the cacophony that is my family life. It’s soothing, in a way. because it’s so normal to me. I decided to just enjoy it and try not to think about what had happened. The bangers, whatever they really were, and those dogs didn’t scare me even now; what I’d done, however, very much did. It was easier to just drift off to the music of my ever noisy family. Easier, and less terrifying.
We were nearly home when Momma woke me, terrified that I had a concussion. I felt a bit better so it wasn’t as much of a strain to convince her that I was really okay. Momma has never been a hypochondriac; she rarely even goes to the doctor for herself. But let a kid sniffle and we’re on the way to the ER. Not sure what that’s called, but whatever it is, it makes for an interesting time with Momma anytime something’s not right.
I had just gotten Momma to calm down and was combing back my hair where she had been feeling for lumps – with Tina’s help, the little brat, when the house finally came in view. Several neighbors were out on our stoop but only one caught my eye. Crystal was sitting on the step talking to Mr Myers. I grinned. Today wasn’t a total loss, after all.
Most of the neighbors were satisfied with seeing me on my feet and saying a word or two to either me or Momma – which was just fine with me. They quickly wandered off. The family, on the other hand, could barely wait for the expanded version of my story. I had just enough time to ask Crystal to join us for dinner before they began to clamor around me again.
This time, I had a way out. No one in my family, and precious few guests, had sat down to my Momma’s table in coveralls in my twenty-one years of life. I would not be the first, mostly because it seemed pointless to survive this afternoon’s ordeal just to have Momma kill me. I refused to start telling them again and insisted on going to my apartment, with Tim in tow for Momma’s benefit, and getting changed. After making sure Crystal would be joining us, I trotted up the stoop and headed for my apartment, my brother Tim on my heels.
As I closed the door, Tim flopped on my couch, "Are you trying to get me in trouble with Momma?" he demanded.
I grinned, tossing my keys on the dresser, "You ran track, not me."
He leaned back, "Yeah, well, you’re getting faster. I had to run to keep up."
I rolled my eyes, "Sure, sure…" I headed for my bedroom.
"Seriously, you are. What have you been…" Tim stopped as his phone rang.
I smiled at my brother and went in to change. As I closed the door he called after me, "Get a quick shower, man…"
I was already undressing. Any of my other siblings would have been just giving me a hard time but Tim probably had a point. I normally wash up after work – welding is hot, sweaty work at best and occasionally very smelly from the various metals and chemicals we use. I hopped into the shower, hoping it wasn’t bad and mostly that Crystal hadn’t noticed.
I felt better after the shower. Tim had been right, of course. Dressed and presentable, I walked into my living room. Tim looked up from the phone.
If I had been smiling, I wasn’t now. He ended his call and turned to me, "Chester is in surgery again. One of his ribs punctured a lung and evidently a part of the bone broke of in it and they didn’t realize at first. They’re going back in after it. It’s not good, Jack – they’ve told the family to expect the worst."
I sat on the nearest chair and just stared into space. Chester was the father of two, married forty-three years and had taught me more about welding than any instructor ever had. No nonsense and quiet spoken, he wasn’t much like Mr J at all, but the idea of losing them both cut like a knife.
Tim gave me the minute I needed before speaking again. "Gina said to thank you. No matter what happens, they know you did your best to help him. Gina said her mom wanted you to know that."
I nodded. I’d met Chester’s wife a few times before so I knew who she was but didn’t know her well. I only knew Gina because she had dated Tim in school. I had met Chester’s boy Bobby only once when he stopped by work to talk to his dad. They were a nice and, compared to us, quiet family. I cursed myself – why hadn’t I realized sooner? What didn’t I do that I should have?
Tim swatted me lightly with a rolled up magazine. I looked at my crazy brother, "What?"
"Stop blaming yourself. It’s stupid. Besides, you have to go to dinner, remember? You don’t have time to be an idiot now."
I swear, Tim should have his own mind reading show. He did that sort of thing all the time – he was even worse than Donna who might at least occasionally be wrong. I wanted to argue with him but he was right. I really didn’t have time. I sighed and got to my feet. "You mind telling the folks?"
Tim shook his head, "No."
Trying not to look as dejected as I felt, I headed for the door.