Barely Breathing

Ben Tanzer

I don’t want to be in this car, winding through dark, twisty roads in the hills above Two Rivers as the rain is coming down and will not stop.
Unceasing and taking out everything in its path, trees, power lines, lampposts, and houses, as the water surges above the swollen banks of the Susquehanna River, and flows across the South Side, surging through Thirsty’s, across the Plaza 5, the Whole in the Wall restaurant, and Robby’s Liquors..
And I see all of this because I am stuck in this car I do not want to be in, winding through the dark, flooded streets, with my brother Jack who I don’t want to be with either.
Jack who tormented me as a child, the endless globs of spit so very close to my face, dangling there as he pinned me down with this knees.
Jack who drank too much and left home in the middle of the night with a big fuck-you to me, my mom, and dad, no note, no nothing.
Jack who comes and goes, but mostly goes, and who may be a time traveler, for how else to explain his otherwise otherworldly, all-knowing understanding of what is to come?
Jack who knew this storm was coming and that there would be flooding like no one in Two Rivers has seen in a century or more.
How did he know, I don’t know, nor do I know where he came from, but there he was on the breezeway, a touch of magic, and the smell of smoke. With his goddamned smile, perfect teeth, cheekbones so sharp they could cut glass, and those funky fucking eyes, one green, and one blue and gold, ethereal, and ephemeral, here, then gone, just like him.
He’s back again though, just like that, in the middle of the fucking storm of the century, standing there, with his feathered 80’s Scott Baio hair and that goddamn smile, and he grips my shoulder and he says, “we need to go little brother, we have to go to the cemetery and Little John’s grave.”

Little John, our younger brother, who didn’t make it past four months of life, one day full of breath, and the next, not, nothing, just cold.
Our parents never recovered from that, and there they are, inside the house, molded to the couch, unmoving, and barely breathing themselves.
“Do you want to see mom and dad?” I say. “They’ll want to see you.”
“No, why, who wants that,” he says, already moving on his head.
I do, I want to scream, and I need you to need that. I’m doing this all alone, and I got nothing man, don’t you get that?
But he doesn’t get that, and he won’t, why would he, he’s light and space, hurtling across the cosmos, and I am here, nowhere, and lost.
He’s just standing in the rain, the fucking rain that will not stop, and we need to go to the cemetery, because he won’t do it himself, because that’s beneath him, Jack, the fucking boy king of Two Rivers, in his leather jacket, with that hair, and that fucking smile.
But it’s not just that either. He knows better than to do this alone. He needs me to be complicit in his crimes. Jack won’t go down by himself, he will rise alone, yes, always, but there will be no solo descent.
Even then, there is also the fear of the unknown, and what awaits us, death, and decay, and the idea that someone must be to blame. He is not without blame, because who is, no one, that’s who?
So, we must go to the grave, in this weather, and we have to drive, in my car, though I am not driving. Jack must drive, he is the king, he is back, and this is what we must do, we must be in the car, doing what I don’t want to do, on roads I don’t want to be on, driving in weather I want to avoid.
“Where have you been Jack,” I say hoping to calm my nerves.
“Everywhere,” he says, “from the deserts to the oceans, the future and the past, to Mars and back.”
And maybe he has, he’s Jack, and who I am to question that?
I suppose I could ask him why Little John’s grave is so important to him, but I don’t need to. It’s not like it’s a portal or anything like that, though if it was that might help explain some things.
But no, I know what it is, the money is there, it has to be, the money from the hold-up at the gas station I worked at.
Not that it mattered to him, but I told him too much about how much cash was kept on hand, how Mr. Young would count it at night after the last shift, gleefully, childishly.
How anyone could take it.
Was I showing-off? I was. Some messed-up attempt to sound cool, I guess, and did I want something to happen, anything, maybe I did. Did someone hit me in the back of the head as I swept the front of the station? Under the sickly fluorescent lights, the gnats flying everywhere like a dark cloud hovering overhead. But did I still remain conscious enough to see a leather-jacketed assailant fighting with Mr. Young, as the police sirens started to blare, and that same assailant drive off into the hills, not to be seen since as he traveled from the desserts to the oceans, and maybe Mars? I did. And is that same assailant back now? Coming home for the money he is scared will surface as the rain continues to pound South Mountain and the cemetery begins to flood, and the bodies begin to rise, floating down the mountain and home again?
Because just as the future is the past, the past is destined to repeat itself, the rain will come, the dead will rise, and Jack will get his money.
But we have to get there first, dodging tree branches and downed power lines, as we drive in this car I don’t want to be in to somewhere I do not want to go.
Why are animals crossing the road two at a time though? I do not know, but they are, heading up the mountain to whatever something awaits them there.
Which is what we are looking at Jack and I, cows, porcupines, deer, and pigs trudging along, and we are distracted, and it’s raining so fucking hard, and I do not want to be in this car, and there is a thump, and we are spinning, flying, out of control, sliding off of the road and into a ditch, rolling over, the front fender caving in as we go into the side of the ditch with a smash and boom.
Jack isn’t wearing his seatbelt and when he flies forward his head hits the window and his chest the steering wheel, and there is blood and slump, as he crumbles into his seat, the car now upside down, stuck, the only sound that of the rain hitting the bottom of the car, which is now the top, as it washes the whole world away.
Jack begins to stir. He is tangled in the steering wheel. Hanging in front of me, and swaying back and forth.
“Get help,” he slurs, “I feel this incredible weight on my chest, and I can’t move my arms. Do something, please.”
I look at him, holding on, and I believe I can do something good here, right, but I don’t, instead, I reach out with my right hand and cover his mouth, and then with my left hand I pinch his nose closed. At first he tries to fight back, wriggling, but then he stops, and he floats away.
There is no more struggle, just the rain, and me, alone, waiting for help, upside down, and free.

BEN TANZER is the author of the books My Father’s House, You Can Make Him Like You, So Different Now and the forthcoming Orphans and Lost in Space, among others. He also oversees day to day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life, directs Publicity and Content Strategy for Curbside Splendor, and can be found online at This Blog Will Change Your Life the center of his growing lifestyle empire.