Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Brother's Keeper by Brian Lindenmuth

“I knew there were others like me who had brothers they did not understand but wanted to help. We are probably those referred to as “our brothers keepers,” possessed by one of the oldest and possibly one of the most futile and certainly one of the most haunting
of instincts. It will not let us go.”

A River Runs Through It

He stood there, in the middle of his brother’s living room, and felt
the sounds and bustle of family and domesticity wash over him. He was
less then twelve hours out of jail after doing twelve years for a
crime he didn't commit and these sounds were foreign to him. His
brother had picked him up from the motel, brought him to his house
then left him in the living room with shouts to "make yourself at
home", not knowing quite what to do with him. He felt vaguely dirty
and guilty as if he was eavesdropping. Buried beneath all of this he
felt longing. He longed to possess these sounds and take them into
him and keep them forever. He so badly wanted his own set of domestic
sounds. The unfulfilled desire coupled with the knowledge of its
absence hurt him deeply. The only thing worse than hurting was knowing
why and being unable to do anything about it. He was lonely and alone
and he knew it.

Twelve years ago they said he beat her and punched her in the gut hard
enough to lose the child few knew she was carrying. He hadn’t, his
brother had been the violent one that night.

His prodigal brother’s star had always been on the ascendancy, shining
bright in others eyes. The star blinded many to his brother's
shortcomings and a ready excuse was always quick to free him of blame.
Unlike his brother he had always been written off and cast aside.
But those were the actions of others and he still loved his brother.

Living in the glow of his brother's radiance had taught him to be an
observer and in silence he became a quick study of people. He saw the
changes in his brother's girlfriend before anyone else did and he also
saw his brother's eyes after she told him. When their old man told
him that his brother and her went to the quarry instead of their usual
Friday night movie he knew.

He knew what his brother was going to do that night and was unable to
get there in time to stop it. He knew that he could protect his
brother by taking the blame and not one person would doubt it. He
drove his brother to the end of the street where they lived and let
him out to walk the rest of the way home telling him he would take
care of it. He did it because he believed that any man who turned his
back on his family was no good and he didn't want his brothers more
promising future to be jeopardized. He was stronger than people
thought and he would lie about what happened and his brother was
weaker than people thought and would let him.

"Uncle Joe, when did you get here?"

He refocused on the present. "Just a little bit ago."

"Where's Frank" He knew his niece had stopped saying Dad awhile back
but to hear it was jarring.

"He said he'd be back in a minute."

He still hadn't lost his heightened jail sense, the one that told when
shit was coming, the one a man learned to trust in order to survive,
the one that kept him alive. He knew something was wrong. He knew
something was coming.

"You knew that didn't you? Were you listening from the kitchen?"

"I was."


"Frank and I don't do the same room thing anymore."

He thought he saw a ghost of a look on her face, one he recognized
from jail. The broken look that new guys wore after a few nights and
sometimes many more after. A look of personal hell and violation. He
shook it off because he wasn't in jail anymore and knew he was still
trying to adjust.

With all of the light tone he could manage he asked, "What'd you do to
your arm?" He almost said kiddo but stopped just short.

This time, as she pushed her sleeve down, he knew he saw the look.
Looking through him she said, "Frank".

He felt movement upstairs coming closer. For the first time she looked
right at him and his jail hardened soul jumped.

"I really don't mind the scars," she said.

With that confession she let him into a small select club. She looked
at him fully with eyes older then her age to see if he understood
that. He did. He held her gaze and nodded slightly.

He stood there for four breaths, unable to speak. The silence fitting
and necessary. The third breath was the deepest of them all and the
fourth held a finality to it, as if a decision had been reached.

He knew he had to leave. With something breaking inside of him he
left in silence, quickly and quietly. After the door clicked shut a
question, directed towards him, hung in the air, then fell away

In a moment of strength he turned his back on his family because after
the things he did in jail he knew he was no good. He knew that
sometime later, in a moment of weakness, after some preparation, he
would again be who they all thought he was. He'd be back.

Once, he'd gone to jail because of his brother. Now, he'd be going
home again because of him.


  1. Hey, you need to write more stories, Brian. Really poignant and lovely writing.

  2. I agree with Patti. This is great.

  3. The reviewer writes! Great job and an act of courage, Brian. Congratulations!

  4. Nice one, Brian! So when are we going to see the "Teddy Bears" published somewhere?

  5. I'll repeat what others have already said. A moving, beautifully written story, Brian.

  6. A lot packed into a short piece. Great work.

  7. I was uncertain, given the heavy volume of back story at the beginning, if I would cotton to this. It wound up being one of my favorites of the challenge roster. You tackled a courageous theme and, with powerful and cleverly constructed sentences, you drive it into us. This manages deep observation, surprise, lyricism, quietude and force, all within 800 words. Great work.

  8. Fine work. Poignant and strong. Nice characterization

  9. Families and how to survive them. This is wonderful. Powerful stuff.

  10. I really liked this piece. It reminded me No Country for Old Men. Very powerful and subtle.

  11. Brian, this is wonderful, and you took me where I did not expect to go.