I have a new story online called “Little Brother.” It’s about childhood and darkness and togetherness and escape. It’s one of my favorite short pieces.
It’s had a long life. Though I should say “lives.” It has existed for many years in one form or another. Its longest life was as a chapter of my first novel, which itself had an adventure (agent, submissions, interest, but not enough). I didn’t give up on the chapter. I adapted it to stand alone in these 1,300 words, which encapsulate a lot of overlapping ideas and theories and worlds that tumble around together in my memory of childhood with my sisters. In the story, they’re both older than me. In real life, I’m the oldest. But age is funny. We’re all older and somewhat wiser now, with spouses and children and good and bad jobs. Age doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. I’m so lucky to be close to them now. This story is for them, for us, honoring a piece of the vast, sacred weirdness we went through together.
I saw them up ahead of us beside the road, eight or nine moving in the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the curb, sure they would flee as soon as I stopped at the light at the corner, but they had city-bird courage, a sturdy flock; browns, grays, ivories, tans made over in the morning light diffused by the fog. Stubby beaks neat and trim, black eyes round as obsidian pearl, heads clicking at angles at every sound and potential danger, as I watched them with love so near the car in the grass alive with green lividity from the week-long rain. They nibbled at the flowering blades, snipping the seeds so neatly, as I waited for the light to change, my human form hidden behind the curved metal and glass shapes they were used to seeing flash by like fleeing buildings.
Sparrows out for their morning hunt. For seeds and soggy moths. Battered beetles and breadcrumbs. I turned the car to take my son the last few blocks to school, and did not point out the birds. We’d been there for a few seconds and he was listening to the song on the radio looking out his own window at the fog in silence, a six-year-old person with a father who stares at sparrows. The cost of an education changes families. Mothers and father disappear into duty. Who will they vote for? Is another mistake unavoidable? Who will care for their parents and their parents before them? What is it to tell someone about the beauty that lies in the grass between the road and the sidewalk, someone trying to prove between stoplights, weekends, birthdays, and funerals that the world is made vast by small brave beings alive in the grass here with us, alive in eternal feathery abundance. The song on the radio went on for years. The boy left the car and there was no school. You turn and see your father. He’s doing something you don’t understand and when you see this you understand a few words of something he said before that made no sense at the time. You swallow some kind of hatred you’re afraid of.