He calls from a payphone. “I’m going to the woods,” he says.
I try, “Oh? Um. Yeah?” Then, because I can’t stop myself, “Why?”
“Goddammit!” He explodes at me, “Because it’s all I can f-ing do right now! Ok?”
Quickly, “Yes! Yes, OK.” I take a deep breath. “But just think, you could come here?” He needs to be reminded of choices.
“Yeah, your husband would love that.”
The two men in my life, my engineer husband, with his checklists and fail safes and backups for the backup plan, verses my brother, the artist.
My husband: “If he’s an artist, show me his work. Show me one thing he’s created. Just one.”
I respond with my brother’s words: “Art isn’t quantifiable.”
“Do you have food?” I ask my little brother, “Water, a tent, matches? A shovel? Pliers?”
“Pliers? Really?” He laughs, a low chuckle that flows down my spine like warm water. He knows the joke was contrived, but he laughs anyway. Things aren’t as bad as they seem.
“I’ve got it covered,” He says. This isn’t the first time he’s pulled a Thoreau.
I want to cry. But instead I say, “It’s already fall.” My voice sounds choked. “I wish you’d get a cell phone.”
“You know those things radiate cancer.”
I hold in my sigh. I don’t want to end on an argument. “I love you, Please be careful.”
I hear the clunk of the heavy old handset hitting something, but the connection doesn’t end. Perhaps the bygone pay phone is broken after all. I hear the squeal of the phone booth door and then the sounds of shoes hitting pavement, a brisk walk that quickly fades away.
Long minutes later, I still have the phone to my ear, absorbing the sounds of the occasional passing car and what might be an hooting owl, when my husband enters the kitchen. “Who is it?” he mouths silently. Then he points to the stove. The pasta water is boiling over.
I touch the end call button. “Nothing. Silence,” I say, turning down the flames.