By: Kris Bone
Every year, when Ma would give Gran our school pictures to post up on her fridge, Gran would hold up Davis’ first and say “You could be a model, boy.” When Davis was in grade school, back when all his teeth were taking turns falling out and Gramps was still cutting his hair out in the garage with one of Gran’s mixing bowls on his head to make sure it was cut even, Davis would just say “Thanks Gran,” and that’d be the end of it. By the time he got to high school, Gran would tell him he could be a model and he’d be saying “Sure Gran, I know it.”
Ma would holler ’til she was hoarse outside the bathroom door while the steam curled out underneath it, on account of we all knew that Davis was just running the water as an excuse to stand in front of the mirror and practice flexing his arms. He used to have to get Annie to pull a card out of a deck to decide which girl he’d take to the dances at Rutherford Presbyterian. Clubs meant one of the girls from school, spades was a girl from the drugstore, hearts and diamonds I don’t remember. Sometimes he’d have her pull a second time if he didn’t like the one he got.
Some weeks it seemed like Davis had a different date every night. He got sick of Ma giving him a curfew when he borrowed her car, so he bought his own truck with money from his summer job at the elastic band factory: an old half-ton with a bench seat and rust in the wheel wells. Anytime he’d snatch his keys off their hook, Ma would ask him where he thought he was going, and he’d always tell her that he was just headed out to take a good look at the stars. That made Ma laugh, and we started to kid Davis that he’d make a hell of an astronomer one day, what with all his studying. We knew that he couldn’t have found you the big dipper if you’d tattooed it on the back of his hand.
Ma’s night vision was no good, so she hauled me out of bed when the call came in. Shoved the keys to the Chevrolet into my hands so hard that she dug a notch in my palm, made me drive the highway in my pyjamas and barefoot. The whole way into town she was breathing quick and shallow, like she was about to heave up. When we pulled over in front of the credit union, Davis was sitting wide-eyed on the back fender of an ambulance. Blood was coming down his face from under his nose, running into his mouth and making his teeth look like river stones, slick and red. He kept saying “I couldn’t see him, I couldn’t see nothing,” but with all the blood he sort of sputtered and bubbled the words out rather than spoke them.
Ma just about cried when she saw the sheet splayed onto the curb. Davis’ Ford was parked a few feet back, driver’s side door still open, engine growling, and under the headlights the sheet was full and still and threw a shadow like a black puddle on the pavement. Davis had stomped the brakes so hard when the poor kid had stepped out in front of his truck that he’d cleaved his own lip clean open, slammed it between the top of the steering wheel and one of his teeth. For three weeks you could still make out the skids he left on the street, snub-nosed exclamation marks with the points taken off.
Davis got taken in, but mostly just so they could sew him up. We left his truck in the credit union’s lot for the night and followed the ambulance out to the hospital. Ma and I sat in the waiting room while they put him back together. She couldn’t decide whether she was going to nod off on my shoulder or keep crying, so she did a little of both. Me, I couldn’t hardly shut my eyes. As Davis’ older brother, I figured I had a sort of responsibility to be the one to give him a shot in the arm and tell him to keep his chin up. But any advice I could think of felt like it was chained to the bottom of my guts, and even imagining the words coming out of my mouth dredged up a real mess in the pit of my stomach.
Wound up that I didn’t have to say anything. Davis was stone silent on the ride home. His mouth wasn’t much in the shape to gab anyway. I let Ma rest in the backseat, and Davis sat huddled up on the passenger side, facing away from me. His head jerked back and forth across the gravel shoulder until we pulled into the front drive.
After I helped Ma back up to her room, I offered to put the kettle on the stove for some coffee but Davis shook his head no. I asked him if he wanted a beer instead and he acted like he didn’t hear. I sat across the kitchen table from him for a half hour in the dead quiet before I took myself to bed.
When Annie got up early for school the next morning, she saw Davis sitting on the back porch. Far as we can tell he hadn’t slept any. He was sitting with his back to her, hunched over on the wooden railing with his legs dangling down. Annie hadn’t heard what had happened. When she tapped on the window to say good morning, he turned around and she dropped the cereal bowl she was holding and it smashed in the sink. Davis’ face was dried blood over ripe plum bruise, mouth all swollen up from the impact and exhaustion kicking in the tender skin around his eyes. She was so scared she started sobbing right there in the kitchen.
When the reporter showed up on our stoop later that day, Ma swung a shovel at him to chase him off, but the headlines still made it into the papers. It was a week before the school called to ask where Davis was, but Ma told them that they knew damn well, and that he’d come back when he was good and ready.
Took a fair while, but Davis’ lip knitted itself back together and all that swelling sucked back inside of him. Only trace left was an inch-long seam underneath his left nostril with two little rivets of skin on either side where the stitches went in. Davis kept hoping it’d fade away, but it stayed practically fresh: always that soft, waxy pink. He didn’t run the shower anymore, but he still planted himself in front of the bathroom mirror after everything was said and done. Didn’t take a pair of X-ray specs to know that the days of flexing and strutting were over, though. We all knew exactly what he was staring at in there. He acted stranger and stranger about it as he got older. Grew a moustache to cover it over, but hair wouldn’t come up where the skin had split. Started talking with his hand over his mouth the year he turned twenty, tried wearing a ski mask in the family Christmas portrait the year after that.
Annie and I, we grew up and God help us, we all but forgot. We had bigger things on our minds. We moved out, took jobs in town. Annie eventually got married to the greengrocer’s son, and I worked on cars and tractors for Baldy Richardson until I could afford a plot of land not too far outside of city limits. The rattling cough Ma had been ignoring for too many winters finally shook something loose inside her that the doctors couldn’t fix up, and we let Davis keep the house. He hadn’t moved on yet anyhow.
The scar was natural to us by then. We couldn’t barely tell it was there, but it wasn’t any use telling that to Davis. He got worse and worse until he was living in the dark. He’d keep all the lights off and hang blankets over the windows with flooring nails. Every year we got together for Thanksgiving at the old house, me and Annie and Joe and their kids, and everyone would have to stumble to the table down hallways black as a starless sky, feeling out the way to their seats along the walls. Davis’ big joke was that he would ask you to pass the salt, you’d say “Where to?” and everyone’d laugh, but you still had to feel out the rough knuckles on Davis’ hand to make sure that he was really there at all.