Before You Speak

by Thomas Morgan
            Brad’s mom leaned into the bedroom, and her hand curled the door frame. She tucked her fallen blonde hair behind her ear. “Do you boys want to go to Pablo’s for dinner?”
            “When?” Brad said.
            “In, say, 20 minutes, or so. Just whenever you are done doing what you’re doing.”
            “Yeah, we’ll be done soon.” Brad un-paused the game. Warren and I watched until he died.
            “I don’t have any money with me, man.” I sat next to Brad on the hardwood floor.
            Brad seemed to shrug without care. “Dude, you don’t need it.”
            “Are you sure?”
            “Yes. I’m sure.”
I knew he was sure before I asked; I didn’t want to be rude. His mom always insisted to pay for me. She knew my mother wasn’t around anymore. Brad pressed the power button for his television. It clicked twice like two popping tongues, and he bent for his shoes.
            “Okay, well, let’s go.” I rushed for my shoes on the top bunk. My bunk.
Lee, Brad’s dad, leaned in the bedroom doorway like his mom did. “I’m freaking starving, let’s go.” He tried to set a good example for us boys by not cussing. He knew my father wasn’t around anymore.
Savannah, Brad’s little sister, ran out of the front door, and I walked behind her through the mint-green laminate floored kitchen. The laminate was peeling up in some corners and you could see the plywood underneath. Brad and Warren walked directly behind me. We left the heavy door open for the parents to follow as we stood in the black dirt driveway. Gnats love black dirt. We constantly swiped at our faces, and rubbed sweaty shins. We scratched our scalps with all ten fingers in the same motion you would dry your head after a shower. The shade of the great oaks and Spanish moss didn’t keep the sweat from building on my lower back and seeping through my shirt. Above my mouth tasted like warm ocean. I wiped the sweat with the length of my first finger. “We should play paint ball this weekend,” I said.
“Yeah, dude. I have to get some paint and CO2, though.” Brad blew a gnat from the corner of his mouth.
“I don’t know if I can, but I’ll try,” Warren said.
“Dude, if you play, it can just be the three of us versus whoever. That’s two Tippmanns and Brad’s Spider. We’d be unstoppable,” I said. My Tippmann had a Flat Line Barrel System and Warren’s was fully automatic. We didn’t actually like Brad’s Spider, but we said we did. He eventually upgraded.
Lee walked out with Jenn, his wife. “Where’s Savannah?” Lee asked.
“She’s right here,” Brad said.
“Well, are you ready?”
“We were waiting on you!” I said.
Lee laughed. “Are we taking two cars? Savannah, go with your mom. The boys are going to drive the GT.”
“I want to ride, too,” Savannah begged.
“No, just the boys. Your mom is taking the Honda, and you can listen to your CD in there.” Her 8-year-old shoulders dropped. “Savannah, your hands are black! Go wash them before you dirty the car all up.” Lee looked at us. “What are you boys getting into tomorrow?”
“We were thinking paintball, but we don’t have any CO2,” Warren said.
“We played a lot of paintball in the Marines to train,” Lee replied.
“Did you ever kill anybody?” I wiped the sweat from my lip and snatched down to a sudden gnat bite on my ankle. I looked up at Lee again, waiting. Excited. Intrigued.
His reminiscent smile died. His eyes widened a bit, and glazed. My face burned instantly as gasoline, and my pulse scattered like a broken metronome. His eyes looked at the black dirt, and gnats dropped from the sky and dove around his face like fighting planes. He flinched not at one. Casket still.
Brad and Warren stepped around me and walked behind the red 3000 GT. Lee’s lips tightened, and he left me there standing in the broken circle. He walked toward Brad’s mom, and I knew when he told her what I said. Her head ripped from the conversation and her eyes hooked me, mouth closed.
This is awkward. This is really awkward. I didn’t know. I did not know. My mind jammed under the rapid fire.
I walked to Brad and Warren behind the GT. “You’re such an idiot, man,” Warren said with a laugh to crutch the awkwardness. “You don’t ask people that.”
“I didn’t know.” I recited my exploding thoughts. “Brad, I’m sorry.”
Brad’s dad began to walk toward us, and he unlocked the car with a button on his keys. “Ready?” Lee opened the door slowly, expressionless. His face was cold in the humid sun. I see his skin-lines, bags, cheeks weighing heavy under the ash of burning oil fields. On his brow I see the dirt and sand of his foxhole where I would later learn he lived next to his KIA brothers, where he remained strong as Atlas for two full days until a reconnaissance team found him. I see the suppressed memories unsuppressed in front of me. I stand ignorant, young, and inexperienced.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Depew.” I climbed in and slid to the driver’s side of the back seat in his red GT. Warren climbs in behind me, returns the passenger seat to the upright position, and Brad stoops in, closing the long, car door.

            He talked with me not many days later about life. About death-speak. He seemed to still like me; to still love me. He knew my father wasn’t around anymore, and I knew I didn’t want to lose another one.

THOMAS MORGAN is a Writing and Linguistics major from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA. Thomas is an upcoming writer with no previously published works. When school is not in session, he spends his time as a kayak tour guide on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.


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