Today, we’re pleased to offer an excerpt from Troy James Weaver’s collection Witchita Stories, out in March from Future Tense Books. Witchita Stories will be the first of two books of Weaver’s due out this year; it’ll be followed by Visions, due to be released on Broken River Books. Weaver’s fiction features characters pushed to their physical and emotional limits, whether grappling with the aftermath of violence or observing the compulsive habits of family members. More of Weaver’s writing can be found in places like Hobart and Everyday Genius.
My brother used to use my dad’s credit card to call places like 1-800-BIG-TITS so that he could jerk off to faceless fat chicks and their heavy-handed breathing techniques. The phone and credit card bills would come in the mail and be in the hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. I’ve seen my dad beat the crap out of my brother before for doing shit like this. I won’t lie, it happened sometimes. It was hard for me to feel bad for my brother—or my dad. They couldn’t control themselves. My brother had to listen to women breathe into the phone to achieve orgasm and my dad had to beat him to feel like he had a handle on the situation. I usually hid in my room, turned up some music to drown out the noise. It started happening more frequently than not—the phone calls, the punishments, the in-my-room-all-alone-with-the-music-up hour—and then, one day, they struck out at us with a new rule. There would only be one phone allowed in the house and when they went to bed at night, they would unplug it and hide it in their bedroom. What kind of shit is that? This sucks, I thought. Just because my older brother couldn’t stop playing with his dick, I had to suffer for it. Imagine that. I used to spend endless hours on the phone—now, not so much. And there was another problem, too. I always worried about the receiver. Why does it feel so greasy? Is that a pubic hair between the 2 and the 3 on the dial pad? Can I catch something? Where’s the Vaseline?
My dad used to drink cough syrup like it was going out of style. He was doing that shit fifteen loads before Lil Wayne even materialized as sperm. He’d sit at the table and drink half a bottle straight down and smoke cigarettes in a daze. One night he got so looped he was out of his mind. He kept telling my sister to massage his brain. Please, he’d say. Massage my brain. Massage my medulla oblongata. And so she went along with it. She started rubbing her hands through his hair vigorously, giggling. And then he started saying shit like: You are massaging my brain. You are massaging my medulla oblongata, in this weird, loud, trembling vibrato. This went on for like two hours. It was better than watching a movie. I sat on the couch, watching, laughing until I could no longer breathe. My lungs hurt so bad I thought I’d spit blood. Then he told her to stop. So she stopped for a minute, and he looked up at her from his chair and said: I need to sit down. My ass needs to sit down. She laughed. Dad, you are already sitting. Don’t lie to me, he said. Get me a chair. I need to sit my ass down
Christmas day, the annual call to my parents in Arizona, and it doesn’t feel the same. It doesn’t feel joyful. I hear dread in their voices. And there is dread, and soon I find out it is the dread of holding onto a secret, a secret they know isn’t timed right but must come out because they know I would’ve wanted it that way.
We start off with pleasantries. Merry Christmases, I miss yous, and, What are your plans for dinner this evening? Having anything special? This goes on as long as you’d expect and then suddenly it staggers beyond. My dad asks about the weather. I tell him that it is cold, as it always is in Kansas in December. Finally there is a silence—tension thick as gristle and bone—and then it comes out.
Your brother’s in the hospital.
My chest feels battered by heavy construction equipment. I can’t get any air into my lungs. I catch my breath, and then say the words what happened even though I know the answer already.
He was out in the yard. Three guys jumped him. Beat him nearly to death.
Is he okay?
He’ll live, but one of his lungs is collapsed and his face is so bad you wouldn’t even recognize him.
Oh. My. God.
Just got in with the wrong crowd, is all.
How do get in with the right crowd in prison.
This is true.
We’re sorry to drop this on you on Christmas but we thought you’d like to know, you know. You get mad at us when we don’t tell you things. Anyway, don’t let it ruin your day. We love you. Can’t wait to see you next time we’re in town.
Love you. Bye.
I hang up the phone and all I can do is think about my brother spending Christmas in the hospital, hooked up to machines, hoses and wires coming out of him, helping him breathe, monitoring his heart, all alone. I feel like crying, but usually don’t when it comes to him, but instead I sit in front of the computer and type out a small series of words. I type:
Right then, I feel a well under my eyelids. I close my eyes, open them, see the words on the computer screen, glowing there, and wait the necessary amount of time to feel assured that they are etched onto my heart and had always been there—and then I left-click and hold on the mouse, scrolling upward over the words making the background blue instead of white, and when I feel sufficiently filled, like I don’t need to look at the words to make it all seem so fucking real, I reach my pinky a full inch and press firmly on DELETE.
This is the only way I know how to love.