This story is told from three points of view and is being posted in three parts, beginning last month with "Matt's Story," continuing this month with "Jamie's Story," and ending in January with "Rob's Story." It was first published in the Winter 2010 edition of Black Oak Presents: A Journal of Mid-American Culture, which is now out of print. I am excited to reshare it these seven years later:
The porch steps felt like ice under my bare feet as I raced out to the car. Luckily Rob was still letting it warm up. He hadn’t left yet, thank God. I realized it was a bad idea to make a dramatic scene like this, but it was too late now. This was urgent and things were probably about to get much worse. I couldn’t let Rob leave me alone with Matt getting crazy. He needed to see this.
“Rob,” I yelled and pounded on the window.
“Oh Christ, what?” he asked, jumping out of the car. He was bent slightly and his eyes were wide, like he sensed exactly what was happening and was preparing himself for anything.
“Matt is in there, ranting to your parents abou—”
He didn’t let me finish. He turned on one heel and cursed, threw his hat on the ground, and started back toward the house.
“Wait. What are you gonna’ do?” I asked, following him. “Oh, God,” I said to myself, hugging my arms. It was colder outside than it looked. I had no shoes and no jacket and was just standing there on the prickly grey grass, helpless.
“This is unbelievable,” Rob shouted out, stomping up the porch steps.
My uncle and brother came out the door and met him halfway. The three of them stared each other down for a few seconds. My uncle looked intensely angry. I did not like confrontation or fighting at all, and wished in my heart that none of this was really happening. I tried to look out into the field beyond the house to distract myself, but then everyone started yelling.
“What the hell is all this?” Uncle Mike asked us.
“Nothing is what it is,” Rob answered defiantly. He turned to Matt and stuck his finger out at him. “What the hell is your problem, Matt?”
My brother’s face slowly turned a deep purplish-red. The next few seconds went by like slow motion as my mind retraced the events of the previous night.
I really didn’t know that anyone could hear us. We always tried to be quiet and the last thing I ever wanted to do was rub anything in Matt’s face. Sometimes we heard all kinds of noises in that house at night. I assumed they were Matt usually, but Rob told me that sometimes it was just the house. Not this time.
Rob was warm and safe, and normal. I’d become a big fan of normal over the past year and didn’t want to sleep downstairs anymore. I didn’t really put any thought into it until the moment we heard Matt moaning on the other side of the door. After I almost had a heart attack, I realized we were caught and it was mortifying, sobering. Embarrassing.
Rob had reassured me that it was all going to be okay, not to worry about it. But he was rattled.
I came back to the moment to find Matt lunging at Rob, knocking him off the porch steps and onto the ground. They rolled around in the yard, throwing short, blunt punches and yelling muffled cries into each other’s necks, blowing clouds of breath into the air like a couple of fighting bucks. All the while my aunt and uncle shouted for them to stop.
I wanted to do something but I wouldn’t dare get in their way. Rob pinned Matt down after a while. Matt flailed and spat at Rob, clawing at his arms. Rob held him by the collar and was about to go in for the big punch when Uncle Mike finally intervened, prying him off of Matt. I felt so useless, but the look my uncle shot me as he pulled Rob to his feet told me I was doing just exactly the right thing by being still and quiet.
My uncle let him go and pulled Matt up by his shirt with one hand, blood pouring out of his nose, down his chin and along his neck. He took big, gaping breaths.
My uncle surveyed us all, even my aunt, and shook his head. “You all make me sick. Yesterday was a normal God damned day and now you’re all acting crazy! I don’t want to know if what Matt says is true, and if there is something up here that shouldn’t be up, I don’t ever want to find out about it. And I want it to stop!”
That was all he said. He let go of Matt with a quick shove, brushed himself off and adjusted his shirt, and went back inside. I looked over to my aunt. Normally she had a bland face and sort of stayed in the background, but today she stared so coldly into my eyes that it was obvious she had already known. How could we have not known that she knew? I put my hand to my head.
Rob wiped his bloody nose and lip, and rubbed his forehead. There was a long silence as everyone just kind of breathed and thought for a moment.
“Get in the car, Jamie,” Rob said quietly.
“What?” I asked softly, taken aback.
“Get in the car.”
“I need my shoes,” I said quietly.
“I’ll get your shoes,” he answered calmly and went inside, hanging onto the railing and swaying a little as he went up the steps.
Suddenly I felt so empty. It was that old stinging feeling I was always trying to get away from. I flopped into the car. The way Matt looked at me from just a few feet away was unlike any look he had ever given me. His pupils were large and he glared through me, almost like a doll or an animal with no whites in its eyes. I locked the door.
Rob came out with my shoes and my jacket. As he opened his door, the familiar scent of his coat came into the car before he did. I loved that smell. Dried blood covered his face with fresh still running over it.
“Do you need a tissue?” I asked. I opened the glove compartment and started fumbling through papers. There were no tissues. It was warm in the car and my thawing hands had trouble grasping anything.
“No, I’m fine,” he answered, touching his nose and looking at his red-stained hand. “Damn.”
He handed me my stuff. I put on my shoes and my jacket. “Thanks, are you okay?”
He looked past me to Matt. “Hell, I’m fine, Jamie, fine,” he said, still breathing heavily, looking very disturbed. He wiped his hand on his coat. I reached out to touch his face and he winced but let me touch him. “I’m okay,” he reassured me. “Come on, let’s get the hell out of here for a minute.”
“What about work?”
He barked out one loud laugh. “Jamie, honey, are you crazy? There’s not gonna’ be any work today. I mean look at me, God knows what’s broken here. I’m still shaking.”
“Do you think Matt is okay?” I asked him, which at that moment was probably the stupidest question in the world.
“Do I think Matt is okay? Ah, no I don’t think he’s okay. And I don’t think he will be okay, or that he was ever okay,” he answered gruffly, half sarcastic, and cleared his throat.
We sped off quickly, bumping along the driveway. I looked around, not knowing what to say.
The sky was a very deep blue. Some birds were out and flying around collecting things. The snow was melting in some areas, the ground thick and brown with mud puddles, while in others it stayed strong in frozen blankets over the rolling landscape. More snow was expected later in the week, the typical spring weather. It was strange and somehow beautiful.
"Dakota Morning," copyright 2017 Amelia Cotter (first published in Black Oak Presents: A Journal of Mid-American Culture, Winter 2010 Edition, 2010)