Whom I never met but here is the story as I understand it. He was four years older than my mother. She used to sit up in the room above the garage at my grandparents‘ house in Duluth and read, her 12-year-old glasses thick as three nickels stacked, the smell of my granddad‘s surplus blazers hanging everywhere disgusting and sweet, like the smell of a loved one‘s unwashed skin. She would see Marty come home from school and walk up the driveway. She would see Marty find a worm and hold it in his hands and then squeeze and then smell the mess. He was 16 and could only grow a soul patch. By 18 he killed a cat with a stick and a geology textbook from school. My mother watched this too and returned promptly to her book.
Another fact for you: Marty joined the army where he spent three silent years (silent to my mother anyway) before coming home on a dishonorable discharge because he got caught busting up his own bunk bed with a shovel one night, pissed he couldn‘t sleep (discharged for this and some other things too, the nature of which remain nebulous to us). So see? The cat was a bed now, the book and stick were a shovel and red-eyed nerve, and fucking up army property was a no-no, and out on his ass he went. He came home to Duluth and visited my mother, who was 19 at the time and lonely and boyfriend-less—he visited my mother in the room above the garage and started trying on my granddad‘s jackets (which he‘d never done before) and saying, “How do I look how do I look how do I look” and smiling like a gash in a basketball, his face still all tanned from the Arizona sun (where he‘d been stationed). This was the night he got close to my mother and touched her hair. This was the night he kissed her neck and put his thumb in her mouth before leaving her alone, maybe because she didn‘t scream and all he wanted her to do was scream.
On January 24, 1987, two days after Budd Dwyer put that magnum in his mouth and said, “Please leave the room if this‘ll affect you,” Marty called my grandmom and asked her if she‘d seen the news about that politician up in Philadelphia. Then, he told my grandmom a story about some guy named Christian in the army whose gun went off and gave him a punch in the leg, busted an artery like a tongue through a napkin (his words), and drained the blood from his body in a thick mess, thicker (he said) than he thought blood would ever be, thick like congealed milk. Then he told my grandmom he was in the woods off 35. He told her where to find him. Then he shot himself. My grandmom drove out to where he told her to go and dragged his body to her car. Can you imagine this? She was 60, and there was her 21-year-old son, looking however he looked, like whatever piece of smashed fruit the soldier was now. She pulled him over twigs and rocks and dirt-crusted snow. She drove him up to Minneapolis, an hour away, and tried not to look into the rearview mirror, not that she could‘ve seen anything apart from the road behind her. I don‘t know what this drive was like. She was a tough woman. Knit her own clothes. Read gory horror novels. Hated church. I‘d like to think she screamed at Marty, hit the steering wheel, and even stopped somewhere at a rest stop along the highway, buying a pack of gum at the convenience store, letting the people pass by the car for a little while and see his hollow body, see a man who looked like he had nothing more than a nose bleed, before getting back into the car and turning the engine on and screaming into the Twin Cities. But this probably isn‘t how it went down. Probably a river of silence filled the car as she drove, as the wheels bumped against the rumpled parts of the highway. She never did have much to say to Marty anyway. When my mom told her what he did to the cat, grandmom ignored it. She wanted the silence then. She wanted it to flow through them all, through the whole family. That‘s why she used to lock my mother in the room above the garage. That‘s why she used to ply her with a stack of books and not release her till she‘d finished them all.
Benjamin Rybeck is the co-editor-in-chief of Sonora Review, and teaches composition and creative writing at the University of Arizona. His stories have appeared in Natural Bridge and Guernica, and he won the inaugural LaVerne Harrell Clark Fiction Award from the University of Arizona Poetry Center. He has trouble finding the time to exercise.