After dinner, Dad turned the TV off, and Ira pushed him back into his bedroom, leaving me with the dirty bowls on the TV trays. The living room was dark but Ira flipped on a bedside lamp when he wheeled Dad into his room. From across the living room, I looked through the doorway at Ira leaning over and scooping his hands under Dad’s armpits and hoisting him up out of his chair and laying him down in his bed. It was like watching the scene through a window from outside of the house. It felt like it would even be warmer in there than it was in the living room. I picked up the bowls and walked through the dining room to the kitchen, and set them in the sink. I turned on the water when I heard, “Hey,” from behind me.
It was Ira, in a half whisper, pulling the door to the study shut behind him as he stepped into the kitchen. He looked tired. Not just the bags under his eyes, but the lack of color in his cheeks. He didn’t look well.
“Just save those for the morning,” Ira said, stuffing his hands down into his pants pockets. “The old man’s asleep, you know?”
I turned towards him and nodded. Ira nodded his head to the left, at the stairs down, a signal to follow him. He turned and trotted down them, and I followed. The stairs creaked loudly each time my shoes pressed on to them.
The basement was just how I left it when I moved out to go to boarding school when I was twelve. It was just a big square room with cinder blocks for walls and concrete for a floor. It was covered by black fake bear skin rugs, and the other twin bed – Ira’s bed - was shoved into the back left corner. Other than that there were a couple of those striped canvas folding chairs and a foldable card table in the center of the room, and there was Ira’s old army surplus duffel bag spilling it’s guts out onto the bear skin rug by his bed.
“Dad’s sick, you know,” Ira said over his shoulder, walking towards his bed.
“I know,” I said back quietly.
“What?” he asked, spinning on his heel and staring me down.
“I said, ‘I know,’” I barked back at him.
“Then where have you been?” he growled, taking a step towards me.
I didn’t have an excuse or a good response so I took a step forward. This was the wrong thing to do. Ira was like a snarling dog. If you moved towards the dog, it will spring on you and attack, and if you retreat it’ll take off and chase you down, but if you square off against a dog, it won’t lunge. I took another step forward. Part of me just wanted to get punched in the mouth.
“HUNH?” he shouted. “What the fuck, Lee? WHAT the fuck.”
His head was tilted sideways and he was staring at the ground. A bad sign. Crazy people don’t look you in the eye, and I wasn’t sure what mental state Ira was in. I took another step forward, and now he was in arms length.
“Look,” I started putting my hands up to show I was unarmed, “Look, let’s just…”
And then I was on the floor. I didn’t even see him raise his arm. My left cheek started to throb and my vision was blurry. Fuck, I thought. That didn’t work.
“Aw, shit, aw God – Goddamnit!”
I angled my head up a bit and Ira was pacing back and forth at my feet.
“I’m…look – here, I’m sorry,” he grumbled, then leaned over me and held out his hand. I took it, and he pulled me up to my feet and brushed off the shoulders of my shirt.
“I’m a little on edge, you know? Since mom died. Drugs, man, I’ve – look, I’ve been taking a lot of pills since I’ve been home, so…uh, sorry.”
“You’re a mess,” I said. It was the wrong thing to say but I said it.
“Man, FUCK you!” he shouted.
His arms flew up and shoved me in my chest, sending me reeling three steps until I tripped on the edge of one of the fake bear skin rugs and fell backwards – just at the bottom of the stairs, my head whipping back and nailing the concrete so hard that when I opened my eyes, it was already morning.