Stories by Emily Hoover
  1  Surge
3  Angelo Loves Tammy
4  El Brutál
5  Real Fun
  6  Tectonics of Time
  7  Some Kind of Saint
  9  Demolition
10  Reflections at Aqua Key West

  About the Author  |  |  Summer 2021 Fiction Issue


As soon as Phillip lit the match, igniting the flame, I could have sworn I was in a dream. I could hear the match slide, almost in slow motion, because the only other sound was Rick snoring softly on the couch my mother kept around even though it smelled like feet and rancid Cheetos. The living room was dark except for the flickering light of the TV until the curtains caught, and the fire leapt across the length of the window like the wingspan of a large bird. I was stoned, kept thinking I’d wake up in my bunk bed hearing Phillip snoring above me. I wanted to hear the mattress creaking as he rolled from one side to the other, sighing loudly in between breaths. But I’d been sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, digging my fingernail into my forearm. If the half-moon-shaped impressions on my skin weren’t enough to wake me, nothing would.

Phillip looked at me and said, “Danny, get up. Come on.” He actually said my name instead of “sissy boy,” “Danielle,” or his favorite, “faggot.” Bathed in this weird Poltergeist glow, he moved towards the garage door in his socks. I don’t think he was wearing a shirt. He turned away from what he had done like it was the end of a school assembly.

I sat there for a second, blinking and watching the fire spread. Then I jumped up, understanding the curtains’ closeness to the front door. If I stayed any longer, I wouldn’t be able to get out. I would have to break the kitchen window.

I looked at Rick. He was still snoring. I shook him until he woke up and helped him out of the house. He collapsed on the lawn, wailing because some sparks had landed on him and the nylon of his shirt was sticking to his skin. With his hands on my shoulders, he kept asking me what happened, the smell of bourbon on his breath like always.

Outside, I couldn’t see Phillip. I knew he’d run off, either to Willy’s or to some unfortunate girl’s house. I was still high from the joint and Oxycodone Phillip had shared with me earlier that night, so I was more than disoriented. We had smoked in the garage, which excited me because Phillip hadn’t hung out with me by choice since I was ten, and he never offered me marijuana. It was only the second or third time I’d smoked, but I tried not to cough in front of him. He handed me a grape soda and two pills, passed me the joint, and that was it. He never said anything to me about Rick while we were out there, but I remember him lighting matches, burning the cellophane on Rick’s empty cigarette packs, and placing the burnt matchsticks in the ceramic mug my mother was using as an ashtray. All these years later, I wonder if it was Oxycodone after all. My brother used to get all kinds of over-the-counter shit and lie about what it was just to fuck people over. It was probably just Coricidin and mid-grade weed. That was enough to put me on my ass back then.

So I was bent over on the lawn, breathing into my belly, my head pounding, my knees weak, thinking I was going to puke. The window shattering took me out of the panic attack. Smoke billowed from the roof. I stumbled over to the Sanchez house across the street to call the police.

The older brother, the hot one, answered the door. He was understandably guarded. The last time I’d knocked on his door, I was in my mother’s negligee fleeing Phillip’s baseball bat.

“My house is on fire. Can I use your phone?”

“Your house is on fire?” Federico’s grip on the door tightened. He looked across the street, saw the smoke, waved me inside.

After that, my mother showed up with my sister Tammy, a bottle of NyQuil for her cold, and a carton of cigarettes. Everyone in the neighborhood watched the house burn. It was the shithouse gone up in flames. Mrs. Sanchez offered us some food, but my mother said no. We were already living paycheck to paycheck, grieving over my father’s death; now we were losing everything in a goddamned house fire and would be dependent on the Red Cross, and my mother was too bigoted to eat some pastries.

If you ask me, Phillip did it because he was pissed at Rick for being in my mother’s bed the night our father came home from prison, out early on good behavior. My father didn’t call ahead because he wanted to “surprise us.” He told me that after I followed him out of the house, as he threw one leg over a borrowed Kawasaki, revving the engine to show my mother he was leaving. It was the last time we saw my father. I can still remember the freckles on his hands. Phillip blamed Rick for everything he didn’t blame me for. He hadn’t come into our lives all those years ago; he had invaded them.

I don’t know for sure if Phillip ever came back to the neighborhood. He had plenty of friends in Eaton Park. We stayed with Marsha for a week until my mother got us a one-bedroom apartment by Lake Morton and we had to change schools. I lived there on a pull-out couch from Second Chance Thrift until I graduated high school and moved to Orlando.

A few weeks after the fire, I saw Willy’s Camaro outside Lakeland High School, which was weird because he’d graduated two years prior. He was leaning against his car; I stopped in front of a live oak, hoping he hadn't seen me and I could camouflage myself. When he waved, I had no choice but to talk to him. It was one of those cool, central Florida days in between winter and spring—breezy and sunny, but also dry and cloudless. I remember the cold because Willy was wearing my black Hanes sweatshirt, the one with the zipper. I thought it was lost in the fire.

“Hey, what’s up?” I nodded at him, averting my eyes. I didn't know if he knew that I knew Phillip had committed arson.

“Nothing, man. I’m picking up my cousin. I didn’t realize you went here.”

“Just started.” I shifted my backpack from one shoulder to the other.

“How are you and Tammy doing?”

I watched some classmates walk out into the parking lot. “We’re fine,” I said. Though Willy and I had had sex a few times, I wanted to act as nonchalant as possible. Neither of us was out, and he had a girlfriend. Plus, he was my brother’s best friend and Phillip was pretty much the opposite of tolerant. Willy was my first. The first time a boy ever gave me goose bumps was when Willy did a handstand in my front yard. I remember the tightness pulling at me as a soon as his shirt fell over his face, revealing his stomach and chest, muscles tense.

“Are you sure?”

I could feel his eyes on me, so I looked down at my feet. “Yeah. Have you seen Phillip?”

“Not since Monday.”

“Any idea where he went?”

“You don’t know?”

“Know what?” I raised my chin to meet his eyes, squinting from the sun that was low in the sky.

“They arrested him on Tuesday. I’m surprised your mom didn't tell you.”

My stomach dropped to the concrete. This wasn’t the first time my mother had given me partial truths. She “forgot" to tell Tammy, Phillip, and me about our father’s being incarcerated until almost a year later. When he didn’t show for my eighth birthday party, we thought he’d abandoned us. “For what?”

“They caught him trying to break into PC Bike.” He took a step forward, lifting his weight from the hood of the car.

“He tried to run?”

Willy shook his head. “They got an anonymous call about the fire.”

I could hear my heart in my head. “What?” I backed away, afraid Willy was trying to gauge whether I’d snitched.

Willy’s face brightened, and he smirked. “I told them.”

“What?” I moved closer to him, lowering my voice. “You snitched?”

“You’re mad?” He laughed. “I can’t believe this.”

“You can’t believe it?” I pushed him.

He pushed me back. “Look, he told me about it, got all sketched out and thought they were coming for him, made some threats against you, and then left. What was I supposed to do?”

“Uh, not tell? I thought he was your best friend.”

“I did it for you.” He put his hands in the front pockets of the sweatshirt, my sweatshirt.

I felt sick, so I turned to walk away. “Great. Now when he’s out, he’ll kill me for sure,” I said over my shoulder. “Thanks for nothing.”

I never got that sweatshirt back, but I did find one just like it in the lost and found bin one day at school. That made up for it—after a few washes. I steered clear of Willy as I’m sure he did of me. We were both more than a little ashamed. Although I did Facebook-stalk Willy a couple of months ago after too many glasses of Chardonnay: he now goes by Will, and he owns a gay bar in Vegas, if you can imagine that.

It’s true Phillip beat me so badly that I thought I’d lose consciousness—more than once—but I would never turn him in. I’m sure he thinks I did, since I watched him start the fire, but it’s simple: he’s my brother. Even though most of the scars on my body came from him, I wouldn’t remove them. It’s a part of who I am, where I grew up: A blemish you can cover up but never remove.


  © Emily Hoover, 2021

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