Discards


The two brothers watched a black man lean over the handlebars of his ten-speed bike, reach into a dumpster and pull out discarded, unopened, packs of buns.  They could hear him talking, but not the particular words.  The younger brother worried that the man, down there on his ten-speed, would see them watching and get upset about it.  The man was clearly not homeless; Trek was written across the body of the bike and his basketball shoes were bright white against the dark asphalt, but then what the hell was he doing?  He had his head in the dumpster, heaving bag after bag of buns onto the ground.  Then he emerged, looked around for a moment, and began stuffing the buns into his beige duffle bag.  It was getting to evening and the streetlights were popping on out on the street.
      That's not a bad idea, the younger brother said.  The older brother nodded and sipped at his beer.
      The summer before the older brother had lost his fiancée, at the age of twenty-seven, to a car accident.  She'd been driving her Jetta with a man, someone the older brother had never even heard of, someone—a common friend later admitted—the older brother's fiancée had been sleeping with at the time.  This night, sitting on worn out lawn chairs they'd pulled from the kitchen, watching the man dig through the dumpster, was the anniversary of that death.
      Keeping me company, was what the older brother said his little brother was doing when people asked.  Keeping me company in my times of woe, the older brother would say and laugh.  He always tried not to take himself too seriously, was always ready with a joke or some self-deprecation, though it made him, afterwards, more lonely.  Or this is what the younger brother thought was probably the case.
      Look at those buns.  They're completely unopened, the older brother said.  I bet they're not stale yet, even.  Just some health code thing.
      The younger brother agreed and got up to get them another round of beers.
      The older brother was subletting a room in a Hyde Park in an apartment with three students, though, in the two days since they'd moved the older brother in with his stereo, boxes of books and CDs and a small wardrobe, neither had seen any of the roommates.  The living room, down a dark hall from the linoleum kitchen, was L-shaped with hard wood floors and no furniture beyond a dusty guitar, a halogen lamp and one mildewed green chair spitting foam at the corners.
      The younger brother came back onto the porch with two beers, letting the dirty screen fall behind him with a clank.  The older brother said, from his seat, It's getting to be a convention down there.
      Another biker had pulled up beside the dumpster and while the first man was stuffing bags into his duffle, the tall, thin white guy who couldn't have been over twenty or so, was ducking his long neck into the dumpster, fishing around.  The din of clinking bottles reached up to them on the porch, along with half heard words between the men.
      A streetlight above the dumpster flickered and popped on.  The white kid rode off, a bag of buns on the handlebars of his bike.  The black man went back to fishing through the dumpster.
      The early bird gets the worm, the younger brother said.
      Or something, the older brother said.
      The younger brother wasn't sure what to say.  He wasn't sure what the correct response might be and he often felt this way, sitting with his brother, who, despite his front of irony and jokiness was in truth hard to please.  Though he wanted to give the impression of breezing through life, the older brother tended to get hung up on things—not that the death of a fiancée and the combined shock of discovering her infidelity and all the tension that must have given rise to in his brother wasn't something worthy of getting hung up on.  Certainly it was.  But the younger brother wasn't sure if this, sitting and drinking in remembrance, was the right way to deal with things.  There had to be something else they should be doing.  But then he wasn't coming up with any ideas, any solutions, so he kept his mouth shut.
      They finished three more beers before the man gave up on the dumpster, his duffle bulging.
      Later, the brothers walked through Hyde Park looking for a bar until they found a place with pitchers of Bud Light, filled with college students younger and likely smarter than either of them.  They sat and drank and smoked a pack of Marlboro Reds they bought at the bar though neither of them really smoked.  They woke early the next day and somehow without hangovers.  They sat in metal bleachers at the White Sox's game and the younger brother wondered if he was doing all he should, everything he could, for he knew his older brother was a better, kinder person than himself.  He liked to think that worries of this kind plagued him, but the truth was that he didn't think of them often.  Only now, as the Yankees thumped the Sox and they drank steadily throughout the game and on into the night.
      After five more days the younger brother would leave Chicago on a plane and sit beside a beautiful girl with curly dark hair and tanned skin and feel as though his sense of self was returning.  It'd been taken away during that week in Chicago, rooted through, picked over like leftovers; he made, then, on the plane, the obvious connection, the simile, linking his life, his brother's unhappiness with those bags of buns in the dumpster.  He wanted to tell someone about it and turned to the pretty girl beside him.  She had her eyes closed in an intentional way.  And anyway, what would he say?  And anyway, what did he mean?  Did he mean he was like those bags of buns, tossed out to be picked up again, taken away over the handlebars of a bike?  Or was he the man with the bike, digging down in the trash for all that still-good bread?  What could anyone need with all those buns?  Maybe he was planning a barbeque, or a party.  Maybe he was hungry.
      When the older brother had dropped off the younger brother at the airport he'd started crying.  The younger brother, busy hauling his bags out of the back seat, hadn't noticed until he looked up with his hand held out in front him saying, All right, see you then.  There were tears all over his brother's face; his eyes were red and puffy.  He was staring past to the airport's glass doors sliding open and shut.
      Jesus, the younger brother said.  But what else could he say?  What should he have said?  He'd hugged his brother, a limp, loose hug.  He hadn't helped.  He should have said he loved his brother, that what he wanted was for him to be happy, that all his life the older brother had taken care of him, had looked out for him and that the younger brother knew what this meant, how much he needed it.
      The older brother had said, Shit.  Sorry, then turned and got into the car and pulled off without waving.
      The younger brother leaned out into the aisle of the plane and looked this way, that, wondering where the hell the drink cart was.  
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