Sacrifice


Another call from Isaac and I go because I always go. He is my brother and the sacrificial son, and he has ruined every single day of my life. I would die for him.

His mood has been stable on the new cocktail of meds. I knew he wouldn’t take them for long. He’s willing to gamble on which side of the coin he’ll land. He landed wrong this time. He called from the bar and I go before some girl sees his twisted beauty and decides to save him. I don’t have the energy to push another one out the door to recovery from him.

When I get there, I find him with his head on the bar, an empty shot glass and half a beer by his elbow. His phone is on the floor, cracked again. I pick it up and put it next to the shot glass.

“You broke your phone again, asshole,” I tell him. It’s only 8:00. The bar isn’t full and I don’t have to yell this time.

He lifts his head and smiles the wrong smile. He picks up the phone and messes around with it. It works, though you can barely see anything through the shattered glass.

“Whatever. I’ll take it back in to that guy. He’s pretty cheap.”

He won’t have the phone repaired. He doesn’t answer calls when he’s like this; when he’s like this, he only calls me.

“Come on. Let’s go home and watch Heathers on Netflix. I have beer and we can pick up some Kit Kats.” I don’t have beer, but I keep some of his meds at my place and if I can get him there, I can make sure he takes them along with extra Ativan, and put him on the couch with the movie and candy.

“I don’t want to go to your place. I want to go home.” He stands and heads toward the door. “I need a smoke first.” I catch the bartender’s eye and gesture toward Isaac’s drinks. He lifts his chin to let me know Isaac paid. I pick up the phone and follow my brother outside.

He’s bummed a cigarette. I want one, too, and see he’s got an extra tucked behind his ear. He’s eight inches taller than I am. I pull his arm to make him bend so I can reach it. He hands me a pack of matches with the name of a restaurant I don’t know.

He leans against the wall like he can’t support his own weight, then slides down the brick and rests his head on his knees. I take the un-smoked cigarette from his fingers and put it out. I remember my own and take a few weak drags, watching the smoke turn into nothing.

“Dude, we gotta go now. Come on.” I try to help him up and he lies flat on his back, one arm draped across his face, hiding his eyes.

“Isaac. We have to go. Seriously. I will get another 72-hour hold on your ass. I’m not fucking kidding.”

He stands. I drop my cigarette and put my arm around his waist. He leans on me. He is heavy, but not from drinking.

I put him in the car so I can run across the street to the liquor store for his Kit Kats, some cigarettes, and his favorite orange Gatorade.

“I’m sorry, Becca.” His eyes are wet and vacant.

I close his door so he can’t see mine.


The liquor store is kind of near where I live and it’s open 24 hours a day. Both owners – brothers, I think – know me by sight. We’ve never exchanged names, but they smile when I enter. One says “Kit Kat?” Both laugh. I laugh with them, though I don’t know why. I nod, grateful for the intimacy. The brothers might be the only ones who know what I want. I don’t know what I want.

I go to the refrigerator at the back of the store for Isaac’s Gatorade. I hate orange Gatorade. When I get to the register, the man who asked about the candy says, “Where is your brother?” I consider sleeping with him. He has a nice accent and a beautiful, full head of hair, but there’s the issue of the mustache. And the fact that I’ll have to stop shopping at the market when things go wrong. And the fact that he wears a gold wedding band and has never looked at me with anything resembling lust.

Along with two king-sized candy bars and five bottles of Gatorade, I pick up some bread and peanut butter. I have few boundaries with Isaac, but I don’t stay. I consider buying him a pack of cigarettes. He fell asleep with a lit one once. The smoke detector went off and his neighbor banged on his door and the only damage was a perfectly round, black-edged hole in a sofa cushion. Still, I have enough to worry about without giving him a means to hurt himself.

I look at the brightly colored lottery scratcher tickets through the clear plastic partition next to the cash register.

“You going to buy tonight? Might be your lucky night.”

We laugh again. I buy 10 $2.00 tickets. I can’t afford to waste money, but I am frantic and the scratching is calming. I throw in another five and pick the one that promises a lifetime payout.

When I get to the car, Isaac appears to be asleep. Without opening his eyes, he asks for a Gatorade.

“I’ve got money. I’ll pay you back.” He makes way more money than I do. He’s some kind of computer genius. He doesn’t even have to advertise. People find him. I’m in nursing school, getting by on student loans and a little money from our parents.

“It’s OK. Whenever.” I know he’d give me anything. We took care of each other from the beginning. Our parents were never around. Our mom does stem cell research; our dad does something with stocks we don’t understand or care about. They thought they couldn’t have children. My mom was 40 when Isaac was born, still 40 when I was born. Irish twins. He’s 10 months older. I have always been his mother.

I hand him five of the scratchers along with the bottle. He opens his eyes and smiles, a little more present.

“Can we do them now?”

“Let’s wait ‘til we get home.”

He is alert during the short drive to his apartment, fiddling with the scratchers. We drive around for 10 minutes, looking for parking. Finally, I pull into his neighbor’s spot. She’ll knock if she needs it. She doesn’t get that mad. She sleeps with Isaac sometimes and tolerates the inconvenience.

We get upstairs and he goes through his pockets for change. He has a pile of pennies on the counter. I pick mine and tell him to pick his. We sit on the couch and scratch, quiet, with purpose. We don’t even win a free ticket. I was saving the $5 ticket for myself, but hand it over. I go to the bathroom for his meds and measure them out, fold five of his Ativan in a piece of toilet paper, and stick the pouch in my pocket.

When I come out, he pushes the ticket toward me. It’s a winner. $500. He looks half dead again. For him, it’s the scratching, not the prize. I hand him the meds and another Gatorade. He swallows the pills, opening wide and sticking out his tongue to show me they’re gone, like he does when he goes into the hospital.

Isaac lies on the couch and closes his eyes. I cover him with a blanket, put a Kit Kat on the coffee table, next to his Gatorade, and find Heathers on Netflix. He falls asleep during the croquet scene at the beginning.

We didn’t win a lifetime payout; we already have one. I need the money anyways. I watch the movie until the game is over, pick up the ticket, and go home.  

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