10. Familiar Stranger
When I was sure Ig and Enid were settled in watching morning news shows, I headed to the shower. I locked the door and shoved a small cabinet in front of it. Ig wasn’t stealthy or quick anymore, but the doors in this house have a way of opening and closing on their own.
I stripped off wet layers of clothing, peeling away the damp and dirt, Enid’s perfume and Ig’s odd scent. He had always worn English Leather cologne, but the blend of it with his body chemistry and pomade made for a boiled egg with rubbing alcohol chaser.
One time, Louis had to sit next to him at a company dinner. Amid the loud, witty grown-up talk that floated above our heads, he kept looking at his plate and giggling quietly. Then randomly he would sing very softly, “He is the egg-man…he is the egg-man…” and never finishing the line. Louis was born into this world fragile and funny.
I turned the showerhead to the hardest setting and cranked the hot water. Yes, cleanse me. Blow a hole through my crazy life. Debride this gaping wound that I came here to close. I missed Louis. I missed my Dad, but Arthur had a life already. He got to grow up and create a world and have sex and buy a house and drive a car. Louis had just learned how not to be afraid of the dark.
I thought about him out with Arthur in the workshop that night. I had led him there, encouraged him, let him stay.
Suddenly, I thought of my new neighbor. I let him stay.
I remembered the way he curled his large, gaunt body into the corner. I was out of my mind. I should have chased him off, called the police. Something, though, when he looked at me through the strands of dark hair, shook me up.
Love at first sight with a dirty, homeless dude.
Kindness toward the actual ugly baby that Ig and Enid had. They made him go live in the old burnt shed. Parents of the Year!
I sat down on the shower floor with my head in my hands.
Maybe Louis. Maybe Louis that got out that night. Maybe grown up Louis who came home. Maybe my brother, scarred and damaged and feeling safe in a too small place.
My chest ached and my mind broke a little.
Whoever he was, I would help him. I would use my education and my skills and help him. It didn’t matter if he was Louis. He was more lost than I could ever be.
I dressed myself with purpose. I raided the first aid kit. Then I went to pack him a picnic.