Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Ecco Press
Length: 100 pages
A call came from home. Your brother, they said.
It was like the crashing fall of a stalactite—a giant stalactite made of ice.
What of my brother, I said. I was the youngest sister of the brood and could not see what any of them had to do with me.
The voice was my father's but funneled through some sort of tunnel- or time-warp. These were people who refused to use cell phones and did not "do" e-mail and their way of communication was the old-fashioned land-phone prominent in their kitchen on its special little table.
"Your brother needs help. He is not well. He refuses to speak lo us and will no longer pick up the phone. We have tried and failed as you know. God knows we have tried and failed with Harvey and we are not young any longer. You are young, and live close to him."
This was false. This was a lie. I lived at least two hundred miles from Harvey. It was all I could stammer—"No! You live closer."
My father explained that Harvey had taken a leave of absence from the Seminary and was living now in Trenton, New Jersey.
The term leave of absence was enunciated with care. There was the wish, on my father's part, that this term not be interpreted as dropped out, been expelled, failed.
I had not heard this news. I was stunned and even a little frightened to be told that (1) my brother lived less than sixty miles from me; (2) my brother had dropped out of the Seminary.
My God-besotted brother who was the only person I'd ever heard of who, already in middle school, was convinced that it was his destiny to be a "man of God."
This information was too confusing for me to process. My father continued to speak as my mother, who must have been leaning her ear close to the receiver, spoke also, more forcibly. The overlapping voices made me feel that my brain had split and the two halves were being shaken like chestnuts in a metal container—noise, static, all sense of words lost.
"I can't see Harvey. I—I have no time for..."
"Your poor brother is alone, and you know how innocent and unworldly he is. You know he has 'moods'—'fugues.' Please look in upon him, as you are his sister and our dear daughter. Be kind to him, if you can."
Badly I wanted to break the connection. This was so unfair!
Mercilessly the voices droned on: "And if you could shop for him. And now and then cook a meal for him if you would be so kind..."
"I can't. I don't have time. I have my own life now."
"God bless you, dear. If you can do these things for your poor brother, and your parents. We are so helpless here. We are not so well ourselves. We are not so young any longer and already the temperature is so cold at night and the wind whistling through this old house, and the terrible winter looming ahead..."
I'd stopped listening. A pounding of blood in my cars drowned out the yammering voices. I muttered Good night! and broke the connection.
Will not. Can't make me. No longer. I am not your captive daughter now.