Free Stories

Holding on to Eddie

Holding Eddie

“Is this you, Dad?” Brian squints down at a yellowed newspaper clipping pasted into an old photo album. I can read the headline “Young Hero” from where I sit. My chest tightens.

After Mom passed away, when Brian was barely two, her old cedar chest filled with baby books, photo albums, and grade school papers ended up in our guest room. For six years it sat untouched, until last weekend when Brian discovered it after boredom and three straight days of rain had kept him inside. My son, now eight, is sitting on the floor with his head down. Slumped over like this, he reminds me of my brother Eddie at that age. They both had hair the color of cardboard, so thick it was hard to get a comb through. Mom had kept Eddie’s buzzed short so it didn’t stand up all over his head. We let Brian’s grow—liberal amounts of mousse accomplish the same thing. His eyes are like Eddie’s too, that same nondescript hazel color edged with short thick lashes. His brows are an unruly smudge, perpetually awaiting an answer to some unasked question. Brian. The kid I used to wish Eddie was.

Brian looks up at me, with a look that is minus my brother’s vacuous gaze. Taking the album from him, I look from the smiling face of the attractive reporter standing next to me in the photograph to the young, thin, and tall for my age thirteen-year-old.  My dark, straight hair needed cut. Deep-set brown eyes stand out against a pale, narrow face. I was not smiling. My lips were what I would have to describe as full, pouty looking—sexy on a girl, schmaltzy on a guy. Behind us, in a full moon, was the skeleton of what would eventually become the Plaza Towers, rising defiant and regal—a giant erector set. After all these years the memory still feels like a slap.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“It’s not fair!”

“Travis, it’s only an hour a day,” she turned from a sink of breakfast dishes to face me, soapy sponge in hand.

“I know, Mom, but the guys play basketball right after school.” I glanced at Eddie. He was rocking back and forth, head down, hands fluttering like bird wings at his sides. “Can’t I take Eddie later?” 

“You know what happens when we change his routine.” She looked tired. It was only eight o’clock in the morning.

“Yeah, but . . ..”

Her hands went to her hips, suds dripped from the sponge and puddled on the shabby linoleum. “Travis, he’s your brother. Eddie needs you to do this for him.” Her voice softened, “So do I.”

Mom was a short woman. I was already several inches taller than her. She wore her thick, straight hair pulled back from her face in a long ponytail and banded it high at the back of her head with bright colored, plastic ball-ties. It was an odd contrast. The sorrow in her eyes, the tiny lines around her mouth, and the soft layers gathering at her middle, aged her. But when she walked the ponytail bounced and swayed like the girls’ at school.

“Okay,” I mumbled. I knew it was hard on her, what with having to raise us alone and Eddie being like he was. Still, as I shuffled out through the kitchen door into the shimmering Arizona heat, I pushed the screen hard and let it slap shut behind me.  


I knew Eddie had just clapped both hands over his ears and I heard him let out a shrill whine. Heading down the street toward school, I felt Mom watching me from the kitchen window, disappointment stinging the back of my neck.

We lived in a seedy downtown area of Phoenix. I glanced back at our shoddy rented house. The stucco was scabbing off, exposing patches of cement and chicken wire beneath. Since Mom and Dad had split up, it was all we could afford. A few blocks away, across the Seventh Street Bridge, I heard the rhythmic pa-chuck of the pile driver, accompanied by the constant drone of the crane’s diesel engine as it lowered huge steel girders into place.   

If I didn’t show up right after school, I wouldn’t get another chance. A freshman had invited me—an eighth grader. It wasn’t just any freshman either. It was Farley. Everyone who was anyone knew Farley. He was the kind of kid who could change your life by knowing your name. He hadn’t exactly called me by name, but Farley had asked me to shoot hoops with some of the guys after school. It was so cool. The best thing to happen to me since we moved to Phoenix two years ago.  

After school, I threw my books and backpack on the bed, changed into my Converse All-Stars and went to get Eddie, hoping Mom wouldn’t notice the shoes. “Come on, Bud.  Let’s split.” 

At least I didn’t have to hold his hand anymore. Eddie was doing better now and stayed right with me. And when he was walking he didn’t flip his hands around that way he does. To someone else, we probably looked like any two guys walking down the sidewalk. Except that Eddie hunched over when he walked or sat, his shoulders rounded lazily into his chest.   

When we got to the corner he turned left, toward the bridge, so I grabbed his shirt and tugged him in the other direction. Eddie was a creature of habit. “Not today, Bud. We’re going to that playground over by that Catholic school.” The last few months I’d been taking him over to the Seventh Street Bridge and we’d watch the construction from up there. We’d also get to see an occasional train move along slowly beneath us. Eddie, now nine years old, would watch, humming.

My brother was autistic. He never looked anyone in the eye and couldn’t speak in sentences. It was like he was numb inside, or off in his own world, which was invisible to the rest of us. But, one thing Eddie could do better than anybody was climb. Once we had to call the fire department to get him down from the roof of a neighbor’s three-story house when a painter left his ladder propped there. He was fearless. Trouble was, up is the only direction he knew. He was like a little monkey. No, he was more like a little gorilla—about that strong. He was smaller than I was, but in a temper I’d seen him lift up our big hide-a-bed couch, which I could barely budge, and heave it across the floor. Amazing considering how scrawny he looked. One time at his special school he climbed the fence and shimmied up this huge cottonwood tree. Before they could find him, he got tired and let go. He broke his ankle and sprained his wrist but wasn’t one bit the wiser for it. 

Eddie would freak out at things that didn’t faze me, but heights weren’t one of them. Me, I couldn’t even climb up into the tree house down the street. I always made up some excuse. Even when I was young it was like that. When Eddie was still little, before we knew for sure there was something wrong and Mom and Dad were still together, we went to Seattle. Before they could get me to the top of the Space Needle, I’d puked all over my new Sea Hawks T-shirt. I stayed on the ground ever since.

By the time we got to the playground at the rear of St. Anthony School, Leticia was already there. It wasn’t much of a playground. The asphalt was ripped up in spots, two of the swings were missing and none of the basketball hoops had nets on them. But still, hoops was hoops. Leticia, we all called her Leti, lived next door to us. She was only eight, but a good kid. She’d do fine, besides, I’d promised her a dollar. 

“Okay, you know what to do?”

“Duh.” She rolled her eyes. “No soy mensa. It’s a merry-go-round.”

“Great,” I said, ignoring the attitude. Her family, if you could call it that, was a mess. I think Leticia was the most grown-up person in it. Her Dad, who’d done a tour in Vietnam, didn’t act right in the head. Mom said that most of his disability check went “up in smoke.” Leti’s English wasn’t so good, but that didn’t matter to Eddie. I got Eddie seated on the floor of the thing and put his hands over the rail. He’d be content and stay put so long as it was spinning. With Eddie it was hard to tell what he was feeling unless he wasn’t happy, then we knew for sure and certain. I gave it one good push, “Okay, Leti.  Make sure it doesn’t go too fast and doesn’t stop. I’ll be over there,” I pointed to the basketball court behind the chain-link fence.

Fifteen minutes into the game came his familiar wail. I hadn’t heard the siren; it was fading into the distance behind Eddie’s screaming. Everyone stopped and turned toward the high-pitched, ear-piercing squeal. There he was, hands over his ears and his feet stomping wildly like he was barefoot on hot coals.

“Whoa. What’s wrong with that dude?” 

“He’s freaked out, man!”

Behind me, someone laughed nervously.

Leticia, wide-eyed, yelled, “Travis come. He no stop.”

The guys turned toward me. “Uh, . . . that’s my next door neighbor.  I’d . . . ah . . . better go help her out.  Catch ya later.” I tossed the ball to the kid standing next to Farley and escaped—beyond their questions.

“Damn you, Eddie,” I muttered as I sprinted toward my screeching brother.

“Que Paso? Why he do this, Travis?” Leticia had to yell over his noise.

“It’s the siren. Certain sounds hurt his ears.”

“And this not?” she nodded toward his deafening wails.

“I dunno.” I felt my face blazing red. The longer he shrieked, the more people stared. I glanced over at the guys still standing in a half-circle on the basketball court.

My fists were clenched, and all I could think about was how I wanted him to stop doing all these dorky things he did. I wanted him to be a normal brother. I wanted to shake him until all that was wrong in his head was right. I was tired of the stares, the whispers, the looks of pity. I was sick of being the brother of that weird kid. Sometimes I hated him. I could almost understand why Dad bailed.

Eddie had stopped jumping around, but still had his ears covered. I knelt down in front of him. He couldn’t see me because he had both eyes squeezed shut. I grabbed his wrists and lowered his hands to his sides.

Instant silence.

“Let’s go,” I said and headed toward home. Eddie, expressionless and indifferent to the eyes that followed him, trailed behind us. At that moment I wished I was as unaware as Eddie, not caring that Farley and the guys weren’t playing ball anymore, but watching us, watching me. But I wouldn’t let Eddie ruin it for me. By tomorrow at 3:30 I’d be shooting hoops, and Eddie would be out of the way.

Most of the time it wasn’t so bad. Every day, right before I came home from school, Eddie would go sit on the front stoop, waiting for me. Mom would say, “He can’t tell time, but he always knows when you’re going to turn the corner at the end of the block.” I guess I knew, without him being able to tell me, that my strange little brother loved me in his own way. When my parents first brought Eddie home from the hospital, I was psyched to have a brother. I was only four so I didn’t understand that for a long time he wasn’t going to be someone I could hang out with. I looked at that little red-faced thing that was either crying or sleeping and felt betrayed. But, Mom and Dad told me that someday we’d be best friends. We’d do things together. We’d always have each other. Mom promised that no matter where Dad’s job took us, which was all over because of the Air Force, my best bud would always be there with me. She was right. Eddie was always there, and usually doing something that made me wish he wasn’t.

The last place we lived was the worst. It was a small town outside of Wichita. Maybe the kids there hadn’t seen anyone like Eddie before. I don’t know, but it was bad.

We had a deal, Mom and me. Every day, right after school, I’d take Eddie and we’d go hang out together. Mostly I’d just talk, telling him what was going on with me and the kids at school and what I was thinking about. Eddie was like having a diary. But instead of writing stuff down, I’d tell him. Of course, I doubt he understood— but he was a heck of a good listener. He never gave me advice or told me that I shouldn’t say that or think this. But once in a while he’d give me a sideways glance, like he was really listening. Besides, I knew my mom needed me to do this. She said stuff like, “It’s important for Eddie to spend time with you, Travis. He needs to know how to be. You’re his teacher and he’s your apprentice.” I guess I was it, since Dad ditched us.

And it was in Kansas that I found out I was good at B-ball. I’d taken Eddie to a park bordering this little stream that ran through town. He’d wandered over to a grassy area under the cottonwoods and started twirling, arms spread wide, head tilted back, eyes skyward. He would do this for an hour if I’d let him. So when some guys started up a game and asked me to play—I did.  

Before long I was making lay-ups and swish shots from the free throw line. They said I was a natural. It was so cool. Trouble was, I’d forgotten Eddie. I looked around in time to see him coming out of the trees, heading toward the stream where all the little kids were wading and splashing. Their parents were scattered on the grassy banks with their bright colored quilts and picnic baskets. I guess he’d had to take a whiz and, being Eddie, that’s what he did. Trouble was, he didn’t pull his pants back up. His shorts were down around his ankles and he was doing his hand-flapping thing, shuffling toward the bright water.  

I really didn’t think of it as that big a deal. I mean it wasn’t like the worst thing he’d ever done. I trotted over to Eddie, reached around him and pulled his pants back up. Some kid yelled, “Hey, look at the faggots!” Some grownup pointed angrily, “Hey, you! Leave that kid alone.” After that, whenever I took Eddie to the park I felt weird, like everyone was watching me, like I was some pervert or something.

“So, Leti. Tomorrow you can swing him on the swings behind your house, right?” We had reached her house and I wanted to be sure she wasn’t going to back out after his little display.

With a quick toss of her head, the thick black braid that ran down the center of her back flopped over her shoulder, “You no want me alone. You said . . .,” she squinted up at me against the sun, wrinkling her nose.

“Nah. I think he’ll be okay. If you keep pushing him, he won’t take off.”

“My dollar? Today no my fault,” she held out a pudgy hand.

“Yeah, sure.” I dug the money out of my pocket. I felt like a dealer or a pimp, or how I thought one might feel. I’d seen them taking care of dirty business down on Van Buren. “Okay, I’ll meet you here tomorrow, right after school.”

I tugged at Eddie’s sleeve, pulling him toward our house, trying to convince myself that my scheme was going to work. Eddie would have fun, I’d be shootin’ hoops with Farley, and Mom would get some downtime. What could go wrong?

“Hey, man. Nice shot,” Farley dribbled away from me, slow and easy like. Over his shoulder he said, “Let’s see if it was luck.” He smiled, taunting me.  

I lunged at the ball, caught air. The white kid with the full Afro laughed. Someone slammed me from behind. I took another swipe, this time I knocked the ball out of Farley’s control. “Oh, big man,” he said, but there wasn’t any anger in it. The skinny kid, they called him Stilt, grabbed it and shot me the ball, hard and fast. I was way outside on the left; two of them were on top of me before I could move. I dropped down, squatting low, knees folded up. When they came to a stop in front of me, bending over, long arms blocking, hands grabbing at the ball, I sprang back up, ball overhead. Aim. Elbow heave. Wrist followed. Swish.  

“Holy Shit! This little squirt is part frog!” It was Afro boy.

“Yeah, take some lessons. The kid’s making you look like second string,” said Stilt.

“Ya got that right, man,” Farley laughed. A full throaty laugh that made me feel great.

“Ah, shove it, Farley. He ain’t making you look any too good either.”

The ball was in play again. I felt like I could fly. The sweat was running down my back, my legs burned—that good loose burn that tells you you’re on. The ball felt at home in my hands and I couldn’t miss. That was when Leti ran onto the court, arms waving frantically, “Ay Dios mio. The gate she is shut . . . Eddie, he swinging good. Inside . . . un momento. He gone! You come!” She was babbling and sobbing, smearing dirt across her little brown face with the back of her hand. She wiped tears with one hand and tugged at my arm with the other.

All I could think about was that when I got hold of him, I was gonna kill him.

I knew right where to go. I headed for the Seventh Street Bridge, expecting to find him staring up at the huge girders or watching a train pass through. He wasn’t. 

Leti saw him first. “Mira!” she pointed down below. He had started up a ladder that was propped against the lowest girder.

“No!” I screamed into the wind. The words hovered for a moment and then blew past me, scattering into nothingness. I might as well have been mute. I started running. I ran to the end of the bridge, climbed over a fence designed to keep people like Eddie and me out, and sprinted across the construction area, praying no one would stop me. I had to get to him before Eddie got any farther up that ladder.

When I got there, he was gone. I saw him crossing one of the huge girders above me. I yelled at him to stop, but he didn’t act as though he’d heard. I put my hand on the aluminum ladder resting against the girder. In the May sun the metal was blistering hot against my sweaty palms.

 “I’m coming, Eddie,” I yelled, but it came out a whisper. My voice was gone. It didn’t matter anyway; the wind would’ve carried my words away long before they rose to where Eddie was still climbing like a mountain goat.

 When I began to climb, I felt the telescoping ladder wobble under my weight. By the time I was halfway up it began to bow. I couldn’t look down. I didn’t take my white knuckled hands off the sides of the ladder either, slid them up each time I ascended another rung, hot or not.

When I’d finally made it to the first level, I could see where Eddie had gone and my stomach knotted up. A thick wooden slat, maybe a two-by-ten, was laid down between two of the girders. Resting on that board was another thirty-foot ladder, like the one I had just climbed. Eddie had disappeared beyond the top of that one as well.

I followed. Up and up we went, Eddie always beyond me. Each telescoping ladder felt more rickety than the one before. Wind gusted through the steel girders, rattling the ladder I clung to. The massive beams groaned and wheezed around me. Three-quarters of the way up the side of this skeletal nightmare, Eddie stopped. He’d run out of ladders. So, he walked out to the end of an I-beam at the building’s edge. He sat, silhouetted against a bright sky, legs swinging back and forth, his hands flapping like a crazed bird’s wings.

My head throbbed. My mouth was dry. My hands shook and my shoulders burned like I’d been weightlifting. Sweat stung my eyes. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew he’d be expressionless, his empty eyes staring up at nothing, humming tunelessly. 

“Hold on, Eddie,” I shouted from the top of this last ladder. Under my breath I said, “You little . . . .”

Now I’d have to go out on the I-beam and try to get him back down all these awful ladders. I glanced down. I didn’t see anyone below me. Maybe no one had seen us. Maybe I could still get Eddie out of here and back home without anyone but Leti knowing. But my hands were so weak from gripping the ladders, I wasn’t sure I could climb back down. Looking down had been a big mistake. My head swam. I felt like I was going to heave.    

I was on the top rung. I thought I’d pull myself up on my stomach, lie flat out on the beam and scoot out toward Eddie. I braced myself with my arms and gave a little jump, pulling my legs up behind me. I heard a loud pop, like a firecracker. The next instant the ladder tilted sideways, scraping against the I-beam. It screamed along the length of the girder before it crashed below me, out of sight. I could hear it clatter all the way to the bottom.

I didn’t realize I was crying. I looked up and there stood Eddie on the beam in front of me reaching one hand out toward me. He said, “Bo is hut?”

“No, Eddie. Bro’s not hurt,” I sobbed.  

I’d never heard him say anything except stuff like “dink” when he was thirsty or “yum” when he was hungry. He’d point to things and name them, like “bah” for ball. He’d never acted like he could tell what someone else might be feeling. But at the moment none of this seemed important. What was important to me was that he sit down on that beam. My heart raced. I could hear the blood pounding in my ears. The ladder, our only way down, was gone. And here stood my clueless brother on a foot-wide steel beam, hundreds of feet up in the air, speaking his first real sentence. It was too much. I tried to push myself up. I intended to wrap my arms around his waist and make him sit back down. Then I’d decide what to do next. I didn’t make it.

The sky rotated. My head felt like it was inside a gray, cotton lined tube. My arms tingled and for a second I thought I was in a sort of suspended animation. I felt my body let go of itself and I knew, without caring, that my hands no longer gripped that hot steel girder.

When I came to, Eddie was crushing me against his chest in an awkward bear hug. He was seated astride the big girder with his legs wrapped around it like a python. He held me so tightly I could barely breathe. One of my legs had slid off the beam. Without Eddie to grab me, the other would have followed and I’d have gone over the edge. I pulled myself back onto the girder and lay on my stomach not daring to move. Once I was back on the beam, he loosened his grip.

Unmoving, Eddie stared up into a blistering sky. He didn’t pull away like he normally would have, but tolerated my desperate grip. With one arm around the beam, the other clasping his waist and my head in his lap, I rattled on about anything that popped into my head—clouds, airplanes, and birds, because I could see these without looking down. If I stopped talking, I had trouble catching my breath, like this huge weight was pressing down on my chest. Every so often he’d pat my hair. I was gradually able to pull myself into a sitting position, but still clutched my little brother’s arm. Eddie hummed.  

That was the way we were sitting when the fire truck arrived. Luckily, for both of us, it was minus the siren. A few minutes later I heard the helicopter above us. It was so loud that I was afraid it would freak Eddie out and he’d stand up or something. But the swish-swish of the big blades was deep, not high pitched and Eddie only looked up, fascinated. It disappeared above us and a moment later someone yelled down to us. “Boys, are you okay?”

“Yeah.” I yelled back in a shaky voice, not seeing anyone above me.

“Good . . . Heads up. We’re dropping some ropes,” came a voice from an invisible god. “We’ll be there in no time.” Four bags plummeted past us. Nylon ropes, two red and two blue were left behind as the bags fell away.  

The wind carried men’s voices down to us, “Belay on?”

“On Belay.”


“Rappel On.”

I heard a whizzing sound, like a big zipper, and then two helmeted men dressed in blue were suspended in midair in front of us.

“Slack,” the man closest to me shouted.

“Tension rope,” came from far above us.    

“Boys, we’ll have you down before you know it. But right now we want you to sit really still.” While he was talking he was working his straps and metal rings. “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. I’ll wrap this strap around you so you’re nice and safe,” said the man, whose name embroidered above his pocket, read “Jay.” He was tanned, with bright blue eyes that smiled as he spoke. He removed his helmet, wiped the sweat from his forehead and put it back in place, readjusting the strap. There wasn’t one strand of hair on his shiny head. Both men clanked and jangled like brass bells.

That’s when Eddie decided to stand up. He had begun to whimper when the firemen first came into view. The other man, Jerry, was black with close-cropped hair and thick smooth muscles that rippled along his long arms. He had been tying off his own harness while Jay was talking to me. Jerry was a foot above Eddie and less than an arms length in front of him. Without missing a beat he said “Hey, Eddie.  Look what I’ve got for you?” 

For a second I was surprised that he knew Eddie’s name. Leti must have called 911. She’d have given them our names.

From somewhere, Jerry produced a bright yellow hard hat and held it out to Eddie with one hand and pointed to his own with the other. “Just like a fireman,” and he grinned.

Eddie sat back down and held out his arms for the helmet that was soon cradled in his lap. In those few seconds, Jay had tied a red strap around my chest and was clipping it onto his own harness. His gloves smelled strong, like scorched leather. “There you go, Travis. You won’t be going anywhere now unless I take you.” He winked and I believed him. He hollered to the men still up top, “I got him,” and began putting a harness like his on me.

Eddie didn’t give them any trouble. He sat calmly, letting Jerry put a strap and harness on him, while he clutched the helmet to his chest. They didn’t try to put it on his head, figuring, I guess, that it was serving its purpose. Jerry did get him into the goggles, but I still don’t know how he managed that one.

I knew Mom must be down there by now and I felt my stomach tighten. I bet Farley and the other guys would be down there too. I was sure everyone in Phoenix was gawking up at Eddie and me. Soon the firemen were yelling skyward, the same kinds of commands they used on the way down, about belays and rappelling. Ten minutes later the two firemen had us down. Moving slowly, a few feet at a time, they worked the two ropes, the red and the blue in some magical way, and we went down. I kept my eyes closed until I reached the bottom, but in the helmet and goggles no one noticed.

Mom, still in her nurse’s uniform, cried and kept hugging us, first me and then Eddie, over and over. Leticia grabbed my hand, “Eres un buen hermano.” She pulled me down to her and whispered, “Lo ciento mucho. I’m sorry. Fue mi culpa.” I could tell she’d been crying. When I told her it was no one’s fault, a smile split her round face and the relief was obvious in her dark eyes.  

Jay shook my hand like a grownup and Jerry clapped me on the back and said, “Way to go, man.” Eddie did his bird wing thing and rocked back and forth while an EMT from the ambulance checked us out.  

A camera crew had filmed the sensational rescue, “Great stuff,” the cameraman had told the reporter. Their footage showed me holding protectively onto my autistic little brother. It had been picked up by the national news. The Mayor of Phoenix would be awarding me a plaque, I was told. 

A crowd had gathered around the camera crew. My mom, in the crowd, was smiling her pleased smile. She was hugged and congratulated, thanking the well-wishers through tears of pride. She looked like a girl and I thought, how pretty she is when she smiles like that. From a jostling group of high school kids, Farley caught my eye and gave me a thumbs up. As if on cue, others around him gave a little cheer. The little red light on the camera blinked off and on, off and on. 

The reporter wet her bright, painted lips with her tongue and moved the microphone in a little closer. She pushed her blond hair back from her face and then rested her hand on my shoulder. The camera’s red light flashed on, and stayed on. The cameraman began counting down, silent fingers disappearing into his fist, . . . three, two, one, and he pointed at the reporter.

“I’m proud to be here this evening with a real hero who is  . . . ,” she said this like it was a big deal, “ . . . only 13 years old.” She gave my shoulder a little squeeze and winked, adding, “But Travis tells me he’s going on 14.” Turning back toward her invisible audience she raised her eyebrows and made a tight-lipped grin, like she had shared a little joke with everyone.  

It was me who was the joke—standing here in front of the camera, a big hero. The lady reporter, my mom, Farley, no one understood. I thought I was going to cry. My throat tightened. My eyes burned.

“So, Travis. I have learned that what you did today was harder for you than most people. I understand you’re afraid of heights.”  

I looked from the camera’s little red light to her eyes sparkling in the flood lamps. I formed the words in my head. My lips moved; nothing came out.

“Yet, in spite of your fears, you climbed over two hundred feet, up these precarious ladders,” she waved her arm dramatically behind us, “and out on that narrow I-beam to stay with your little brother until help arrived. Eddie is a lucky young man to have a brother like you.”

I could see Eddie beyond the crowd—forgotten for the moment—twirling with his arms spread wide, head back, eyes skyward. I’d swear he was smiling.

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I glance up from the newspaper clipping to the wall above Brian’s head where my wife, Kate, has arranged a collage of oaken-framed pictures. Faces from our pasts—Eddie, Mom, even Dad are there, all posed in various stages of apparently happy youthfulness. In the midst of this genealogy, is my Air Force Academy diploma. I still think it looks out of place, but Kate insists my taste is all in my mouth so here it stays. Next to this is a more recent, favorite picture, snapped by a flight attendant prior to my first flight as Captain. Seated next to me in the co-pilot’s seat, posing for the photo, is the grown-up Eddie with his too-wide, crooked smile giving a big ‘thumbs up’ to his older brother. Behind us, the instrument panel of the Boeing 737 sparkles in a cockpit awash with sun. From that proud Captain’s face, I look back into the eyes of that haunted, guilty lad that stares out from the article I hold in my lap. The resemblance is faint.  

Brian waits expectantly. But I won’t tell him. Instead, I’ll read him the words printed on the brittle newsprint. They are generous words. Hero making words. They don’t tell the whole story. They don’t even tell the true story. But then no one ever tells the whole true story. Not ever.

by B.L. Golden

Published in the North Atlantic Review and currently available on Amazon. Feel free to provide a review on Amazon.

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