by J river helms
It was the day of our mother's funeral and Jake's mouth was full of rocks. I said Jake, please stop and I grabbed his arm, his tiny arm, and my fingers wrapped all the way around. He spat out the rocks and some of his teeth. His mouth was ringed with blood and he looked like a grotesque miniature clown. The blood dripped onto his white t-shirt, forming a spot in the middle of his chest.
I had been in my room adjusting my tie when our father called out to see if Jake was ready yet. I went into Jake's room and his dress shirt was still on his bed, its sleeves spread wide. Our father called again and Jake didn't answer. I went outside and Jake was standing next to the tire swing in our backyard, stuffing rocks into his mouth. It hurt my teeth to see him do it.
We didn't have a recent picture of our mother. The photo that was enlarged and displayed at the funeral was from six years before and it was taken at Jake's third birthday party. The picture was propped next to a closed cherry casket. I couldn't stop looking at the photo, at our mother and her frozen green eyes. Our mother and her smile and her teeth. Our mother with a little bit of frosting in her dark brown hair.
Jake sat in the front row between my father and me. My hand was closed around his balled up fist. I had washed all the blood off of his face but he was still bleeding from the missing teeth. In his other hand he had a paper towel he'd been using to dab the inside of his mouth. My father looked over Jake's head and said Thank you, Cody. He said I'm sorry you had to— but he didn't finish.
I was dating a boy who was a couple of years older than me, but my parents didn't know. His name was Gordon and he was a senior at my high school. Our fathers played softball and drank beer together on Thursday nights. We'd been seeing each other for four months when Gordon took me out for dinner and a movie to celebrate. This was the weekend before my mother died.
After the movie, we went back to Gordon's house because his parents weren't home. We went into his bedroom and he started playing some music I'd never heard before. Gordon unbuttoned his shirt and walked over to me and put my hand on his stomach. He was hairier than I was. I finished taking off his shirt. He said I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do. I put my mouth on his shoulder and he put his hand on the back of my neck. We stood that way for several songs.
Gordon was at my mother's funeral with his mother and father and sister. His family sat a few rows behind my family. When I got up to go to the bathroom, Jake followed me and I looked at Gordon as we passed. He was wearing a black button-down and a tie that belonged to his father. He looked like he didn't know what to do with his face when he saw me.
I'd only seen Gordon once since my mother died. He came to our house with his mother to bring us a casserole. I wasn't eating very much then but Jake and my father said it tasted pretty good. It was gone in two days and I rode my bike to Gordon's house to return the dish, but he wasn't there. His mother said he'd gone to the grocery store with his sister. She said she'd tell him I stopped by.
My mother stayed home from work on the Monday she died because she said she wasn't feeling well. When Jake and I got off of the bus after school, Jake stopped to play with our neighbor's dog and I went inside to check on our mother. I sat my bag on the couch and called for her and she didn't answer.
I walked into my parents' bedroom thinking my mother was asleep and there was her body collapsed next to her closet. My father's handgun lay in her open hand and there was so much red on the white wall. I heard the front door open and I tried to yell at Jake, to tell him not to come in, but my chest was so tight and I couldn't breathe. He was standing beside me before I could do anything.
When Gordon came to our house with his mother he stood in our kitchen and shook my father's hand. My father put his hand on Gordon's shoulder, the same shoulder I'd put my mouth on just days before, but that didn't occur to me then. I was sitting in the living room with Jake watching television. My father said Cody's in the living room, but I knew Gordon could see me.
Gordon walked in and sat down next to me on the couch. Jake was sitting in my mother's recliner, picking at the arms of the chair the way our mother used to. Gordon touched my hand and Jake noticed the movement but he just looked back at the television and never said anything. Gordon sat with us quietly until his mother said they were leaving. He squeezed my hand for just a moment before they left. Jake continued picking at the chair and my father settled next to me on the couch. We sat that way for hours.
J River Helms is an Assistant Editor for Corium Magazine. Their work has appeared in Copper Nickel, Fairy Tale Review, Phoebe, New England Review, and Redivider, among others. Their first book, Machines Like Us, won the inaugural Dzanc Poetry Collection Award (judged by C. Dale Young) and is forthcoming from Dzanc Books in 2015.