'Human Accounting' by Ceil Kessler

Russ grabbed his brother, spun him around and hugged him. Under his breath he said, “Thank God you’re okay.”

A reluctant breeze swayed the yellowed, ruffled kitchen curtains and cigarette smoke swirled around the dingy room.

Russ then pushed Jackson back and slugged him. Jackson flew back, knocking over the kitchen table. Mother’s crystal salt and pepper shakers skidded under the pie chest.

Father trudged in. “You two fighting again?” He skulked to the pantry and grabbed some gin. “Worthless, that’s what you are.” Shaking his head, he skulked back to his bedroom.

After he left, Russ said, rubbing his hand, “First, you sure as hell do not take my car to another robbery.”

Jackson, still on the floor, blinked and tried to get his eyes to focus. He nodded.

“Second,” he continued, “You got blood on the front seat. Is it yours?”

Jackson climbed to his feet, grabbing his back. “Nope,” he said.

“Jesus Christ, Jack.” Russ noticed his brother was trembling. He stooped to pick up the table. “How long you have to stay with these people?”

“‘Til my debt’s paid off. ‘Til they say I’m done.” Jackson groaned as he bent to get the other end. “Sorry about the car.”

“Yeah, well.” Russ eyed his brother. “Piece of shit, anyway.” He looked outside at the beat up Chevy. “So, what now?”

“Shit, I don’t know.” Jackson traced a random pattern on the walnut table with his finger. “Can’t leave. Can’t stay.”

“Could pretend you’re dead.” Russ mused.

Jackson chuckled. The jar on the kitchen counter caught his eye. His mother’s ashes. “We’d need a body…”

From the back bedroom a radio clicked on, and an off-key old man began to sing Patsy Cline.

The brothers looked at each other. “Maybe a car fire…?” Russ’s voice trailed off.



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