He sat in a chair opposite me in the dimly lit living room, chain-smoking cigarettes. He offered his condolences, asked how I was.
My brother had been dead for over a month. My family lived 1,000 miles away from my Boston home, my college girlfriends were scattered from Florida to San Francisco, and David had stopped returning my calls. So I’d called David’s brother instead, and he invited me over.
I studied him closely, sizing up his speech and body language for clues as to how much he knew about David’s unexplained absence. I wanted to know, but I didn’t want to ask. He was cool, unreadable. Why had I expected anything else from him?
“David hasn’t returned any of my phone calls in three weeks,” I blurted. I hid my face in my hands. This wasn’t what I’d intended to talk about, but now I felt compelled to explain myself. “Now I have no brother and no best friend.” I pulled my knees to my chest, folding into myself like a roly-poly suddenly exposed outside of its dirt bed. “It’s hard.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” He took a slow drag.
Did he know it was hard? Or know that his brother had blown me off? I waited, but he never clarified.
When his beer was empty, we moved into the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of Irish whiskey. “Maybe you need some too?” He pushed the bottle and an empty glass across the table.
I accepted, occasionally lifting the drink to swirl it, watching the golden liquid cling to the sides of the glass.
He drank. He picked up an apple, pitched it between his hands. “You know what you need to do?” He weighed the fruit firmly in one hand, then held it out to me. “Take this and heave it through that closed window.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, bit one corner of my lip.
“Your problem is you don’t know how to be out of control,” he said, biting into the apple. “You need practice. You could learn a lot from me.”
I stared into the fruit bowl in the center of the table. I knew he was right—about the apple, the control, the practice—but I didn’t know if he was serious. He might get mad if I shattered his window. Neither of us could afford to replace it. What if I broke it and lost him too?
I imagined grabbing the smooth green fruit and hurling it, watching the window explode, glass raining from his third floor apartment. I pictured the apple falling, bursting apart as it slammed into the sidewalk below. I wanted to fire them all, to aim for the brick facade across the street, the stop sign, a stranger’s parked sedan.
But what would I do when I ran out of apples?
I took a deep breath. The cold New England night crept in through an open window on the opposite wall behind me, giving me goosebumps, filling my nostrils. I pushed the fresh icy air deep into my body, allowing it to touch my heart and nestle there. After three long, deliberate breaths, I rose, grabbed an apple, and chucked it across the kitchen, smacking it hard against the side of the refrigerator.
His deep chuckle rumbled between us. “Doesn’t that feel good?”
The apple hadn't burst apart. It hadn't ricocheted and shattered any of the fragile dishes piled on the counter.
Even the dent I’d made in the refrigerator was undetectable—until we dropped to our knees to look for it.
About the Author: Julie Patterson is a writer specializing in memoir and essay, an adjunct college English instructor, and a teaching artist in grades preK-12. Her work has appeared in the Same, The Juggler, and on National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” segment on WFYI-FM. Julie has an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University and tens of thousands of honeybees in her backyard. Follow her on Twitter @julie_patter or at www.juliepatterson-writer.com.