Mrs. Carlson called while we watched Straw Dogs and said Thomas had to leave immediately. She cooked intricate Swedish dinners like strömmingslådor and promised the herring would get soggy sitting in the tomato sauce. Thomas left without putting the phone back on the receiver. I ran upstairs because Mom made me pack for Vermont. We were only going for two weeks, and if it was up to me I would bring one set of clothes. I knew the trip would mostly suck. It did. I listened to old people talk about Buddy Rich and fished for perch, but on the last day my cousin puked in the kitchen sink. That was great.
When we got home I went down to the basement to watch Harold and Maude and realized I’d left Straw Dogs on pause for the past two weeks. Dustin Hoffman stood in a field holding a rifle during the snipe hunt scene. I ejected the tape, turned the TV off and on again, but an afterimage remained. It didn’t really bother me, but it did make Harold and Maude look like a threesome, and I was freaked out enough that I stopped watching, and shot baskets in the driveway. There’d been an onion snow in the morning but the wind blew away most of the flakes. I was driving to the hoop like Gervin when my brother Abe stormed out of the basement door.
“What the fuck, Flynn?”
I tucked the ball beneath my arm. Wind flopped Abe’s hair over his eyes and I wanted to laugh. He punched the ball away and dragged me inside: some fat guy was pulling a minibus with his teeth on “World’s Strongest Man” and Dustin Hoffman stood behind him.
Abe picked me up but stopped the station wagon at the corner. He wouldn’t pull into the driveway because he used to date Thomas’s sister and couldn’t risk a meeting. I thought she was weird looking. She glared at me while she sat on the couch eating carrots and spinach dip.
Abe hung his head outside the window, smoking a Marlboro so the smell wouldn’t mark the car. He started to pull away before I was completely inside.
“Regina says hi,” I told him.
“Fuck you.” He flicked the butt into the low wind. “Don’t you have any other friends?”
I sat on my hands because Abe never used the heater. He said it smelled like maple syrup. “Thomas is cool,” I said.
“Sure.” He picked at razor burn along his neck. “We’ve got to take a ride.”
“Just down the street. I’ve got to check out a car.”
We stopped at the end of a long driveway and Abe left the station wagon idling. He got out, lit a new cigarette, and walked around an olive Plymouth Valiant. The back was rusted and the hubcaps were missing but Abe smiled. He lifted a piece of paper from under the windshield wipers before getting back in the station wagon.
“It’s not bad,” I said.
“What would you know? You’ve never driven a car before. It’s perfect. I’m buying it.”
I laughed. “You’re kidding me.”
“Sure as shit.” He backed onto the road.
“You don’t have enough money. And Mom’s still pissed at you about the wreck.” She really was pissed, and cringed each time she handed Abe the keys to the station wagon. To be honest, Mom hasn’t trusted Abe since he snuck into The Brotherhood of Satan after buying tickets for The Million Dollar Duck.
“I know. But I’ve got 400 saved up from working.”
“How are you going to get 200 bucks?”
He shook his head. “I’m having a garage sale.”
I paused Overlords of the UFO to study a photograph. The host said it was taken in Riverside, California in 1952. I leaned closer to the screen and the tip of my nose shocked from the static.
Abe pulled me back by the neck of my sweatshirt. “Don’t sit so close. And stop pausing tapes. That’s how you fucked things up last time. It took a month for it to go away.”
“It was a day.” I sat back on the couch and stopped the tape. “What do you want?”
“Nothing.” He walked around the staircase and into the corner of the basement, where he tugged down on a chain from a bulb. He rummaged through boxes and piles and made a lot of noise.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
He stopped. “Getting shit together for the garage sale. Why don’t you help me?”
“If you give me some of the money.”
“No.” First he dragged a weight bench and bar into the garage, along with a bunch of weights and dumbbells. Next he carried a croquet set, the wickets clinking together. I ejected the documentary so I could watch it later when I could focus. Abe was making quite a pile in the garage: sport equipment and a stack of board games: Alien Space Battle Manual, First Down!, Chain Letters, Escape from Colditz Castle, and Yeoman. Abe was an idiot if he thought this crap would fetch 200 dollars.
I looked back in the basement and saw Abe staring at the VCR.
Abe went upstairs and I watched a preview for The Boys from Brazil on channel 11. It was crazy. Doberman Pinchers ate Gregory Peck: one time only on Saturday night. I would use a new tape for that masterpiece.
I went out to eat with Thomas and his dad. Mr. Carlson drove trucks for Kephart and was only home a month out of the year. He and Mrs. Carlson spent a lot of time in the bedroom during that month.
We went to Billy’s Red Room, a tavern restaurant in town. Mr. Carlson always got steak and mashed potatoes and asked for extra brown gravy, and Thomas dipped his fries in the gravy before dabbing them in ketchup. I ate a knockwurst platter and Mr. Carlson poured half his beer in my empty glass. He told lots of stories about being on the road. The first few were really harmless, like the time he forgot to tip the waitress at some diner on Route 1 in Maine. Toward the end of the night they got more interesting, like when he fell asleep in a puddle of his own piss behind a bar in Madawaska. He kept ordering beers and letting Thomas and me drink them. I felt drunk by the time he dropped me off, and I went straight to bed. I dreamed I was bucking horses in Oklahoma and wearing an enormous hat.
I woke Saturday morning with what I now know is a hangover. I did what Abe always did when he had one: I drank lots of water, ate two bowls of cereal, and took a long shower. I drank some of the shower water for good measure.
Mom pushed my bedroom door open. “Jesus, save some for the fire department.”
“I’m naked.” I held the towel in front of me and crouched at the other side of my bed.
“You should go help Abe outside with the sale.”
I could tell she was patting dust off my dresser because I could hear her ring tapping against the wood. “He’s your brother and you should appreciate what he does for you.”
“He doesn’t do anything for me.”
“He drives you all over God’s creation. Go help him.”
I snuck downstairs to watch the UFO movie, but the VCR was gone. All that remained was tufts of dust and orphaned wires. I sprinted outside and saw Abe sitting on the driveway on a blanket spread across the asphalt. He had a stupid-ass grin on his face.
A woman and her kids were opening the board games and counting the parts. An old guy asked Abe if he had any two pound dumbbells. I saw my VCR on the ground. I picked it up, wrapped the power cord around the top, and walked back to the garage.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Taking back my VCR.”
Abe smirked. “My VCR? Bought with what money?”
“It’s my VCR. I’m the only person who uses it.”
Abe put his hand on my shoulder and pinched. I squirmed but he didn’t let go. “Mom and Dad got me this for Christmas a few years back. That makes it mine to sell.”
I looked at the woman. She held Alien Space Battle Manual in her arms. The old man had waddled off, and the kids tried to lift the heavy weights.
“Found something you like?’ Abe asked her. Abe turned to me while she fished through her purse for a dollar. “Give it up.”
He pulled the VCR from my arms.
Dad had a Massey Ferguson from the early sixties. He kept the tractor nice. The red frame shone like a Cortland. He lay beneath it, one wrench jabbed into its innards, one wrench clenched between his teeth.
He spat out the wrench. “Christ, Flynn.” He rolled from beneath the tractor and took his time getting up. He said his back was more unpredictable than the 76ers.
“Sorry. I need to ask you something.”
“Keep it short, spud. This lawn needs cutting and rain’s coming.”
“Abe is selling my VCR.”
“My VCR.” I looked back at the driveway. A bunch of people arrived, spilling from van doors.
“I remember buying it for him. We went to the electronics store on Wyatt St.”
“He can’t sell the VCR because I need to tape a movie I’ve wanted to see for a long time.”
He rested a wrench on the seat. “What’s the name of the movie?”
“The Boys from Brazil.”
“Never heard you mention it before. Remember, this is a fundraiser for Abe’s car.”
“I know. But why can’t he sell the TV in his room?”
“Because he watches it.”
“I use the VCR every day.”
“Listen, now. That car’s more important than any movie. Abe can’t keep using our station wagon every time he needs to go out.” Dad hiked his pants and flashed bare ankle. He never wore socks with his boots, so Mom kept them on the deck. “And you could use a break from all those movies. Videotapes cost money. Why can’t you just watch the movies once?”
I stood with my hands in my pockets, closing my fingers around used tissues and lozenge wrappers, waiting for Dad to give in. He didn’t. He asked me to hand him a screwdriver and crouched next to the tractor. I ran back to the driveway.
“How much is the VCR?” I asked Abe
“Why?” Abe was counting the money he’d already made.
“Just tell me.”
“Are you crazy? You can buy a used Beta for half that.”
“Beta blows.” He scowled, then smiled when somebody asked the price of a wool sweater.
Abe wasn’t going to budge. I knew that look in his eyes. It was the same look he wore after he broke-up with Regina, after he came home from Altoona halfway through the semester and said he wasn’t going back. He was set on that stupid car, and he wanted that money. I did the only thing I could.
I emptied my VHS collection into a box. I put everything in there, stuff like To Kill a Mockingbird that I’d never watch again, to Vargtimmen, which I didn’t really understand but the images were cool. I parted with my favorites, like The Ninth Configuration and Race with the Devil, and even included the UFO documentary without finishing it. Twenty-seven tapes in all. My life in movies.
I carried the box outside. A woman was bartering with Abe over the VCR. She held her purse close to her chest. Her jeans were tucked into high brown boots. Abe kept saying 20 dollars and she said that was too much. She could buy a new one for that price. Abe clenched the VCR as if the woman would run away with it, but she wasn’t the stealing type: she wanted to break him down. The few times I’d gone to garage sales with Mom, I’d noticed the same thing: people were always negotiating, fighting for a while and then settling for whatever they got.
“What kind of tapes do you have?” An old lady peered into the box. She wasn’t really that old, but she moved deliberately, and her scarf draped onto the tapes.
“All kinds.” I wanted her to go away but she insisted I summarize all the plots.
“I’m looking for my son.” She picked up The Farmer and Dark Places. “How much for these?”
I rocked back on my Converses and looked at Abe. “Twenty dollars.”
“Good luck.” She put the tapes back in the box and walked away.
I saw the lady with the boots walking back to her own car, the VCR tucked beneath her arm. Abe sat on his chair and folded a ten dollar bill into his pocket.
The tractor sputtered and choked but finally started. Dad screamed triumphantly and shook his arms in the air. The grass nearly reached to his knees and made him look short, but he was actually a tall man. Abe and I never got that tall.
I sprinted to Thomas’s house. He opened the door after two knocks and held his fingers to his mouth. He pulled me inside.
He shook his head: yes.
“Don’t they ever get tired?”
“Nope,” he whispered. “I think it’s like eating. If you don’t do it for a while, you want it all day long.”
“That’s disgusting.” I walked into the living room and Thomas followed. A new pack of VHS tapes, still sealed in plastic, rested on top of the TV. “Thank God.” I unwrapped the tapes and popped one into the VCR, a beautiful Philips N1702 that recorded for three hours.
“What are you doing?” Thomas nudged me from the machine.
“Abe sold my VCR and I’ve got to tape The Boys from Brazil tonight.”
“We can watch it.”
“I know. But I want to own it so I can watch it again.”
“You can’t.” Thomas ejected the tape and put it back in the plastic. “My dad’s always got stuff on timer. He makes us tape movies for him so that he’s got things to watch when he gets home.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Nope. I’m sorry.”
Thomas had the same look as Abe did. I turned away.
“Why did he sell the VCR?” Thomas asked.
“Saving for a car.”
Regina came from the kitchen, a glass of orange juice in one hand and a grapefruit in the other. “Abe’s getting a new car?”
“Yeah,” I said, and opened the door to go. “It’s a piece of shit.”
I walked around for awhile. There were places I went when I didn’t want to go home, like Jim Fear Pond and the Salem Drive School, but I didn’t really go anywhere, I sort of drifted. I looked into people’s houses and wondered what things were like inside.
The Plymouth Valiant was parked in the driveway when I got back home. Dad had waxed the car and Mom had wrapped a red ribbon around the steering column. Abe leaned against the trunk, talking on his cell phone. I think he was talking to Regina.
“Hold on.” He held the phone against his chest. “Sorry. I’ll make it up to you.”
I walked past him.
Dad raked swaths of grass clippings toward the woods. He shook the rake and the clippings fluttered to the ground.
Mom watered the plants on the porch. “Did you eat lunch?” she asked.
“Yes.” I went inside and fell asleep on the couch in the basement.
I woke up at 7:51 and the world was muddy, fuzzy. My head hurt but it wore off when I stood. I sprinted upstairs and pissed for an extremely long time. Mom and Dad played rummy at the table and asked when I was going to eat dinner. I said I had a sick stomach and sprinted back downstairs. 7:57. I went into the garage and peeked out the window. Abe’s new car was gone. He was gone.
I turned the TV to channel 11. The Boys from Brazil was about to start. I watched the first half from the couch but then I slid the footrest an arm’s length away from the TV and stayed there until the end. I hung on every word, knowing it would all be a memory at 11:01.