A Brother's Keeper

by Jerry Vilhotti

“One day you will find out you were nothing! I was never jealous of you like Leny One N and Tina of the Troy were because I knew you were really never one of us but I agree with them that you stole our father’s love and that wasn’t right!” Tom the almost-psychologist said as he walked about the apartment twenty four levels above the ground; emanating from its parlor window was a soft green light toward the New York City skyline to across the East River all the way to the Empire State Building where King Kong fell to his death trying to save mankind from itself.

“Oh, God you did it with a hundred cute ways. You even had to have blond curly hair. Judas Priest, was that an eye catcher among people with green olive like skin and purple straight hair. Damn, you had that certain kind of moxie when you walked like you were afraid of nothing with that damn smile of yours that showed your dimples. And remember you threw that knife at me – making my hand throw up blood because you told Mama I was trying to pull all your hair out of your head and teasing you while I was singing “Cherry Cherry Bin! Well for your Dante’s circle of information, I was only playing around with you until that bum fighter – who beat Sugar Ray Robinson for his first loss in Detroit – who knocked up Tina, came and took you away from Papa!” Tom said as he flipped the butcher knife and then clumsily caught it between both hands – trying to impress Johnny who could catch fly balls with his back to home plate as a ten year old. .

“Be careful Tom. Here, give me the fucking thing before you cut yourself in half,” Johnny said taking it from him as it was floating in mid-air as if searching for a body.

“No! No! No! That protects me from the voices in the hall who want to take me to that place that wants to fry my brains and my fourth wife and Leny wants to take me there too! I told Judas give me the kiss of death and I’ll go off by myself and start a new religion that will make the Morman Pope rich!” Tom said referring to the restaurant he and his wife Rhoda had bought, which once was an apartment where O’Henry had lived while writing the Gift of the Magi, that had fallen deeply into debt, not granting them the riches they thought it would — only bankruptcy.

“Tom, you really do need help. Let me at least drive you to your head shr-”

“You crazy or what? You remember when you and your wife lived with us here when you gave her a baby and who is now north until you finish your last months of teaching here and weekends you both would go to Connecticut and see her parents and mine for the weekend? Well me and Rhoda used to read your diary and you guys used to do pretzel positions too! Anyway that guy is one big weirdo sicko who left his wife of twenty years and two kids to go live with two chicks about as old as his daughters and the bastard charges me a million dollars an hour and says Israel should cleanse themselves clean from all Arabs like the Nazis tried to clean up Europe of all inferiors. The shyster just gives me pills that make me stare at all the white walls and I blame you because I sent you to him to fix up the way you always argued with your instructors at Harlem College and you would have flunked out too if he didn’t help you but what did you do? You think your college was better than my Brokenland because Jonas Salk, Frankfurter and Eddie G Robinson graduated from yours but George Gershwin went two years to mine and he did the melodies while Ira who went to yours could only write words! So big deal the guy who taught this country that debt was a great thing had his house on your north campus but the bastard from Jamaica who was really our Father Washington’s illegitimate son got shot by Aaron Burr who would have gone to Brokenland College if it existed then! You told the neurotic psychotherapist bastard a man could love three, six, nine women at the same time but for different reasons and that’s like saying two mating birds can in fly in the same space!” Tom often said those numbers over and over. "Hey listen quit your teaching job and I'll give you two hundred dollars a week and you can write all day. Ok? Ok? Ok?"

“OK, then I’m getting the hell out of here. You spend my share of the rent money buying cheap bread. There’s more to eating than just stale bread. I came here while doing my last five months’ teaching in the city before I go north to a simpler place in time with my wife and little son because Mama asked me by saying we’re all our brothers’ keepers. I don’t think you guys were ever brothers to me. I’m not going to yell like Leny does- thinking that by yelling at someone who needs help it will cure him! You’ve got to see for yourself that you need help!”

“OK. OK. OK. Please don’t go. Tomorrow I’ll go see the horny nut. Don’t go. I’m putting the butcher knife away. You go to sleep. I’m OK now,” Tom said and then began to cry; whispering no one ever liked him because he had polio.

“I’ll take you. I’ll take off and I’ll take you,” Johnny said going into the study that was once his and his wife Linda Ann’s bedroom and closed the door. He did not see Tom painting circles of gray, red and black on all the white walls of the large apartment but he could still hear “Ciribiribin” Tom would begin to sing – before he would do his teasing on him when he was four years old – coming through the wall.

In the morning Johnny would see the strange sight of circles and he could hear that song again in the colors of gray, red and black.