My brother sits on the couch in his living room, his face illuminated by his phone in the dark room that’s illuminated by a large television screen. Earlier, he’d put ice cream in bowls, poured his best whiskey into his best glasses and adorned the drinks with carefully made balls of ice. He was glad to see me.

To cut the sweetness clinging to my tongue and souring, I roll the smoky liquor around in my mouth. I want to scream into the noise of the unwanted television. I sit and the minutes pass. Feeling like there’s sand in my eyes, spiders in my hair and ants in my shirt, I reach again for the glass.

I remember the last night I spent with Dad on my first trip home after moving cross-country. I hadn’t planned to spend the night, but he kept asking, “Sistah, why don’t you stay?”

The night had progressed as I knew it would. After dinner, my father, his third wife, her 30-plus year old son who lived in my brother’s old room, Dad’s psychotic Dalmatian that was built like a brick house, and I retired to the living room. They all sat where they always did and I perched on the end of the couch closest to the television.

The television came on, the lights went out, Dad leaned back in his lazy boy and started to snore. His wife selected the show she wanted to watch and the room flashed with the changing scenes. Internally I raged against myself for falling into this trap. An adult voice countered soothingly, “Somewhere inside that snoring man is a heart that knows you stayed. Do this for him.”

I’d kept my face directed toward the television until the spiders in my hair had compelled me to move, saying goodnight to the strangers who shared my father’s house. The night after this, when I’d returned to the comfort of familiar friends hours south, my father died of a massive heart attack in his sleep.

I look again at my brother’s illuminated face across the room and break the familial code of solitude with company.

“So, mon frère, how are things?”

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