Ernie's Ark
tradition, or bad knees. We’re supposed to give back Christmas shutdown, give back Sunday double-time, subcontract all of Maintenance. We’re supposed to take the whipping and thank them for not using a gun.”
    “I’ve heard the speech, Roy,” Timmy murmured. “All I’m saying is that you can’t blame a businessman for wanting all he can get from his capital.”
    I stared into his upturned face. Instead of wondering what was all this business about capital and shareholders, I was looking for his freckles, which had disappeared without my noticing. Hisfreckles were just flat-out gone, and somehow a man’s face had turned up on top of them. Then Elaine said, “Daddy didn’t raise us to be somebody’s capital,” and the shimmy in her voice let what she realized filter down to the rest of us, who were not so quick about people: that our little brother planned to cross that very night, that he was going over there in twenty minutes to sign on for the graveyard shift.
    Suddenly I was yelling my head off, fists raised, Elaine pulling on my shirt, the kids waking up and wailing out the bedroom windows. Tim’s yelling back at me, and I’m thinking, What the fuck happened to your freckles? Really, this is what I was thinking when I hit him, and you can analyze it all you want. He backed away like a stunned bird, a drip of blood at his lip, like I was some kind of something he didn’t recognize. But it was him. He was the one in disguise.
    I tore after him, not because I wanted to land another punch but because during our scuffle the rabbit’s foot had thumped onto the stiff carpet of Bing and Elaine’s breezeway. “Here,” I said, catching him near his car. He reared back with his fist cocked but saw at once that I had come back to myself. To my relief—to my great relief—he took the rabbit’s foot and returned it to his pocket, where I like to think it remains, and that it reminds him of his twelfth birthday and good luck, our huddled warmth at a campsite on Moosehead Lake, a globe of stars swelling over our heads.
    “I’m crossing, Danny,” he said. “I want the money. I’ve got plans.”
    I lifted my arm to indicate the town, the torn-up families, the enflamed tongues on the picket line. “This is war, little brother.”
    “I know,” he said, nodding, nodding, “I know.”
    “You
think
you do. Listen to me, Timmy. You’re breaking my heart, my man.” I cupped his chin, careful not to touch his damaged lip. “Think of Dad.”
    “Danny,” he said, “I didn’t
know
Dad.” Then he slid into his pickup and drove off.
    It’s true, he didn’t know Dad, and that is his terrible loss. My father—our father, I should say—was fifty-two years old when our mother produced Timmy, a wizened troll with slammed-shut eyes. Tim was born twenty years after Elaine, nineteen years after Roy, seventeen years after Sonny, fifteen years after me. Our father was a faithful man and I miss him still, that machinist who loved scales, everything calibrated, quantified. He measured anger in ounces, surprise in feet, and happiness in degrees Celsius.
    The happy scale, he called it. Zero to one hundred. Frozen-solid grief to boiling-over joy. “Son, you’re looking at a ninety-nine-point-five,” he said of himself as we studied Tim in his cradle. I figured he was hedging his bets with that last half degree: maybe the kid would turn out to be useless with his hands. But it was his own ailing heart our father meant. He died four weeks later, and we froze in that house for years. Our mother never thawed—I don’t think there was a day when her personal mercury rose above a degree and a half—so it was left to me to pass Dad’s lessons on.
    I taught my little brother how to read a micrometer and sharpen a drill bit, but also how to navigate a library, flip an omelette, tell a clean joke. I tested him with Dad’s old math drills and word puzzles. I explained the workings of the happy scale, hoping my little

Similar Books

A Touch of Greed

Gary Ponzo

No Year of the Cat

Mary Dodson Wade

Swimming Sweet Arrow

Maureen Gibbon

You, Maybe

Rachel Vail

The Year of the Gadfly

Jennifer Miller