Bring Me Your Saddest Arizona By Ryan Harty University of Iowa Press Copyright © 2003 Ryan Harty
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-87745-869-2 Chapter One What Can I Tell You about My Brother?
On his first night home from marine boot camp, my brother killed Rob Dawson's German shepherd with a Phillips screwdriver. Rob was the captain of my football team at Arcadia High School. He was an all-league quarterback and a popular guy, and since the end of the summer he'd been seeing a girl named Jessica Lynn Armstrong, who'd gone out with my brother before he joined the marines. She and Victor had been together for a year and a half, and they'd been serious enough to talk about getting married after he finished boot camp. But during his tenth week of training, she called to say she was seeing Rob, and it must have made my brother crazy. He killed the dog in the backyard of the Dawsons' house, a three-story Spanish villa overlooking the whole sleeping valley. He left the body floating on the lighted blue pool, disappeared over a row of yuccas, and didn't come home until the next afternoon.
* * *
Late that night, as I lay in bed, I heard the chirp of tires through my open window. A car door slammed, and then Rob Dawson was screaming at my dad through the screen door, banging his hand against the jamb. My dad's voice was thick with sleep or drink. I lay in my dark room, ten feet away, listening through the open window.
"You let me talk to Victor!" Rob yelled, his voice high pitched and loud. His shoes squeaked on the cement porch floor.
"Victor's not home," my dad said. "What the hell is this about?"
"He fucking killed my dog!" Rob said, and threw a fist at the screen. I thought he'd try to bust into the house.
"Settle down," my dad said. "You've made a mistake. Victor wouldn't do anything like that."
"It was him," Rob said. "I know he's back in town."
I pressed my cheek against the window. In the glow of the porch lamp, Rob's face was pale and drawn. I didn't know him well. Though we played on the same team, I was two years younger and had spoken to him only once or twice.
"Just tell me where he is," he said.
"He's gone," my dad said. "He's not here."
"I swear I'll kill the son of a bitch."
My dad said something I couldn't make out, and then Rob stopped shouting and stared into the house, his mouth falling open. It took me a few seconds to realize my dad was crying.
"Oh, Victor," he cried-not near the door, but somewhere inside the house now, close to my room. "What the hell has he done?"
Rob ran to the Jeep, which was still idling at the curb. He got in and laid a strip of rubber down the blacktop.
I listened to my father sobbing, a muted noise almost like laughter. The screen door opened, and he stepped onto the lawn, dressed in a pale blue robe and corduroy slippers. He stared at the end of the street for a while before going back inside, and then I heard him moving from room to room, talking to himself in a low, troubled voice. There was a time when he would have waited for Victor to come home and then beat the hell out of him. But he was old now; his heart was bad. There wasn't much he could do.
* * *
The next day after practice I showered and changed, then went back to the field to look for a lens that had come out of my glasses during drills. As I crawled on hands and knees around the blocking sleds, I was thinking about my dad, who could get ugly when he had to buy new glasses all the time. It was a cloudy day, with a breeze coming over a row of ironwood trees. I kept picturing Victor in the dim light on Camelback Mountain, his hair shaved off for the marines.
I was still searching for the lens when Rob Dawson came out of the locker room, shirtless, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. I'd seen him in practice that afternoon and had been afraid of what he might say to me, but he'd never met my gaze. Now he came down the asphalt strip that led to the practice field, right toward me.
"What are you doing?" he called. My voice cracked as I explained.
He started to search for the lens with me, not on all fours but bent over just slightly, his wet hair combed back in rows.
"It's no big deal," I said, because I just wanted him to leave me alone.
He bent down and parted the grass with his fingers. The lens winked in the sun as he held it up.
"Oh man," I said, "I didn't think I'd find it."
"You didn't," he said, and tossed it to me, a faint smirk on his face. He sat down on the grass beside me.
It would have been awkward to leave at that point, though that's what I wanted to do. All day people who had heard about my brother had stared at me as if I'd killed Rob's dog myself.
Rob plucked grass with his fingers, seeming to find interest in something behind me. Then he narrowed his eyes and said, "So, what can you tell me about your brother?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I've been asking people about him," he said. "So far I've only heard he's an asshole. I want to know if there's anything good about him. Most of the time, you know, there's some good thing about everyone."
I turned the lens in my fingers, thinking. There were good things about Victor, I knew, but there were plenty of bad things. He'd beaten me up and embarrassed me, had treated me in ways that would have made me hate him if he were anyone else. But he had protected me, too. He was my brother, and what I felt was complicated. I had no idea how to explain it to someone whose dog he'd killed.
"He's kind of an asshole," I said finally, just wanting to leave.
Rob nodded. He didn't seem surprised. He stood and brushed dead grass from his Levi's and said, "Come on. I'll give you a ride home."
"All right," I said. But as soon as I said it I wished I hadn't.
* * *
When I was twelve and my brother was fifteen, I knocked over the ironing board and burned a hole in the kitchen linoleum. My dad completely lost his head. He held me down and touched the iron to the back of my neck, blistering the skin. I ran out into the empty street, screaming. The curtains parted in the houses all around me. I touched my neck where my skin still felt like it was burning. After a moment my brother came out the front door, his arms full of bottles, a look of determination on his face.
"Okay, now," he said as he crossed the lawn. "Here we go, Tommy."
One of the bottles broke as he set them on the sidewalk, and he said, "That's my point. Right there's my fucking point." He grinned at me, his eyes small and wild. Then he picked up a bottle, threw it end over end at the house, and it shattered against a brick column that held up the carport.
He handed me one. "Do it," he said, his long hair hanging in his face.
I threw the bottle. Victor let out a high-pitched whoop as it exploded in the driveway. In a minute, my dad appeared in the front doorway, wearing navy blue coveralls and work boots. He stared at me like he was waiting for me to throw another bottle, like he was daring me to, but I couldn't, not while he was there. I waited until he'd gone inside, and then I threw a few more. Victor kept handing them to me. I started laughing as I threw them and couldn't stop, though I was crying still. Wiping a forearm across his face, Victor said, "Yeah! Do it, Tommy! Do it!"
This might have been the kind of thing Rob wanted to hear-a good thing about my brother. But I didn't think he'd understand it, coming from where he did, and I didn't think it was any of his business.
* * *
The inside of Rob's Jeep smelled of cologne and leather, and the dash looked as if it had never been spilled on. I hoped he'd ask for directions, so we could both pretend he hadn't been to my house the night before. But he drove south down Yavapai, toward the low houses of my neighborhood. Rob lived exactly the other way. If you looked you could see his house and a few dozen others set in among the saguaros on Camelback Mountain.
After Victor called to tell me about Rob and Jessica, I started seeing them everywhere together-eating lunch by the Papago Fountain, walking together through the quad. At first they were usually alone, but little by little she started hanging out with Sophia Elkin and Bradley Scott, Rob's other friends. It was strange to see her with that crowd, she was so unlike them-a kind of tough girl who wore cuffed jeans and would let you know if she was pissed at you. She was pretty, though, which was what you had to be, I guess, and she could be fun to be around when she was in a good mood. People seemed to respect her.
Rob glanced at me. "I watched you in practice today," he said. "You run a quick pattern. You should get some playing time."
"I don't think so," I said. I was one of the fastest players on the team but was only a sophomore, and small, a second-string flanker brought up from JV.
We came to a red light, and Rob looked at the empty lots where Mexicans sold painted pottery. "How'd you like to get in the game against the Pimas on Friday night?"
"How?" I asked.
"Don't worry about that." The light changed, and he accelerated through the intersection.
"I don't know," I said. The game against the Pimas would be our biggest of the season, with both teams coming in undefeated. We'd play under the bright lights at the reservation stadium, which was always crowded with Indians from the Pima-Maricopa community. I had a hard time concentrating on any of that, though, with the other things on my mind: Victor and my dad and Rob's dog, which was what I'd thought Rob would want to talk to me about.
"I guess I'd like it," I said.
We were coming into the rows of pastel-painted houses, passing the street where Jessica lived with her stepdad, who worked on the line with my dad at Motorola. Rob looked down the street as we passed. A police car sat in front of one of the houses. I thought it might be there for Jess's brother, Matt, who'd been in trouble for selling pot.
"Did you wonder why I didn't call the cops?" he asked.
"I figured you had."
"That's not how I do things," he said, looking evenly out at the road ahead. But then his face fell, and he had to tighten his grip on the steering wheel.
"I'm sorry it happened," I said.
"Hey, it's not your fault."
I couldn't help thinking it was my fault, though-that I had to share the blame in some way. We were turning onto my own street now, which seemed more rundown than usual, with a lot of cars up on blocks and toddlers playing on the sidewalks in their underwear. I saw Victor lying on a towel in our front yard, bare chested, wearing cutoffs. Rob saw him, too, and pulled to the curb. He let his eyes fall to the dash.
"If you think I know what to do right now, you're wrong," he said, then smiled suddenly, glancing at me. "I've got no fucking idea."
"Maybe you don't have to do anything," I said.
But he was already opening the door, stepping outside. He went around the front of the Jeep, where he paused, watching my brother, who still hadn't seen us. "All right," Rob said, quietly, almost to himself, then banged his palm once on the metal hood and bolted into the yard. I got out of the car and stood there, my hand still on the handle.
Victor hadn't quite gotten to his feet when Rob hit him the first time. He ducked his head and raised his hands to protect his face, but Rob got in a few sharp jabs to the back of his neck. I heard a dull thud each time he connected. Victor tried to turn, but Rob was staying in front of him, rotating his chest, swinging with both hands. Even hunched over, my brother was as tall as Rob. I knew he'd been in a lot of fights before and had lost very few of them. But he wasn't even trying now. He just slumped around in his bare feet, his head jerking each time Rob connected.
"Fight me!" Rob said, trying to lift my brother up by the shoulders. "Fight me, you son of a bitch!"
Victor raised his head. His face was slack and drained of emotion. "Fuck it," he said. "Hit me, man. You want to hit me, hit me."
Rob backed off. "You're an asshole," he said, breathing hard. "Everyone's told me that, even your brother."
I turned away when Victor looked at me. I wasn't used to seeing him with his hair shaved off, and he looked ridiculous-his head too small, his nose too long for his face. A line of blood ran down from his eyebrow. And then he started coughing and had to buckle over with his fist at his mouth.
"You're pathetic," Rob said, leaning forward as if to be sure Victor heard him. "What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Nothing," my brother said.
"Is something just the matter with you?"
Rob made a small, disgusted noise in his throat. He gave me a quick look, then turned and walked across the lawn to his Jeep, which was still idling at the curb. I watched the Jeep speed to the end of the street and disappear around the corner.
"Jesus, Tommy," Victor said. "I really needed that."
"I didn't think you'd be here."
"You brought him home," he said. "You brought him right to our house." He blew out a laugh and let himself fall onto the towel, then coughed a few times into his fist.
I sat down beside him, looking at the horizon, which was dark blue and getting darker.
"Check out this tan, man," Victor said, holding his arms out, trying to be funny-trying, I suppose, to make me forget why Rob had beaten him up in the first place. His face, neck, and arms were brown, while the rest of him was bone-white. The line of blood was drying on his collarbone. "It's embarrassing," he said.
I watched a jet plane pull a line of white over the peaks of the Phoenix Mountains.
"Tiny O'Smallessey here," Victor said.
It was a joke from around the time when our mom died. To be Tiny O'Smallessey was to be as low as you could be. When we were kids, the two of us had done skits in which we were Tiny and Teeny, the O'Smallessey Brothers. Victor looked at me, and the smile fell from his face.
"You probably think I'm crazy," he said.
"I think you're stupid."
"Fair enough. I'll catch shit for it, though. More shit. Watch."
"He didn't call the cops," I told him.
"How do you know that?"
"He just told me."
He nodded again but didn't seem relieved. "He should have called them. I would have called them if it was my dog." Then he narrowed his eyes and said, "You think I don't feel bad about it?"
"I don't know," I said. "I hope you do."
"Would you believe it was like something I couldn't control?"
"I don't know what I'd believe."
"That's the way I'd describe it," he said, a pained look on his face. "Like something I couldn't control. Though it seems like bullshit now, even to me."
It seemed it to me, but I didn't say so.
In the west, the clouds had come together like a dark gray mountain. The air was wet and getting cooler. My brother told me what had happened-that he had gone to Rob's house with a screwdriver and a bucket of sand, intending to sabotage the Dawsons' pool pump. But when he got there, the idea seemed suddenly pointless: the houses on the hill were so big and the people in them had so much money that they could just have the pump fixed and be swimming the next day, if they wanted. You'd have to do something serious to get to them, he thought. In boot camp he'd heard stories about the Viet Cong leaving dead South Vietnamese babies outside U.S. camps, trying to break the GIs down mentally.
"I don't know," he said. "I saw the dog, you know? He was barking, making a lot of noise. Something clicked in me. At some point I realized what I was doing, but by then he was already dead. I was just crazy, Tommy. I swear I was crazy the whole time. When I put him in the pool I felt almost like myself, but I wasn't quite myself still." He looked up. "Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?"
"I wish I did," I said. "But then again I'm glad I don't."
"Yeah, right," he said. "Bingo."
* * *
At practice on Thursday Coach Harding worked me in with the starting offense in scrimmage, but I was nervous and bobbled passes. Everyone had a reason to be mad at me. If it wasn't because I was a sophomore starting over a senior, it was because of what my brother had done. The defense knew which plays we would run, and were supposed to compensate by not going full-out, but on four straight slants I got my clock cleaned. After knocking the wind out of me one time, Tim Zucher pointed at Rob and said, "That was for you, buddy."
Excerpted from Bring Me Your Saddest Arizona by Ryan Harty Copyright © 2003 by Ryan Harty. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.