|(page 74 of 93)
Fiction by Tom Hubschmid
Fiction by Tom Hubschmid
(page 74 of 93)
Keywords: eleventh transmission, poetry, fiction, photography, visual art, spoken word, film, socially engaged,
political, human experience, writing, satire, photojournalism, activist art, activism, socially conscious, art
by Tom Hubschmid
Chores had always been divided into halves. Four plates at the dinner
table. Neither of them dreamt for a sister until their wandering minds
shored upon girls, and they each realized that they were marooned in
a land unknown. When their heartbeats began to hurt beyond crushes,
the boys’ mother perceived in her sons their hearts’ first departures.
They grew up and left and continued growing and growing. Home is
where the heart first longs to leave and then quietly realizes there’s no
“Did you see outside?” their father said.
The oldest entered the kitchen, already fully dressed. Some recent
day, the boy had carried himself out of a mall, clenching the twine
handles of a renovated wardrobe. Looks like a man, the father thought.
Used to know when and where all his shirts came from. How much
each cost. Sharp sweater. Have to keep my eye out for one.
“Sadly,” said Sid, looking out the dining room window.
When Sid drove in last night the tree branches were bare. He had
pulled his car up the long country driveway, and there was no fresh
snow to mark his arrival. Now he stood at the patio doors and beheld.
Branches sagging with a new burden. The world’s brand new white
shirt. Its perennial straightjacket. 25 years Sid had stood at these
doors at least once a winter and considered this sight. He felt that he
could be any age at the moment. The buried front yard stretched
toward a line of white poplar trees, dimples in the snow from covered
deer tracks, and a driveway parted the trees and opened up into a
place that only four people in the whole world got to call home. Sid felt
the cold of the patio door’s deadbolt for a second, he watched the
brass cloud over and then his fingerprint shine and vanish. Could be
The youngest emerged from his room, foggy-eyed and yawning. He
pulled a chair out beside his mother and sat. Mom and Dad had
coffee and toast before them, and they were quiet now that their
morning’s conversation had been interrupted. “Holy white Christmas,”
said Scotty, unmoved.
Scotty joined his older brother at the patio doors. Their mother nudged
between the boys and stood with her arms crossed, shorter than both
but more powerful. She elbowed them affectionately, gave each a
smile, and then turned for the kitchen. These two oughtta bring me a
couple daughters. Someone to lend a you-know-what to in time of
need. Scotty looks homesick. Just plain sick. First year out. Glad Sid
has learned to dress himself. Better put some toast in.
She pushed the toaster handle home. She ran her fingers through her
husband’s hair before sitting down again. He was more handsome
when their boys were home.
“You two know where the shovels are,” Mom said.
The brothers had not seen each other for nearly a year, and that was
the longest it had ever been. Their eyes took opportunities to observe
the other in moments of distraction. Sid was hesitant around his little
brother. Maybe something irreparable had defined the kid’s first
semester. Scotty would mention nothing of his older brother’s new
pants, or his sweater, or the shoes, or the socks. In the garage, they
retrieved the shovels: Sid’s the metal one, Scotty’s the plastic. Some
places, otherwise clean, are stained with memory. The rafter above
the shovels loomed and bore down on Sid and pounded nightmarish
images through the back of his eyes. Dad’s flat tie-down strap looped
over the wooden truss, tight and twisting. Slush prints from Scotty’s
winter boots on the hood of Mom’s car. Internet history: how-to
videos about a particular kind of knot. Scotty, the younger one,
shouldered his shovel and held the garage door open for Sid, smiling.
Sid’s arms around my knees, lifting. Screaming for Mom. For Dad.
Light coming back. Born again.
The garage door jerked and hauled back, and a line of light slowly
wobbled over Mom’s car.
“Trade ya,” Sid said, displaying his heavy metal shovel.
Scotty protected his light plastic shovel from a bandit.
Clearing the driveway had its long-lived routine. They each dug out
their own cars and worked their way back to the mouth of the drive and
then plowed in opposite directions from an undrawn midline. The same
old snowbank rolled back against the long wall of beloved trees. Their
ribbed shovels left smooth man-made ripples all the way down the lane.
From out the boys’ heads, little clouds puffed and vanished. The work
quickened their breathing and the sharp air chilled their mouths.
Strange for them to be in such proximity again. But also not strange at
all. It would have seemed like life had failed to keep timing on if neither
of them had spoke.
“You must be hiding some mysterious beauty back in that city,” Scotty
said. Dressing for impressing, he thought.
Sid was quiet before he responded. He’d expected the subject to arise
one way or an other.
“I must be, right?”
Silence returned. No birds chirped in the trees. Sid had never brought a
girl home. When they were young, they dreamt about doing so,
wandering around the forest, breaking dead branches off with a larger
branch, listing off the qualities of the one. Their lists never aligned. But
both looked forward to knocking on the front door of the house and
waiting: “Mom and Dad, this is…”
“So you’re saying I should temper my optimism,” Scotty said, smiling.
A symmetrical back-and-forth routine: their bodies hunched and pushed
and straightened and returned to the midline and hunched and pushed.
“Is there a way to say, ‘Oh, everybody else seems to be doing just fine’
without sounding pouty?” Sid said.
“Oh, if they could only see you shovel a driveway.”
Sid obliged his little brother with a laugh.
They shoveled. Something new had developed with Sid. When his
attention was drawn to a beautiful woman in passing, he no longer
experienced a keen pulse and panic in his crotch. A real anatomical
quaking pushed against his chest, and he felt that some jealous fist
had a hold of his heart. Ache wrinkled across his forehead. What does
it mean to feel like one person could fill your every last day with
smiles and laughter, for the rest of eternity, even though you know
this is not true? Love is less of a guarantee than happiness. I’d gladly
embrace a miserable life if I could do it with the one I love. Just tell
me where to be. And I’ll be there. Give anything for a faithful ball and
chain. That would be enough.
“I’m glad to see you again, Scotty. I know you missed me,” Sid winked.
“Are you kidding?” Scotty said. He dropped his shovel and trudged
through the snow to the trees and laid his mittened hands on a trunk. “I
missed this tree.” He moved to another. “And this tree. And this tree. I
missed this branch.” He filled his mouth with snow and muffled, “I
missed this snow,” and he trudged back to Sid and put his hands on his
older brother’s shoulders: “And this tree.”
Funny little weirdo, Sid thought. The last person I’d expect to find…
“Funny how we both couldn’t wait to get out on our own,” Sid said.
“That first year out was the worst of my life. I—” Sid didn’t finish his
“What’s that?” Scotty said, shoving a load of snow up the bank.
“I actually prayed for you once.”
Scotty didn’t want to say so, but there was a back pew he’d been
warming on Sunday evenings. For a couple months now. There were
people there. They smiled. Plus, they all brought casseroles every third
week of the month. During a sermon once, he flipped through the brittle
pages of a pew Bible. Some red letters said, whoever loses his life for
my sake will save it. He started listening after that. What’s it mean to
have questions that you have no means of answering? What’s it mean
to hate yourself but live for no one else? What’s it mean to think it’s all
meaningless anyway? You had me at lose my life. That would be
They shoveled. Every now and then, they heard a vehicle on the range
road quietly fly by, the snow silencing the roar of its tires. When they
reached the end of the driveway, they tapped shovels and walked back
to the house, admiring their work. The picture before them was a
duplicate of each previous winter. The brothers were thoughtfully quiet.
“You’d think,” Sid broke in, “being by yourself all the time would allow
you to finally find yourself.”
Scotty smirked. They’d discovered a new sympathy for each other.
“Sure,” Scotty said to the trees. “But you just end up trying to find
yourself a girl.”
They walked with fond expressions, breathing little spirits of vapor.
“Just wait til you feel the need to give yourself a make-over every
Their Mother stood at the patio doors. Dad still sat at the table with an
empty coffee cup and a paper. She watched the figures of her boys
flicker behind the trees and then emerge into the yard, smiling and
holding their shovels over their shoulders. Mom turned and looked at
Dad until he noticed and smiled back.
“I think we did an okay job,” Mom said.
“Just okay?” Dad said.
“It was hard work.”
“I think we did an okay job,” Dad conceded.
The father got up and joined his wife at the door. There was a
tempered worry that sometimes bumped in their hearts like a child in
the womb. Maybe there was some leftover love in them that they had
neglected to give. Like the last tithe of a rag-clad widow. What do you
give a child who is worth much more than the your love’s last two
To the few dozen parents in the world who truly actually really really
tried: it wasn’t enough. Somehow, it wasn’t enough. We love you
though, and we can’t say that enough. What does it mean to feel like
there is never enough? What’s it mean to have an appetite in the heart
that moans like a hollow leg? Enough. I guess we will know we’ve
found it when we finally find ourselves at the home end of some
peculiar country road.
The brothers stomped into the house, pounding the snow from their
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