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Half Hearted

Steve Howard


            I drove quickly towards the aging Alaska Way Viaduct on our way into downtown Seattle. I could see the changes of spring beginning to green the banks of the sluggish Duwamish River as its brown waters slid quietly into the Puget Sound.

My half brother sat in the cramped passenger seat of my tiny Geo Metro. As I drove him into the city, the money he’d borrowed from me threw up a barrier between us. He’d said he was sorry for all the trouble he’d caused, but I barely listened.

On our way to the bus station I thought about his apology, whether it was sincere or not. Because the answer didn’t really matter or because it probably wouldn’t make a difference, I tried to let it go but couldn’t.

            We shared the same mother and a sister--my half sister, his full sister. I’d wanted to tell him that the three hundred dollars was incidental, but I didn’t. Instead I gripped the steering wheel barely grunting in response to his apology. He asked me if I wanted him to send the money when he had it. Rather than listen I just down-shifted his question away pretending to concentrate on my driving.

            “Maybe I could mail it to you.”

            “Sure, whatever you want to do,” I said.

            I turned onto 4th Avenue and drove past the rubble of the Kingdome thinking about how it hadn’t been blown up like the media had told the story but instead had imploded and collapsed in on itself when the structural supports detonated. I thought about the tons of concrete, steel, and plastic coming down and the pile of disregarded waste sitting in the parking lot waiting to be hauled off. All the emotions that ricocheted off those walls from players and fans were lying in that pile too, waiting to be dumped so they could rot away with the concrete and steel.

I’d been there once or twice with him as a kid to see a Seahawk’s game and Sesame Street on Ice. At that age he was simply my older brother. He knew about football, he knew about fishing, and he had all his funny cartoon voices to make me laugh. What I didn't know was that around the same time drugs were beginning to creep into his life and that a long battle with various addictions was only a few short years away.

“What will you do when you get to New Orleans?” I asked.

            “I dunno, maybe work on a fishing boat with a friend of mine. I’ll send you the money when I have it. It might take a little while, but I’ll get it to you.”

            “Hey, that’d be great.”

Neither of us spoke for a while. We crossed James Street and a few cars honked at a slow driver ahead of us. A jack hammer ripping open the sidewalk rattled the street as we waited at the light. Even with the temporary shade from the buildings the heat still found its way into the car. Occasionally I could see the asphalt mirages shimmering off in the distance, tiny silver lakes with no future.

My brother had a bus ticket to New Orleans and a greasy duffle bag stuffed with everything he owned, mostly dirty clothes and a book or two. My sister had made a sack lunch for him. His car had been his home for several weeks. It sat dead on the side of the road forty miles east of Portland, but it didn’t matter since it had never been registered in his name anyway. He was starting out with almost nothing.

His life since he’d turned eighteen and moved out of the house was mostly a mystery to me. Occasionally little tidbits about him would filter down from my mother or sister telling me about his three marriages and subsequent divorces, his continuing problems with alcohol and crack cocaine, and his seemingly permanent financial problems.

A few years ago I learned of his latest set of troubles involving an affair with a sixteen-year old baby sitter who had watched his son for him in the evening while he worked as a short order cook. My mother called to let me know that he had fled to Idaho from Eastern Washington in the dead of winter with the baby sitter, his five-year-old son, no car, and almost no money. They had hitched hiked as far Oregon on their way to his grandparent’s house in Boise when the money ran out. There had been phone call, an apology, this time to my father, and a few hundred dollars wired to his latest crisis.

One year later my mother, sister, and I waited in a cage-like visiting area of a low security correctional facility somewhere near Port Angeles. My brother appeared, tall, a little thinner and unshaven, wearing an orange jumpsuit.  Again, there was an apology and a request for me to thank my father for helping him out. I felt sorry for him and tried to think of something encouraging or comforting to say but couldn't find the words beyond, "Hang in there, everything will work out somehow."

Now, at another streetlight near Madison Avenue, the low hum of the engine fan broke our silence. I had an urge to ask him about the last seventeen years of his life, where he’d been and what had happened to him, but I found myself asking about our shared history.

“Do you ever think about dad?”

“My dad or yours?”

“My dad. Both, yours or mine.”

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t really think about them. I didn’t really know them. Not like you knew your dad. I wasn’t that close to either of them.”

I turned right onto Madison, trying to get to 6th Avenue, and swore as I missed the turn. Now we were heading in the wrong direction. The road was curving back to the south out of the heart of the city and away from the bus station.

“I think I missed the turn.”

“Just hang a left on 8th and follow it down until you hit Pike.”

“You know downtown Seattle really well.”

“Yeah, I lived down here a few times.”

At 8th I made a left and followed it north to Pike. I tried to remember what his father looked like. I’d had only seen him a few times, once when we made a trip to Billings, Montana with my mom to drop my brother and sister off for the summer and another time when he’d been in Seattle for a business convention.

I remember my mother saying one time to my grandmother at Christmas, “He looks just like his dad.” It wasn’t the words she used; I was too young to understand the implications associated with “Just like his dad,” but the flat look and soft resentful tone in her voice stayed with me until I was old enough to understand it.  I used to get mad when I was a kid if anyone called him my half brother. “He’s my real brother,” I would insist. The muddiness of different fathers and multiple divorces had not complicated the simple idea of brothers for me yet. At that age I didn’t understand the difference a father can make or the effect the image of a violent ex-husband on the face of a child can have on a mother’s emotions.

“You can drop me off here. Then you can get back on the freeway without going through downtown again.”

“Are you sure? I can take you all the way to the bus station if you want.” I said.

“That’s okay; you’ve helped me out enough already.”

We said goodbye and I gave him a couple of bucks for emergencies before he got out of the car.  I let him off at a dirty curb on 8th and Pike three blocks from the bus station and looked for him in the rearview mirror as I pulled back into the street, but I didn’t see him. He’d already crossed the street and disappeared in the crowd.

Back on the interstate heading south, I pass the 4th Street exit and out of habit look for the Kingdome. Only the new black steel curvature of Safeco Field is visible, still alien to me against the backdrop of the Seattle waterfront.

A strange memory from Sesame Street on Ice comes back to me suddenly. The show had ended and the crowd was slowly filing out of the Kingdome and following the long winding corridors down to the parking lot. I was asking questions about Big Bird. My brother squawked out a perfect imitation of Donald Duck. I turned to him and said, “Donald Duck’s not part of Big Bird’s family.”

On my right, as drive along the Interstate, I can just make out the top of the rubble from the Kingdome. It looks so different torn apart like that.



Steve Howard is currently living in Nagoya, Japan and working as an English teacher. He has published short stories, poetry, and creative non-fiction in the following literary journals: “Coldest Vacation” published in Voiding the Void ( 2000; “Transcending” published in Oh So Beautiful ( 2001; “An Emperor’s Request” published in South Ocean Review 2002; “Darwinism in Hot Pants” published in Flashquake ( 2004; “Aspirations, Obsession, and Disintegration” published in Jeopardy 2005; “Summer times a Burning in Japan” and “The Dead Along the River” both published in Nagoya Writes 2006. He is also hard at work on completing a novel.