My brother is too far ahead and I have to call him back. We’re walking to Winchell’s Donuts and I don’t want him to get to the end of the block before I do. Mom lets us walk to the donut store on Saturday mornings as long as I promise to watch my little brother, especially when we are crossing the busy street around the corner from our house.
He stops and waits for me to catch up. Even though it’s only mid-morning, the summer sun is already fiercely hot, beating down on my brother’s unprotected head. He has his summer haircut, which is more like a hair "buzz" since he has no hair left. He loves it. He keeps running his hand back and forth across the top.
It feels like a brush, he says. Feel it. No thanks, I say. I believe you. Come on. We should hurry. We have to get back. Dad’s coming.
Yeah! He fist pumps one small arm in the air. He has forgotten Dad calling and asking Mom if he could take us overnight today. I don’t remind him that Dad often doesn’t show up. He looks too happy. I want him to keep that feeling for a while longer.
We cross the street holding hands and get to the Winchell’s talking about what we’re going to buy. I’m getting a chocolate bar, my brother says. And a million donut holes! I laugh, because he really believes our three dollars can buy that many donuts. I look at him, crouched down in front of the glass case of displayed donuts, forehead pressed so hard against it that when he straightens up, there’s a red spot just above his eyebrows. A wave of love crashes into me so strong and unspeakable that I am momentarily weakened by the force of it.
He looks so expectant, waiting for his donuts, I am reminded of the last time he looked that way.
We were waiting for Dad. We started in the living room, watching cartoons casually, not really aware of the time, but dressed and ready to go anyway. When it was fifteen minutes till the time Dad was due to arrive, we shoved the drapes aside and sat on the skinny ledge of the picture window that faced the street. From there we could see all the cars as they approached our house from both sides. None were Dad’s.
When he was half an hour late, we moved to the front yard, lazily throwing a ball back and forth, pretending not to look down the street, but finding an excuse to do so, like overthrowing the ball and having to chase it down on that side of the yard. I could see Mom in the kitchen window, acting like she was washing dishes, watching us.
When an hour passed, she came out of the house. I knew he probably wasn’t coming, but that knowledge didn’t make it hurt any less. Being older only made it easier to bury it faster. My brother hadn’t learned that yet.
Why isn’t he coming, he asked through his tears. My mother could have told truths with grown-up words like alcoholism and selfishness, but she didn’t. Instead, she smiled warmly and asked, Who wants a root-beer float?
Today, my brother reaches for my hand and we cross the street. He clutches his donut bag tightly in his other hand. I reach over and rub his head. You’re right, I say. It does feel like a brush. He smiles up at me. Told you so. Race you? We run, laughing, all the way home.