Throw it Like an Arrow, Catch it Like an Egg by Kelsey Leach
Exit 7: York Beach, Maine.
We’ve just spent forty-five minutes in the car, driving up the coast: my brother looking out the window at the sky, too bright and too blue against his eyes, red from crying; me, scanning the stations on the radio for a song I thought he’d like, and our parents—stuck in the haze of our recent memory, still screaming at each other in the kitchen.
I pull into the gravel parking lot. The only other person on the beach is way down at the far end, throwing sticks to a dog. We sit on a stone wall that separates the road from the sand.
Every winter, the beach is changed, reshaped by storms and revealed as new when the snow finally melts, each of us a stranger to the other. Our feet dangle in the dune grass. My brother holds a football in his hands, which are not quite the hands of a man, but almost.
The afternoon begins to separate into two parts that float in and around each other, like filaments of debris coming to rest at the bottom of the ocean. Each element, a different form of silence.
Why are we the only ones here? my brother asks.
They all heard we were coming, and stayed away, I reply.
I look at him sideways, but now he’s caught sight of the man and the dog, and his thoughts are elsewhere. I don’t often see him like this—hair blowing up from his forehead and his eyes narrowed slightly against the wind, everything about him dead quiet. He’s stopped kicking the wall with his heels and his legs hang down, relieved for the steady comfort of gravity.
I worry that he is thinking about them, wondering, like me, how today’s argument will end, wondering how many times two people have to hurt each other before they’ve had enough.
My brother teaches me how to throw a football: bend your knees, draw your arm back, release. Throw it like an arrow, catch it like an egg. The ball sails back and forth, back and forth between us, the rhythm a cradle that rocks us. The redness of his eyes recedes, the freckles on his face begin to emerge in the first real sunlight we’ve had all spring.
Each time he throws to me, it’s a question. Each time, I try to answer steadily with my return, a straight line from archer to target, but I waver, again and again, my reply a resounding I don’t know.
At home, earlier.
My brother standing in the dark in the laundry room, hands shaking, gulping air with his face in a clean, folded pillowcase. Me, finding him. The two of us running out the back door before our parents could say otherwise.
We throw the ball back and forth, back and forth. I’m no good, but he’s patient. We’re both in t-shirts and shorts; it’s the kind of spring day that allows you to re-imagine summer for the first time, like it’s a new phenomenon every year. We don’t always believe it’s coming back.
The waves are soft and rolling, pushing the sand around dispassionately, not quite caring where it lands. Pieces of driftwood float and bob. Back and forth, back and forth. I throw too wide, and he runs to retrieve the ball as it rolls, end over end, toward the water. All limbs, so skinny. A baby bird. He picks up the football, and I notice the way he walks back toward me—it’s different. He walks with the affected toughness of a nice boy trying to make it through the crowded hallways of high school.
What are you looking at? he yells.
Nothing, I yell back and turn away so he can’t see my face. He throws to me again, and I catch it, hands wide, elbows out to the sides, gently, gently. I get in position: knees bent, arm sweeping back, fingertips between the laces.
You’re my best friend, my brother says to me, often.
I release the football.
It’s a single car pulling into a formerly two-car garage, the engine ticking into silence. It’s a For Sale sign on the lawn of our childhood home. It’s a fissure in a dam.
I watch my brother open his hands, waiting, hunching forward to receive it. I watch the thing spiraling through the air toward him—violent, delicate—a shell of discord and ruin.
Kelsey Leach currently lives in Pittsburgh, PA where she is an MFA candidate and a Margaret Whitford Fellow at Chatham University. When she isn’t writing, she practices yoga, makes bagels, folds origami, and wanders around in the city’s beautiful parks.