My brother growled in my direction, unseen, from the other side of the blanket that divided our halves of the bedroom. “Oh, leave him alone, he doesn’t care about anyone but himself.”

I reflected: Yes, this was true. I was indifferent to everyone, even myself. I only interacted with people to keep me from feeling lonely or bored, or if I thought I could write about them. I felt no tenderness or pity for anyone, especially my brother.

“He’s right, actually.” I put my hands behind my head and fell back on the bed, yawning. “I don’t care about anyone but me. Me me me.”

“See?” he said. “I told you. Now get away from me.”

My mother brushed aside the blanket and appeared in the opening. Her wig was slightly askew so she didn’t make an imposing presentation. “What’s wrong with you? You are a really selfish person.”

“Yeah, I know. So why don’t you leave me alone?”

My brother swore in the background, still looking for a gun he had apparently hidden from everyone, including himself.

“Why are you so selfish?” she continued. “You’re supposed to be so smart. But sometimes that doesn’t matter. Sometimes you have to be nice and help people.”

“No I don’t. It’s not my job.”

“Oh, to hell with it,” my brother said, and stormed down the stairs and out of the house. Mom hurried after him, muttering worry phrases to herself: “Oh, what’s he going to do? He’s going to do something really bad…”

All I could think about was how I felt nothing for these people and seemed to have nothing in common with them. If I could come to understand them and love them I could be a writer. I was only pretending to be one now.

Perhaps half an hour later the car came up the street, skidding to a halt. The door slammed. Heavy steps came up the walk. Swearing: an object was hurled to the ground. The door flew open and slammed shut. Voices rose to a crescendo downstairs. My brother came up and threw himself on the bed, crying.

“He’s hurt! He’s bleeding!” my mother said. “Help him. Do something.”

She had come right into my half of the room and was suddenly standing before me. I thought: I’ll try something different. I’ll be calm. I’ll be mature.

“What is it that you want me to do?” I said. “I’m not a therapist.”

She stared at me for a moment. “A what? Help him.”

“Okay.” I got up, I went into the other room, I sat on the edge of the bed, where he was sobbing. He had a pretty good shiner and blood at the corner of his mouth. I wished I had a pipe that I could suck on and hold, like a young Sigmund Freud. “What seems to be the trouble?”

“Get her out of here!” he yelled.

I turned to my mother, holding my imaginary pipe, and said softly, “I think you can leave us now.” To my surprise, she turned and left. This is interesting, I thought: I’m not bored any more.

“So?” I said. “This can’t be such a big deal.”

“That bitch…” he began. I will spare you the details, you have heard them all before: he went out of town, she ran out on him, she took up with Joe Quarterback, Joe was there when my brother confronted him, there was a fight, just like out of some old rock and roll song.

“Who was hurt here, really?” I said, saying the first thing that came into my head, without any thought. Silence. “I mean, who was really hurt? Was it you? No, you came out of all the better. You don’t have to interact with this odious woman any more, like that other guy does. You’re free of her. You have your self-esteem.”

“Odious?” he said.

“Women are put on this earth to test us, to torture us,” I said. “Are you going to fail the test? No, you’re going to be strong, to move on.”

I had no idea what I was saying, but he was calm, he was quiet. I thought: I’ll experiment. Suppose I was a nice person, someone who cared. What would I say?

“You can do it, I have faith in you. You don’t need her. You’re strong all by yourself.”

“Yeah, who needs that pain in the ass,” he muttered.

I put out my imaginary pipe, I got up. I went downstairs with a dignified air. “He’ll be fine,” I told my mother. “Just give him some time.”

I walked out the door, past all the other houses that seemed quiet and drama-free. I wasn’t sure what had just happened. Perhaps the Rootweavers would know. I walked toward the industrial park even though it was broad daylight. Why not just crawl down in the hole and wait for them to appear? All I wanted was peace and quiet and a place where I never had to open my mouth and say a word. But if I did this, I might give away their home and then the world would know—

I stopped in my tracks: A big sign had been pounded into the earth just outside the door: Under Development. The Maybeck Corporation was offering an industrial site of 10,000 square feet with ample parking and a loading dock on this site. I ran up, in a panic. The hole to the Rootweavers’ land had been buried. It was gone.

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