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Kori pulled salad fixings out of the refrigerator. She piled the lettuce and veggies in the crook of her arm and squinted out the window. A shadowy figure, illuminated by the barn light, moved inside.
“That’s it,” she said.
“What’s it?” Avery walked in as Kori slammed the refrigerator door.
“I’m going to get him. He’s been out there for three days with no food and probably no sleep.” Clutching the vegetables to her chest, she peered into the darkness.
“You know what he’s doing,” Avery said.
“Actually, I don’t.” Kori whirled around to face him and the carrots flew from her arm. Avery grabbed the bag before it hit the floor.
“He’s making something for ZiZi. Or himself. Probably not you.” Avery blushed. “I’m sorry. It’s just, well, he’s processing it. That’s how he does it. And you need to let him.”
Kori dumped the her armload on the kitchen counter. “Doctor Freud, I presume?”
“Hey, I’m not the one that made them go outside.”
Kori snorted and turned her back on her brother. “It wasn’t my fault,” she murmered, but her words carried no conviction. “The point is, it’s three days and you’re not even a little concerned.”
“Oh, geez, Kori. Mom and Dad. Zizi. I’m having a hard time dealing with it all and Gil’s only ten.” Avery sat down. “He’s doing what he always does. He’ll be in when he’s done.”
Avery poured a glass of milk. As if on cue, the door flew open and Gil sauntered in, handing Avery the contraption in his hand in exchange for the glass of milk. Gil sat down, placed ZiZi’s urn on the kitchen table, and drained the glass.
Kori snapped at Avery. “You planned that!”
“Yeah, right,” Avery laughed.
Gil looked at each of them in turn and held up his empty glass. “More milk, please.” Avery refilled his glass.
“You must be starving,” Kori said.
“Just thirsty,” Gil replied, downing the second glass. “Avery brought me breakfast, lunch and dinner. Except, it’s not dinner yet, so I didn’t have that today. It’s just – well you forgot the milk at lunch.” Gil leveled an accusatory look at his brother.
“Life was getting a little too cushy out there, Gilliam. I thought if I put the pressure on, you’d snap to it.” Avery handed a half glass of milk to Gil who drained it and pushed it forward for Avery to fill again.
“That was only half,” Gil said.
“A half too much,” Kori said, grabbing the glass. “We’re going to eat dinner in an hour.” Gil shrugged, grabbed the urn and retired to the living room. Kori torpedoed an agitated glance in Avery’s direction, but humor danced on the edge of her eyes.
“Sorry,” Avery said. “I couldn’t help egging you on. You’re so…maternal these days. It doesn’t suit you.”
“I should make you do dinner for that.”
“No way, Jose. I did dinner the last three nights.” He raised two fingers in an imaginary salute, grabbed Gil’s invention and joined his brother in the living room.
Gil took Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome , out of the DVD player and replaced it with The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers . He didn’t know if he could ever watch Mad Max again. Bummer, because it was one of his favorites. He sat, cross-legged on the floor, ZiZi’s urn wedged between his legs.
“It’s funny,” Gil said to Avery as he walked in.
“I was in this exact same place three days ago, but I was rubbing ZiZi’s ears instead of holding a can of them.” He tapped the urn and looked at his brother matter-of-factly. Avery grimaced and sat down. “You slept outside the barn the last two nights,” Gil said, a statement not a question. “Thanks.”
Avery wrapped a protective arm around his brother’s shoulder and squeezed. “Do you want us to get you another dog?”
“There is no other dog.” Gil said. “And no other Mom and Dad.”
Gil hadn’t cried when his parents died. Nor had he processed their deaths by locking himself in the barn and building something to fix it. What he had done, after the ashes were scattered, was hang a “do not disturb” sign on his bedroom door and retreat. For a few days he surfed the web, researching the topic of drunkenness, hoping to find a cure.
“It’ll be something you can take and in fifteen minutes you’ll be okay to drive again,” was all Gil would say about his proposed brain child. He made a pill, a spray, and a lotion, all of which he tested on Robbie one night, but whether it was due to being out of his normal environment or just out of ideas, or maybe because his heart was too broken for his head to focus, Gil gave up and resorted to sleeping, watching T.V., and playing computer games. Tray upon tray of his favorite foods, placed at the bedroom door by his concerned siblings, he left on the floor, untouched. He drank only water, milk and juice.
For the first couple days the rest of the Tirabis allowed his withdrawal, but by the third day Robbie began pacing the floor and threatening to break the door down. Avery alone knew that this was what Gil needed and pleaded Gil’s case for him. It was through Avery’s intercession that Gil was allowed to continue his self-imposed isolation. At the end, he cried. On the morning of the seventh day, the door swung wide and a gaunt and starving Gil emerged, catharsis completed, despite his failure to cure drunkenness.
Avery squeezed Gil’s shoulder again before removing his arm.
“Awww, this is a good part!” Gil said. “He’s gonna toss the dwarf.” Avery fingered the collar-like contraption Gil had given him.
“Hey, Gil? What’s this?”
“A dog collar,” he responded without taking his eyes off the T.V.
“But we don’t have a dog anymore and you just said…” Avery turned it over and over in his hand, trying to figure out the mechanics.
“It’s not for us. It’s for the people who have dogs. Now their dogs won’t ever get hit by a car again.” He looked up and sighed, taking the collar back from Avery.
“It’s looks like an ordinary dog collar, just with a battery pack on it. What’s it do? Some kind of electric charge?
“A zap?” Gil asked, poking Avery. “Would you like to be zapped?”
“No. And I don’t suppose that dogs do either. Pardon my insensitivity.”
“That’s okay.” Gil reached in his pocket and pulled out a bracelet identical to the collar. “Here. Put this on your wrist.”
Avery obliged. Gil adjusted the volume and held it up to Avery’s ear.
“Ready?” Gil asked.
Avery nodded as strains of Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head poured out. “It’s different, I’ll give you that. But how do you expect a dog to keep this thing on its wrist?”
Gil’s tongue probed the interior surface of his bottom lip, a wacky smile on his lips.
“Hey, cut it out. I’m not condemning your project. I just want to know how it works.”
Gil grabbed the bracelet, his exuberance apparent, and wrapped the collar around Avery’s neck.
“It’s a training device. There’s fifteen different songs so you can train them to do whatever you want. Here.” Gil put the earphones in his own ears and pressed the remote, his head bobbing in time to music Avery couldn’t hear, but could feel. His hands flew to his neck, probing the device.
“What is this?” Avery demanded.
“The music’s in the collar,” Gil responded. “The dogs can feel it. Every song has a different vibration.”
Avery furrowed his eyebrows.
“You train them to do different things to different songs,” Gil said. “You want them to come to dinner? You play, Everybody Eats at My House . You want them to go outside and run around? You play, Who Let the Dogs Out. You want them to do tricks? You play, Jump . You want them to come right away when you call them and turn around and not run out into the street and get hit by a car, you play, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head. Gil’s throat felt thick and it was hard to swallow and since his brain was screaming something about boys don’t cry, he squeezed his eyes shut and forced back the mighty tears trying to storm the gate of his pre-adolescent dignity. He stopped talking and slumped over the urn.
“Why, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head? ”
“Cause that was Dad’s favorite song, Avery.”
Gil opened his eyes and looked to his brother, but Avery avoided his gaze. They sat in stoned silence, each wrestling with their internal demons, until Avery’s cowed in submission and he gave Gil’s arm a light punch.
“I think it’s an awesome idea, Gil. I’ll take it over to Roley’s Hardware in the morning and see if I can talk them into buying a few.”
Gil nodded, pushed his bangs to the side and swiped at the three or four tears, running full-out down his cheeks like escaped convicts.
to be continued. . .
to read what came before, click here. . .