I pick at the chair’s crumbling vinyl armrest. A fragment disintegrates between my fingers. I drag the chair closer to him and its wheels screech against the basement’s linoleum.
“Bruce?” I lean over his slumped figure. “Are you awake?”
He squints and looks up at me. A sliver of light emphasizes the brown flecks in his baby blues. His arms are bound with the only cord I could find among the cobwebs, attached to a pastel pink Princess phone.
“It took a while for that shit to wear off,” I say. “Does any of this look familiar?” I sway my arms in the air like a game show model, with invisible prizes on display.
“I—I think so…” He struggles against the support beam I’ve made his conjoined twin.
“I bet you never thought you’d see this place again.”
“Do I know you from somewhere? Not just the Twisted Turnstile…”
“You do, in fact.” Dust swirls around me as I lean in close.
His eyes fix on a baby spider. It dangles from the ceiling between us like a tiny ghost. “Can’t be…”
“It is. It’s exactly what you think.” I pull a faded Polaroid from the pocket of my hoodie and wave it in his face. “This…was you.” I point to an innocent version of myself, beside him under a weathered oak tree. “This was me…when I wore tiny toddler dresses.”
“Let me see that.” A curled bang falls to conceal his view.
I hang our photo an inch from his face.
“I have no idea what you’re—”
“Bruce. You coward—”
He attempts to stand. I push him back down with both hands.
“The cops brought us news of the explosion.” I retrieve a delicate newsprint from my wallet and carefully unfold it. “Mom wailed. The mourning was awful, despite your wickedness. There was no funeral.”
“I’ve been hibernating. Cleaning myself up. Covering my tracks,” he says. “You had to believe I was six feet under. It was the only way you’d be rid of me.”
“That’s why we’re here.” I pull a vial from my frayed denim pocket and slip a needle through the top. “No more pretending.”
“No—Cora. What are you doing?” His eyes widen.
“Explain to me why I shouldn’t,” I say. “All of my life decisions have left me with nothing but this crusade.”
“I thought my leaving would solve things. I never looked back.” His vacant gaze reflects the needle.
“What you left behind was a shell…choosing the wrong adventures to fill the need for a father figure.”
“Cancer consumed Dad. Then Mom—what was left of her—let a monster creep in,” I say. “A man whose idea of parenting involved a fist and a lock I couldn’t reach.” A padlocked wooden panel, screwed tightly against a far wall, camouflages a small space I once shared with imaginary friends. “That monster was you.”
“Don’t pin your daddy issues on me.” He flinches as I reach forward to pull his head gently to one side. “Your mother was nothing without me.”
I prepare the needle. The perfect vein shows itself.
I hesitate. “Bruce. You’re living a lie—hiding. I can make it stop.”
“You and I, we’re the same. My old man’s abuse fed my demons,” he says. “I could see what was happening. So, I left.”
Salted memories dampen my cheeks, then fall to form complex paths in the dust below.
“Taking me out won’t solve this,” he says. “It’ll only make things worse for you.”
Bruce’s face looks like it did the last time he dropped me off at school, but with more lines. I imagine his greys were earned, like mine.
I grab a pocketknife from my belt loop and reach for him. The glass syringe slips and shatters. Its crimson liquid splatters on the linoleum. “This will be quicker.”
The blood swirls with tiny shards of glass beneath my sneakers.