“Good, Brother”

When we fish the fish out of the dirty river that runs its way through this dirty river town: when we gut the fish: when we chop off the fishes’ fishy heads: when we give each fish each a name: when we don’t name the fishes Jimmy or John which is mine and my brother’s name: when we take these fishes’ chopped off heads and then nail them, these heads, into the creosote coated telephone pole out back in the back of our back yard: when our father calls out to us brothers: when he tells us that we are leaving this dirty river town: when our mother tells us too that we are going to be going, any where is the word she uses, just so long as any where is west of all of this mud and muddied water, away from all of this smoke and rust and steel: when to all of this all that us brothers can make our boy mouths say is but this is our house, but this is our river: when what our mother says to our buts is, we’ll find us some other house for us to call our home, a place, she tells us once more, without so much mud and without those fishy river smells: when what we say to this is, but we love all this mud and the river and the fishy river smells is what we want her to know: when we look to our father, our father, we turn to him at times like these cause we know that he, our father, loves mud too, that he, our father, loves fish too, that he, our father, loves the river too: when our father doesn’t say any thing to any of this: when our father just stands there not saying any thing to any of this, not even those words but mother, or son, or boys, or fish: when, us brothers, to any and all of this, we don’t know what we are going to do about it next: when that night, us brothers, sitting in our room, we look outside through our bedroom’s window and see our fish, we see our fish headed telephone pole, we see those fishes’ chopped off heads—open eyed, open mouthed—it’s like they’re singing out to us brothers what it is that we have to do next: when we go outside and walk down to the river and the river too, the river tells us what to do too: when the river and the fish heads both, they are one voice, a river of sound, running through the both of our boy heads, telling us brothers what we’ve got to do: when that night we go outside, out into the back of the yard: when we go then into our father’s shed, where our father keeps his nuts and his bolts and screws, his buckets and ropes and ladders, and those bottles of his half filled up with whiskey: when we come back out and in our boy hands we are both of us brothers holding a hammer and a hand full of rusty, bent back nails: when we walk ourselves and each other back to where our backyard telephone pole, it is all lit up and shining with the hammered in heads of fish: when I say to Brother, Brother, I say, you can go first: when I say to Brother, Brother, give me your hand: when Brother does like he is told: when I take Brother’s hand into my own hand: when I hold this brother’s hand up against that pole’s creosoted wood: when I tell Brother, Brother, this might sting: when I reach back with my hammering hand: when I drive the rusty nail right through Brother’s right hand: when Brother doesn’t even wince, or flinch, or make with his boy mouth the sound of a brother crying out: when I say to Brother, Good, Brother: when I whisper this into his ear: when I raise back the hammer again: when I stop with the hammer when our father, he steps out into the back part of our back yard: when our father calls out to us brothers, Son: when, us brothers, we turn back away from each other, back towards the sound of our father: when we wait to hear whatever it is that our father wants us to do next: when we see that the sky down by the river, it is dark and quiet: when, us brothers, we know that, somewhere, the sun is shining: when what our father says to us then is, You boys be sure to wash up before you come back in: when us brothers, we nod with our heads, yes, yes: whenwe turn back to face each other: when I raise back that hammer: when I line up that rusted nail.

–reprinted with permission from the author

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About Peter Markus

Peter Markus is the author of “What the River Told Us To Do,” a short story that appears in Fiction Gallery, an anthology of short fiction created by Gotham Writers’ Workshop. The story first appeared in Quarterly West magazine and is also included in Markus’s new story collection The Singing Fish. “What The River Told Us To Do” is a very short tale about two brothers who are reluctant to leave the muddy, dirty place in which they live. It’s safe to say that the story is unlike any other work you’re likely to read, unless it happens to be another story by Peter Markus.