You move back home and Housecat is already there. You’re both back in the rooms you grew-up in. Figuring shit out, you both call it. Housecat’s four years and five inches ahead of you. Housecat’s hand’s bigger than your face.
Housecat disappears for weeks. Mom and Dad ask if he’s all right, depressed, scared, disappointed, alive? You don’t know; Housecat knocked-out four business-types at a taco joint in Wicker Park, with four punches. He does stuff like that: leaves destructive trails. Housecat once punched out his car window after Mom wouldn’t let his girlfriend sleep over. You ask him how he does it. Shit, he says. If you see him, Dad asks, tell him we love him. Mom asks, tell his lazy-ass to get a job.
Housecat misses Thanksgiving, Christmas, Father’s Day, Sunday Brunch, Grandpa visits, birthdays. Housecat almost misses Grandma’s funeral in Harlem. Housecat misses paying you back when you loan him a hundred dollars for weed. Housecat misses your call when you need a ride to the airport.
Housecat quits Niketown after two months. Dem’s slave wages, he says. He’s coming and your going. Your bodies squeeze through the doorway. You ask where he’s going. Shit, he says.
Housecat pities your luck. He drives drunk, without license, without headlights, with weed sprinkled in nooks and crannies, with deadly speed; he can’t believe they arrested you for that. Housecat is lighter than you. His skin is close-to-white. You think this has something to do with it: cops giving him warnings, you court dates. Shit, he says. Housecat pities your luck.
Housecat scrapes against the curb at five in the morning. You’re awake in bed. He stumbles up the stairs and buries his head in the toilet. When you were younger, in the mornings, before school, Housecat blasted vulgar music through his bathroom door; now, his body expels violent poisonous splashes. Mom wakes up and calls his name. He misses her call. You hear her open the bathroom door. You hear her pity him, console him, rub his back, click her tongue, tap her foot—motherly actions she reserves for when her two boys are close to the edge.
Housecat offers a blunt in the morning. He shakes you awake; Mom and Dad are at work. You decline; you’re trying to piece your life back together. Shit, he says. Okay, you say. You follow him into the backyard like you’ve always done. You walk underneath the basketball hoop, over the driveway’s broken bricks, past Ms. T’s decaying trees and plants, into the garage. You smoke in darkness. You mumble back and forth. You hear your echoes; you smell the stale dusk, mold, dampness; you sound alike; you cough alike. What are you going to do, you ask the shadow in front of you. Shit, the shadow says.
You move to Massachusetts; you visit Chicago in December. Housecat misses Christmas: too hungover. He scrapes against the curb while you’re shoveling the driveway. His hair is longer; his new girlfriend likes rubbing her hands through it, pulling it, braiding it. He’s skinnier? You hug. you smile. He’s carrying a box filled with his old toys, toys you remember stealing. He needed them for an art project. Now he’s throwing them back in the basement. He opens the box. You mumble back and forth, picking up objects you hope are shared memories. They aren’t; you run out of mumbles. You lean against the shovel. He closes the box and disappears inside the house. When he leaves you say you’ll stop by his girlfriend’s apartment before you drive back to Massachusetts. Yeah, he says. Shit.
You don’t stop by, of course. Of course, you meant to. There just wasn’t enough time. It’s a long drive. You’ll see him when you come back again. Somewhere outside Pennsylvania, close to midnight, you can’t take it anymore. You want to call him. You want to say how much he means to you. You want to thank him. You want to know if he’s okay. You want to know if you’re okay. Did we figure it out?
GABE BUMP is from South Side, Chicago. He currently lives in Florence, Massachusetts. He misses Lake Shore Drive and Chicago Public League basketball.