November 5, 2008
Cold wind whipped around the corner and through the damp alley between the apartment building and the hotel. The buzzing 'No Vacancy' sign hung over the hotel's main entrance and rattled on its rod until a strong gust shoved it against the brick wall and it sparked. The neon orange light flickered and went out.

The zapping sound it made when it broke woke Sylvio from his sleep. He had been dreaming about a summer cookout in the backyard of his parents' home when he was ten years old. The patio stretched on for miles into the distance, and the solar heat pushed down on the concrete, creating a mirage half way between the horizon and the place Sylvio stood. He made his way towards the circle of lawn furniture where his brother, sister, and mother were sunbathing, waiting for Angelo, his father, to grill Italian sausages over the fire pit. Angelo explained to him the bricklaying technique that went into the construction of the fire pit and, as he spoke, Sylvio could merely nod in response.

The dream had tricked Sylvio into believing that he was warm and the chilled wood panels startled him when he set his feet on the floor. He wrapped himself in his fleece blanket, and the floorboards creaked with every step he took from his mattress on the floor to the refrigerator. When he stepped into the kitchen, Sylvio heard the crinkle of paper below his feet. It was a letter from Angelo, who mailed it to him in the beginning of March to wish him a happy month. He knew how much Sylvio hated winter.

Sylvio picked up the paper, balled it up, and tossed it out the kitchen window, which he had forgotten to close after smoking a cigarette the night before. He pulled the window down and the howling of the wind softened. He looked in the refrigerator and found a pound of bacon. He placed four strips in a small Teflon pan and set it on the hotplate. As he waited for it to heat up, he stared through the broken cuckoo clock on the opposite wall which read 'nine fifteen,' as it had for weeks since the battery ran out.

The last few days had been especially bad, even for winter. They passed like a subway train while Sylvio stood on the platform, wondering if it was the train that would take him where he wanted to go.

There was a knock on the door. He hadn't heard that particular knock in while. It was a special nine-knock code used only by his family. Sylvio mocked it on the table, trying to recall if it was the proper code or not.

'It's Vince,' said the knocker. Sylvio's eyes shifted around the room nervously. He wondered if he could get away with pretending not to be home. 'I know someone is in there. I saw the letter you tossed out the window as I was coming in the building.' Sylvio huffed and shuffled towards the door. Vince knocked again before he opened it. 'Hi.'

'Nice to see you,' said Sylvio, and he returned to his bacon.

'I'm just stopping by to borrow some money.' Vince closed the door and grinned.

'Is that supposed to be funny?'

'It was worth a try,' said Vince as he hoisted himself up onto the kitchen counter. 'Yummy, bacon. I sure am hungry.'

'You know it bothers me when you speak indirectly,' said Sylvio.

'May I have some?'

'Those four strips were all I had left. Cereal?' Vince hopped off the counter and opened up the refrigerator. It was empty except for Cheese-Whiz, a stick of butter, old Ramen noodles, and the rest of the bacon. He picked the meat up and glared at Sylvio.

'I don't want cereal. You can snap, crackle, go ---- yourself.' Vince hadn't expected him to be generous and he quickly forgave it. Sylvio was still. 'I don't like this apartment.'

'How kind of you.' Sylvio flipped the bacon over with a plastic fork.

'You told me to speak directly. This place has made your face much harsher.'

'No, it's the weather that's doing that.' His eyes went out of focus as he gazed across the messy apartment.

'I picked up the letter you tossed outside. It blew right past my elbow.' Sylvio didn't hear him. He was listening to the screeching wind. 'You know, spring starts on Friday,' said Vince. 'Next Friday. Will you cheer up then?' Sylvio snapped out of his daze when he heard his bacon sizzling. He knew Vince had asked him a question, but he couldn't recall it. He shrugged. Vince's persistence was more powerful than Sylvio's efforts to pretend he didn't have family who loved him. 'How could you throw out such a sweet letter from Dad?'

'No sense in holding onto it.'

'Try as you will, Syl,' said Vince. 'He isn't going to stop trying to bring you back. Come on, say you're sorry.'

'Sorry?' said Sylvio, his teeth crunching down on bacon.

'For all the trouble you've caused.'

'I don't mean to be a burden. That's why I don't call.'

'Dad would really like to see you,' said Vince.

'You can tell Angelo that if he wants to see me, he can come here just the way you did. I'm a busy man.'

'Dad isn't doing so well.'

'That's what you and Carmela have been saying since Mom died. That was eight years ago.'

'His liver failed last week. He can't have a transplant with a bottle in his hand,' said Vince as he snatched a piece of bacon and bit down. 'They let him come home so he could die comfortably. This really is the end.' Sylvio bit his lip.

'I don't believe in you and your wrecking crew.'

'This really is the end, Syl,' Vince repeated. Sylvio stared at the floor.

'I guess I should go.'

After a short bus ride and walk, Sylvio and Vince arrived at their father's home. Sylvio could see Carmela through the frosted window from where he stood on the sidewalk. She removed two pecan pies from the oven and danced across the pastel kitchen tiles in her socks, a Frank Sinatra record playing in the living room. He pressed his forehead to the glass and held his breath so the window would not fog up, blurring his vision of the home and sister he used to know. He had forgotten Carmela's exotic face, the stack of their mother's crocheted blankets, the marinara sauce stain on the rug, and the portrait of Angelo's mother on the wall. Even the muted sound of Sinatra playing beyond a wall had become unfamiliar to him.

Vince unlocked the front door and motioned for him to come inside. Sylvio, his head bowed, followed Vince into the dry air of the house. The warmth hit him like a wave of tropical ocean water. Every light fixture was switched on and the thermostat was set to seventy-four degrees.

'Vince, you're home already?' said Carmela as she set the second pie on the counter and rushed into the living room to greet them. 'I thought it'd take you days to bring our little brother back.' She dusted the flour on her hands off on her pants and kissed Sylvio's cheek.

'I'm sorry,' said Sylvio. 'I shouldn't have stayed away for so long.'

'Don't worry about it!' Carmela helped him remove his coat. 'I'm sure you have a good excuse. Bet you've got a real important job now, huh?' Sylvio diverted his eyes and Carmela nodded slowly. 'Dad is in the guest room.'

Sylvio stood by the open door of the guest room, staring at Angelo's glassy eyes, which were gazing out the window at the illuminated backyard. They were fixed on the elaborate fire pit he had built the year Carmela was born. During the past summer portulacas had grown in the cracked bricks and Angelo could only sit in the bed and watch his hearth become overgrown in weeds.

Sylvio cleared his throat.

'Vince, come sit,' said Angelo. Sylvio sank down into the wicker chair by his bed and grabbed a handful of pistachios from a bowl on the bedside table. 'I thought you hated pistachios.'

'Vince hates pistachios,' he said. Angelo pushed his thick lenses down and scanned Sylvio's face. He reached out to stroke his cheek, but Sylvio pulled back.

'I'll be ----ed,' said Angelo. 'The prodigal son has returned.' Vince laughed as he entered the room. He stood behind Sylvio and squeezed his shoulders.

'You're lucky I caught him,' said Vince. 'He's a busy man.' He smirked and Sylvio brushed Vince's hands off of him.

'I had the most beautiful dream this afternoon,' said Angelo. Vince knelt down beside the bed. 'I was walking barefoot through the alley behind my church Cosenza. I came around the corner and found my mother standing in the doorway. She looked up and when she saw me, she began to weep.' Angelo motioned with his cracked hands.

A heavy weight sank in Sylvio's chest as he watched Vince touch his father's wrist and smile. He felt small. He had to strain his ears to hear.

'The wind was sandy and it tossed hair into my eyes,' said Angelo, quieter. 'Then your mother walked up behind me and put her arms around my waist. She was laughing. The bricks under my feet felt like they had just come out of the oven. The weeds between them were green. To be home again'' Gently, he set his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes. 'Let's see if I can't fall back into that dream.' He immediately fell back asleep. Sylvio felt Angelo's wrist for a pulse and couldn't find one.

Sylvio's memories floated by in boxes. When he moved out of his parents' house, his mother cried and hugged him for too long, and he rolled his eyes. That morning, when he found Angelo's letter, he tossed it out onto the street. When Vince was hungry, he was too frugal to share some bacon. Now, when he realized that Angelo was dead, he couldn't muster a tear.

He couldn't bear to think about it. His focus shifted to the sensation in his hairline. The thought that he could experience so much simply by being in his own body was exhilarating. But when he considered his organs, thanklessly working for him, he saw himself for who he really was and it made him sick. He was a pathetic beast and a recluse without reason. For the first time, he felt deep, painful remorse and understood why he pushed others away. He wasn't worthy and needed to escape.

Carson Street was dim and tinted green. Sylvio stood, several feet from Vince, with his back turned and his shoulders drawn close to his ears as he stared at his boots. Every few minutes, he withdrew his hands from his pockets, rubbed them together, and breathed warm air onto his fingertips before replacing them in his pockets.

'You know, your hands would stay warmer if you kept them in your pockets,' said Vince, and Sylvio nodded. 'Do you want one?' said Vince as he lit a cigarette. Sylvio shook his head. 'I'm feeling a little hungry. How about you?' Sylvio nodded. 'We could pick up something to eat when we get downtown.' Sylvio shifted his weight from one side to the other. 'What would you like?' asked Vince. Sylvio shook his head. 'That's not a 'yes or no' question.' He closed his eyes and nodded slowly.

A half hour passed. The hum of the bus when it pulled up to the curb made Sylvio shiver. He wondered if the sound was having the same effect on the telephone pole in front of him and without hesitation, he hugged it. It wasn't vibrating, but it was wet. Now, the front of Sylvio's coat was wet, too.

Vince took a long drag of his third consecutive cigarette and flicked it into a puddle before boarding the bus. He flashed his pass to the driver and turned to make sure Sylvio was getting on the bus okay on his own. He wasn't. Vince squinted his eyes as he peered out of the foggy window. The bus doors closed.

'Hey, wait a minute. My brother'' said Vince as he calmly tapped the bus driver on the shoulder. She reopened the doors, and he stepped into a slushy puddle. Sylvio was still 'Syl, the bus is here.' Vince took his icy hand and held him close as he guided him onto the bus and towards an empty seat in the back, next to a teenage boy who hid his face under a fitted cap. Sylvio sank down in the seat.

'F-------'' the boy mumbled, as he wrinkled his nose at Sylvio, who squeezed Vince's hand. Sylvio looked up at his brother, who was gazing off through tearful eyes into the distance beyond the window. He touched his arm, the way Vince had done to Angelo before he died.

'He always loved you more,' said Sylvio.


'You were Dad's favorite.' The bus turned the corner onto the bridge and Vince grasped the back of Sylvio's seat.

'No, Dad didn't pick favorites with anyone.' Vince wiped his eyes and steadied himself.

'He should have.'

'You came back in the end, Syl. That's what counts.' Sylvio dropped Vince's hand. He saw himself as a monkey, sitting among men on the bus. Then he felt his veins swell with blood, contract, and swell again. If monkeys had evolved into men, why couldn't he?

He smiled at Vince. Angelo was moving on to a new adventure'one vaster than his move to America, one more meaningful than the life he lived for sixty-five years. And Sylvio was on a new journey, too'one through his own flesh and to a new soul, one to a warmer place.

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