"Olives" by Nathan Leslie


“No,” I say.  “I just feel helpless.  That’s all.”

I tell her about the olive pits, and Joanna shakes her head.  She thinks Duke should have gotten help ten years ago.  Medicine.  Therapy.  Something.  I don’t disagree.  “The window passed him by,” she said once.  Now he doesn’t have patience for Duke anymore.  At times I wonder if she thinks someone should just put him out of his misery.  I’m sure she’s thought something close to this. 

“What gives him meaning?” she asks.  “I mean really?”  We were in bed once and she told me that Duke seems like a tree that has had to grow around a rock.  The image stuck.  Even as I ate my lettuce and carrots I could imagine the bared and warped trunk, coiling around the rock.

“That’s a good question,” I say, and I don’t know the answer to it aside from planes and guns.  Maybe that’s enough.  I wonder myself if I can see him clearly.  “I really don’t know what to do,” I say.  Joanna sits across from me, and pats Parmesan cheese over her rice.

“Well, you should,” she says.  “Isn’t he your brother?”  I hate her questions.

“Is there anything I can do?  What can I do, Joanna?”

“He needs to be under supervision,” she says, looking right through me.  “He has a problem and now he’s treating it like it doesn’t exist.  No self reflection whatsoever.”

Duke was seeing a counselor for years, but last winter he refused to go.  Then he decided to remove himself from his meds.  We both told him it was a terrible idea, but he said he just wanted to feel clean.  He said he wanted to feel like a human.  Now, sometimes he calls us at four in the morning to talk about some Civil War battle, or the clatter of a machine gun.  Twice a week he just shows up at our house to eat.

I tell her she’s right.  I know she’s right.  Easier said than done though.  Now he’s slipped into new patterns, and Duke has become another person.  I tell her he’s not changeable, not unless he was forced.

“Maybe he should be forced then,” she says.  “I mean, he is a threat.”

Joanna bites her own lip and squeaks her shoes on the floor.  I lift a fork of rice and beans to my mouth, and listen to the sounds of myself chewing.  For a moment it drowns out everything else.   

The next day Duke and I are out at Placid Drive again.  It is still extremely hot for April, about eighty and humid.  The shed is done, but we need to start pealing wallpaper, and taking up the old chipped tiles.  I carry the steamer, and Duke carries the shovel and scrapers.  While I’m in the living room steaming the wallpaper, Duke is in the kitchen wedging the shovel under tiles.  I’m sweating bullets, but Duke looks peaceful, calm.  I watch him work the shovel with a steady and careful hand.  He doesn’t smile exactly, but his face looks relaxed.  Duke didn’t bring his box of olive pits today.  I can picture it moldering on his kitchen counter.  I packed tomato sandwiches and oranges.

After two hours of this we take a break.  By this point Duke has scraped the kitchen tile off, and he just has to lay the new tile, and I’ve steamed the living room and the hallway.  We lean against the living room wall and drink iced-tea.  I dab my face with a towel.

I want to tell Duke what Joanna and I talked about last night, but I don’t.  I want to tell him that I’m worried, that I don’t want my only brother to sink into a position where he can’t get himself out. 

“How’s the stalker woman?” I ask him.

“Shit,” he says.  “Woman was following me all fucking night.  She was laughing at me and mocking.  I think she’s going to have me kicked out of the apartment.  She’s trying to kill me and move into my room.”

“Come on,” I say.  “That seems far fetched, Duke.  Don’t you think?”
“No-no-no-no.  It’s not far fetched at all!  It’s not far fetched.  Are you kidding?  This guy one floor below me, he was kicked out.  Nobody knows why.  One day he was just gone.  He disappeared.  This woman is to blame for this.  She killed the guy.  You can just tell by looking at her.  Now she’s out to get me.  Crazy witch.”

I tell Duke that if he wants me to come over tonight, I can.  I’d be happy to keep a watch out.  I tell him maybe I should speak to this woman in his building, that I can if he wants me to.  He says he just wants to forget about it. 

“Listen, I can take care of myself you know.  I don’t need your fucking help, man.  I got it well under control.”

That’s what I’m afraid of.  I sit there, my sweaty t-shirt sticking to the wall.  I clam up.  Sometimes I think if I were more confrontational I would make better inroads with Duke.  But I just don’t want to push him and make it worse.  I don’t want to pester him.  Ultimately, I know it is his life.  What can I really do?

Duke tosses his head back and downs the rest of his iced-tea.

“Back to work for me,” he says, and stands.  I expect him to lean down and lift me up, but instead he walks back into the kitchen and rips into the box of tile with his bare hands.


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Per Contra Fiction - Winter 2006