Last Saturday, the night of my eighteenth birthday, Craig took a line drive to his right temple and turned into a vegetable. Just one snap of an aluminum bat, the softball propelled forward at more than ninety feet per second, and him pitching just sixty feet from home plate. That’s how one of his Steelhead teammates had explained it, calling from the emergency room. I couldn’t talk. I’d answered the house phone with a mouthful of blistered chocolate. Cara had tried her best to bake me a lava cake, the same kind Mom always made for our birthdays. The news curled my lips. It was the best birthday present Craig could’ve ever given me.
This weekend a portly nurse wheeled him from the hospital’s fifth floor to a twenty-four-seven care-home across the street. She parked him in a small bright room, in the back corner by the flickering TV, with other folks who couldn’t speak or eat or even go to the bathroom on their own. His beard had been shaved, making it easier to wipe the constant drooling, and his ponytail hacked off. The Mariner’s were playing defense on the tube. A shiny softball sat in his lap with the names of his teammates scribbled around the laces. He didn’t look like the Craig I’d known, the man who kicked us down into the unfinished basement after Mom’s accident, the man who’d made us pay rent and buy our own groceries while he fried steaks and drank beers and slept with easy women above us. The man Cara and I hated. He looked sweet as a boy, but lost in a man’s body. Even those cruel eyes of his had gone dull. Before Cara and I left the building and zipped home in his slick black F-150, we stopped at the front desk. I signed Craig over to his new home and family. The disability check from his mill job bought him a year. He’d be Washington State property after that.
I have five days left of high school. Friday night is the graduation ceremony, which will be held at the local fairgrounds’ outdoor amphitheatre, rain or shine. But I won’t be there. I’ve opted not to walk. No ugly robe or tassel for me. Instead, Cara and I will be loading up the bed of my new F-150. Boxes of clothes, Mom’s old nightstands and headboard, enough food for the long drive. Then we’ll be gone, disappear south for warmer, dryer weather. I’ve already bought maps from the gas station, highlighted a route with Cara. It was never a question where we’d go. Mom always talked about San Luis Obispo, this perfect college town smack dab on the coast of central California. A place where it never gets too hot or cold. She said folks rarely wear shoes there, not even in winter, just flip-flops year-round. She’d only ever been to the town once, and as a girl, but she’d always wanted to move us there, said so every night as she tucked us into bed. So come Friday night, we’ll fire out of Washington like a missile. As soon as we’re south of the Pacific Northwest, after the sun lifts its head, we’ll crack the windows and buy cheap sunglasses. Cara’s already made me swear that I’ll find a flip-flop shop in town, first thing, once we arrive.
Kyle Bilinski lives in northern California where he works as a flight attendant and painting contractor. He is an MFA candidate at Pacific University. Some of his stories have appeared in places like Overtime and Black Heart Magazine. One of his poems is forthcoming from Cloudbank. What’s more, he wears a beard, collects stamps, and plays bass and harmonica. Find him at kylebilinski.weebly.com.