The blue mug of coffee slipped out of my hand and fell on the wooden table, cracking. A crisp newspaper with a headline on the Korean War quickly became soaked, the black ink mixing with spilled bitter liquid until it was illegible. A bouquet of white daisies- that I had left flung on the counter from last night- drowned in the mess.
“Mellie!” Bob gasped, and he gave me a tight-lipped glare, his grey eyes hard beneath furrowed black brows, as he jumped up.
Numbly, I reached out with shaking hands to pick up the broken fragments, gasping out an apology. I swallowed. “They said what?” My wavering voice stumbled out from senseless lips.
Bob didn’t answer. Instead, he grabbed a cloth and began blotting at the mess that I could tell by his sighs I wasn’t cleaning quickly enough. I backed away a step; my pale legs felt awkward beneath my pink robe, and the handful of ceramic in my hand glinted coldly in the weak morning sunlight.
“Bob,” I said again, closing my eyes. “What did they say?”
He glanced up from the table with a blank expression. “That was a call from the police. About Jeremy. He…”
As Bob talked, his words stabbed into my brain: killed, attack, hospital. Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy. Snippets of blurry, childhood memories flipped through my head: Jeremy patting my hand, Jeremy buying ice cream, Jeremy running with me in the meadow until we were both giggling and undeniably happy.
And now he’s gone.
“Who did… who?” I sounded lost and faint- a mere recording of a person. I clenched my hands; the dry thump of my heartbeat echoed through my body.
“They don’t know, they think it was someone-”
“What do you mean they don’t know?” I whispered, breathing in sharply through my nose. Vomit rose up in my throat. “They won’t be… they won’t be caught?”
Bob gave me a funny look, his lips screwed up, his nose wrinkled. “They’re still working on it, and- hey!” I had started breathing rapidly. “I thought you hated your brother.” He pursed his lips and sat back down in his chair, the spilled coffee mopped up neatly. I remained standing in the middle of the room, the broken mug still in my hand. The room seemed to sway ever so slightly.
“He was my brother.” My hands closed unconsciously around the shards I was holding, and bright red dots up blood crisscrossed my palms.
Jeremy had come to our home late last night- I hadn’t heard from him in weeks. His face was lit up with a familiar youth and effervescence, and with those perky daisies in his hand, he still looked like the little boy lost in my memories.
He had shoved the flowers into my hand- like it was a perfunctory gesture that would warrant my forgiveness- and asked to come inside. A tight knot of rage pulsed in my stomach. It was always the same with him. He’d show up sporadically, wanting to stay the night while he was in town, but still managing to express disdain over my suburban life- it’s not interesting, was his common complaint. He wandered around until he was penniless, and I was always the one in the wrong. Me, who had loaned him money more times than I could count.
“Look at you, you’re not happy,” Jeremy had said, arms crossed on the porch as he studied my complexion with detached disdain. “Why are you still here? With him?”
Jeremy liked to reserve a special hatred for Bob. I knew Bob wasn’t perfect, but when we had first met, Father had liked him so much, and Bob’s business had been doing so well, and things had been tighter since- no. I was tired of explaining myself, tired of Jeremy criticizing me. “Why are you here?” I’d choked out, the words mangled and harsh in the otherwise peaceful night air. Jeremy had looked upset, but I couldn’t stop the sentences from flowing. “You always come when I least want you to and complain and complain and- just leave me alone. Leave us alone.”
I’d slammed the door shut.
Now, I wish I could slam a door shut over my ears. Bob was still babbling about the body and the police and what we had to do. It all trickled through my ear and poured out the other.
“Do you think,” I interrupted. “Do you think it was my fault?” Last night played over and over again in my head. Him asking to come inside. The door slamming. “I told him to leave. I told him to go,” I whispered. Guilt rose in my stomach like a wave, filling every pore in my body.
Bob didn’t respond.
I gave him a wild look. “Well?”
“Look, it doesn’t matter,” he said, rising from the table. “But we have all this police business to take care of. Can you get me another cup of coffee before we have to head out?” He walked out of the kitchen, fiddling with his shirt.
A sob caught in my throat, and I stepped forward to brush my hands across the daisies. I was so frustrated last night that I had thrown them down, not putting them in water or anything, and they showed it: the tips of each petal were a little brown. A little dead.
I buried my face in the flowers to catch a ghost of their smell. The police didn’t know who had killed him.
A few tears dripped onto yellow pollen. They didn’t know who had killed him, but I couldn’t shake the words that came pounding through my head. My fault. My fault. I almost wanted the sensation of metal tightening around my wrists and bars in front of my eyes just to ease the agonizing responsibility I felt for turning Jeremy away and letting him walk towards his death.