We need to talk about Kevin.
He went there. The bastard went there, after he had sworn he never would. The fever of her outrage flushed Moira’s face, suffused her with warmth despite the chill of the deep, winter’s night as she strode on the sidewalk, further and further away from his house.
I got the bank statements today and noticed you made out a $2,000 check to him –
Don’t, she’d warned him. That had pulled him up short, if only for a moment.
I warned him from the start, she thought, pulling the coat she had thrown over her nightgown tighter about herself. I’m damaged goods, she had told him; I drag behind me a shitload of baggage. We can keep seeing each other the way we have; all you have to do is keep helping me out with my rent, my bills. But no; he needed more, he said. He needed to be with her. He wanted to take care of her; he loved her; there wasn’t a minute in his day that wasn’t interrupted by the thought of her.
I love you – the pause did not last very long – I love you, but I can’t let you keep giving him so much money.
He’s my brother.
Half-brother, he had tried to correct her.
Brother. Again, her tone had silenced him temporarily.
The flap-flap-flap of her plush slippers on the ice-cold concrete was the only sound in the crystalline silence of the empty street. With growing despair, she glanced through the frost-laced windows of the darkened houses as they glided by. They were black apertures into empty containers, she was convinced; no one was inside them – no families sleeping, no kids; no dogs, cats, hamsters – nothing that lived and breathed.
I know he’s your family, and I know that marrying you means I have some responsibility for him, too. And I want you to be able to help him. But –
– you’re just enabling him. You’re not helping him any if you keep bailing him out every time he gets into trouble. He needs to man up. He needs to stand on his own two feet.
And how’s he going to do that if the loan sharks break his legs, you fat son of a bitch? she yelled at him silently, lengthening her stride. Man up? What about you? I asked you to promise me one thing: to never bring him up, to never ask me about him, to let me keep that part of my life my own – with no accounting. How much of a man are you to break your word?
The money I’ve been putting in your bank account monthly – I wanted you to have money for the things you need and the things you want. She knew another “but” was coming. He kept doing that: saying one thing then pivoting on that word to take it all back. But I didn’t expect you’d be sending him almost everything I give you.
I don’t have to justify myself to you, she’d said through gritted teeth. It’s my money.
Of course, but to spend it all on him –
She started slowing down, the rage finally spending itself. Her face twisted in grief, though she knew no tears would come. She had not cried since her teens. What am I supposed to do? she continued arguing with him in her mind, since she in her fierce pride had not been able to bring herself to do so earlier that night. I know Kevin’s a drunk and a fuck-up, and someday he’s going to be found stiff and cold in an alley. I know that until you took me in I was on a slow road to the same place. But when my stepfather would slap me around when I was a kid, it was Kevin who would come into my room afterwards with ice for my bruises and a dishcloth to wipe away the blood. Do you think there isn’t anything I would do now – no matter how useless in the end – to make sure he stays alive and in one piece?
I need to make sure you act responsibly. So I’m afraid I’ll need to close down your account. You let me know when you want to buy something and I’ll either get it for you or give you enough money for it – but then I’ll need to see the receipts afterwards. Fair enough?
She had glared her hatred at him, and he could not meet her eyes. He was just another coward at heart after all – just one who used his money rather than the back of his hand. He shifted in discomfort on his side of the bed, then reached over to switch off his lamp and turned his back to her to go to sleep. She had remained frozen in place, still leaning against her pillow, the magazine she had been reading when he broached the forbidden subject out of nowhere still resting on her lap. The left side of her body was bathed in the glow of the lamp on her side table. When his breathing had become deeper and started coming out from his nose in soft whistles, she got out of bed, went down the stairs, and stamped off into the night.
Her headlong rush finally lost momentum and came to an end at a crosswalk. She stopped at the curb, stared across the street to the sidewalk that continued on the other side and went on into the distance, into the darkness. What was she doing? Where could she go? Back to a crappy waitressing job and a shoebox of an apartment? Tonight? In her nightgown? She hadn’t even had the presence of mind to stuff her purse into her coat pocket when she left his house like a shot.
She looked back the way she had come: twelve, maybe fifteen blocks she had covered in a straight line, swept along by her fury. She felt sick at the thought of going back, but her anger had dissipated now, and she became aware of how the breeze had numbed her face and legs and was seeping in through the openings in her collar and cuffs. She began the long trudge back, her soul shriveling with each heavy step she took through the icy air. And yet her resolve hardened as well. She thought of Kevin out there on a night like this; she hoped the radiator was finally working in that fleabag motel room he lived in.
When she got back in the house, she stood over a heat register to get warm through before going back upstairs and climbing quietly into bed. She switched off her lamp and lay down, staring at the shadows in the ceiling, tamping down the revulsion that rose like a wave with each sibilant breath the man beside her exhaled. She mapped out in her mind what she had to do.
When the window started letting in the cold, dawn light, just when she thought he was about to wake up, she would crawl under the covers, pull down his pajama bottom, and slowly blow him. He liked it when she took the initiative – it gave him the illusion that she desired him. Then she would ride him until his turgid body collapsed into itself in release. Afterwards, she would make him breakfast and apologize, with downcast eyes. Later in the evening when he came back home, after servicing him some more, she would plead with him – somehow convince him not to cut her off. She would have to remember to keep her voice plaintive and placating.
Nights were long in winter; dawn was still a long ways off – a blessed reprieve. She pulled up the comforter to her chin, and waited.