Bryce won’t turn on the air, not even the ceiling fan. It feels like the nineties inside his house. I want to open the sliding glass door, but my brother brings up the graft-versus-host, how horrific pain erupts when even the slightest breeze crosses the mean-looking rashes on his neck and hairless arms. Apparently, the stem cells they extracted from me and infused into Bryce aren’t settling down in their new home. They are lashing out. I imagine my cells as frantic explorers, hacking their way through Bryce’s dense epidermis with machetes, looking for a way out of the strange, foreign jungle.
“Maybe the heat makes your skin more irritated?”
“The docs are making it irritated.”
On good days, he talked about his past. How he was the youngest tenured professor in the department. How he had the opportunity of rising to the rank of Regents’ Professor before his blood went haywire. On bad days, he complained angrily about the transplant failing because of the doctors’ incompetence.
“They don’t know what is going on,” he says, “and they get pleasure out of hurting me.”
“But you’re making your own blood now?”
Bryce glares at me. “But I’m not fixed.”
I stick to the leather couch and feel droplets of sweat trickle down inside my shirt. I know I’ll pass out before his girlfriend returns from the store.
“At least can I open the front door around the corner?” I say.
“If and when this ever happens to you, you’ll see.”
Years ago after my car was repossessed, I would sometimes ride an old beach cruiser from my mom’s place to the university five miles away. This bike stayed in my mother’s storage since high school, though I came and went periodically over the years. I would set off in all kinds weather, even blistering afternoons. On those trips, the bike’s fat tires clung to the asphalt like sticky tape. If Bryce wasn’t at his office in the Liberal Arts building, I slid the nameplate out of its slot and placed it back, upside down. He knew I’d left this distress signal on his door, and he knew I was waiting for him at the Starbucks on University Avenue. Without fail, Bryce showed up at the coffee shop after his class ended, or whenever he arrived on campus, and saw his door. We sat at an outside table under a big green umbrella. Usually I started with our dad’s favorite set phrase, groaned by him constantly during Bryce and I’s visits to the old guy’s trailer park in Orlando while growing up.
“The flamingos are on fire,” I said.
“You don’t own lawn ornaments. Plus, you live rent-free right now.”
“I’m in the open air,” I said, “and I’m suffocating.” I used Mom’s favorite set phrase. “The ceiling is crashing on top of me.”
Bryce pulled out his wallet. “Is this a loan or a gift?”
“Hopefully a gift,” I said. “I’m saving up,” I said. “You’re a lifesaver,” I said.
Bryce needs me to change a tire. Earlier I looked under his SUV on the driveway and didn’t have a clue how to get the spare down, and now with the tire completely out of air, the rubber is a puddle spreading out from under the rim. His girlfriend is at work. And Bryce can’t help; his bones are chipped glass due to the steroids. He calls his insurance, requesting assistance to change the flat, and then he wants me to wait outside for the guy.
The roadside rescue guy pulls up in a tiny red hatchback instead of a work truck. Next the guy soars out of the car, now shaking my hand vigorously, wearing smudged cargo shorts and has more tiny smears like freckles across his balding forehead.
The guy is saying, “Hiya, Bryce. I’m Ry-Ry. Geez Louise that is one flat tire, Bryce! You see, Bryce, I’d rather change tires on driveways any day of the week than on the side of I-17. This weather, Bryce—that sky” and on he goes, continuously referring to me as my brother. At this point, would it even matter if I admit I’m not Bryce? When Ry-Ry goes to work and at the same time asks me about myself, I say I’m an esteemed university professor. I’m beloved by students and fellow faculty. I’m the only one in my family who owns a home. Ry-Ry is impressed.
I notice the warm sun on my neck and a breeze soothing my skin.
Dan Crawley’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including Wigleaf, Bending Genres, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Atticus Review. Ad Hoc Fiction will publish his novella-in-flash in the near future. Along with teaching creative writing workshops and literature courses, he is a fiction reader for Little Patuxent Review. Find him at @danbillyc.