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  • The Only Place the Blood Goes
  • Ben Hoffman (bio)

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[End Page 54]

It is the afternoon before Thanksgiving when my mom asks me to take my brother to the college. Corlyss’s usual aide, a large, thick-accented woman who sits through class with my brother and his wheelchair and his service dog, has, like me, gone home for the holiday. Every aide in the world has gone home for the holiday; the agency cannot send another. We are in the kitchen, my mom and my brother and his dog and I. My mom is marinating the chicken. We used to have turkey like normal people, [End Page 55] but my mom saw a scare special. Something about spine-weakening toxins. What are these toxins that have holed up in turkeys but not in chickens? No one can say. But our family cannot afford any further spine weakening.

“You can’t take Corlyss?” I ask my mom. She holds up a drumstick for her excuse, to indicate her busyness, but really she is thrusting it like a weapon, like she is an annoyed revolutionary, ready to overthrow the domestic order. Broccoli raises an eye: this could end with meat on that giant plate humans call the floor.

“Yeah, like I really want Mom to come to class with me,” says Corlyss, and my mom puts down the chicken leg. “Real cool.”

“You’re in a wheelchair,” I point out. “And your neck is crooked. In a cute way. But still. Maybe too late for cool.” I ruffle his mangy hair, nudge some crumbs off his cheek to the floor to temper Broccoli’s disappointment.

“Eh, it could always be worse,” Corlyss says. “I could be in a wheelchair and have a crooked neck and have Mom sit through class with me.” But he is constantly saying this: that it could always be worse. And every time in his life he has said this, it got worse. When he was young, he said this line with such earnest hope, but now it sounds run-over with irony. He has Type II spinal muscular atrophy, and whenever I come home, which is not often, his hands work a little less, and his neck and fingers are more crooked, like slow-burning paper curling at the edges.

“See? I stick out,” my mom tells me. “His aide sticks out. You still look young enough to pass for a coed. Consider it a compliment.”

I am twenty-nine years old, and this is also what my boss at the PR firm said last year when he wanted me to wear pigtails and kneesocks when we had sex. It worked then, and it works now: I will take my brother to class. Not that it matters. Nothing will change for him. He will learn some things he cannot put to use; then, soon, he will die—though soon, it has turned out, is one of those words, like tomorrow, that seems like it has a fixed expiration, only to continually refresh its meaning, so that it can always hang over our heads. When he was ten, soon meant twenty, and now that he is twenty, soon means thirty, and if he makes it to thirty, soon will actually mean tomorrow, each day until tomorrow actually comes.

I get the liquor from above the fridge, where my mom stores it because Corlyss can’t reach it, though I think, What does it matter if he drinks? [End Page 56]

My mom frowns and takes the bottle from me. Her fingers are cold and red, and they chicken-slime my wrist where she holds me.

“Just trying to get in character,” I tell her. “Colleggge!”

It is true what they say about childhood homes, that they are magnets drawing you back to the orbit of childish old habits. Is that what they say? Here I am, petulant again about having to take my brother somewhere. Here I am in late afternoon wearing old pajamas, watching HBO. Last night, when I was up late doing the same thing, Broccoli escaped Corlyss’s room—among other tricks, this...


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pp. 54-76
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