Silently, she stood in the window of her grandmother’s bedroom and watched the grey river flow by. Through the lens of the telescope positioned in the window, Mia peered at the Buffalo skyline. Seagulls darted between the border of sky and water. Here it was Thanksgiving, but across the Niagara River it was Columbus Day. Mia’s eye darted back and forth, attempting to grasp the spirit of either holiday, which was notably lacking in the house.
        She spied her brother and their cousin Jacob across the street throwing stones into the river. Both boys were twelve and on the cusp of their teenage years. They were on the verge of losing their childhood softness and turning overnight into towering men-boys with booming voices, their faces red with pimples and an anxious sullen rebellion. Matt would quickly grow in and out of this phase, turning into a quiet giant, but Jacob would not.
        “Those little finks,” Mia exclaimed to herself. They were supposed to be inside helping her and Patty with kitchen duty.
        Immediately after dinner Mia and her cousins had rushed to excuse themselves from the vicinity of the dining room, fleeing the voice of their grandmother, who would lasso them into chores. Their grandmother invariably chastised them for dropping a dish and breaking it, “Look at what you’ve done now! Always making trouble for me.” A chorus of apology from her shamefaced grandchildren was never enough to alleviate her fury or their shame.
        “Sorry! I am so sorry Granny Ellen.”
        “Sorry won’t put that teapot back together! You kids are so much trouble,” she would grumble in response.
        Mia habitually felt her face burning red in embarrassment whenever she was in the presence of her grandmother. She was always made to feel that she was a troublesome burden. She had taken to avoiding her whenever possible. This was a surprising development for her as a teenager. For most of her childhood Mia was excited to see her grandmother, but as she grew older she could not ignore the fact that drama and trauma emanated from her grandmother’s every action.
        Not wanting to be stuck with her morose grandmother—or worse, her alcoholic Aunt Mabel—washing stacks of dishes, Mia grabbed her coat off of the pile on the bed and quietly ran down the hall to the backstairs.
        Downstairs her extended family sat scattered around her grandmother’s dining room table, talking dispiritedly. On the table were the remains of Thanksgiving dinner that Granny Ellen had cooked with her two surviving children, Doris and Mabel. All that remained were a few cranberries, some crumbs of rutabaga and a glob of gravy on an (as-of-yet) unlicked spoon and a mountain of plates and glasses. The carcass of the turkey was picked clean. Even the neck was gone, nibbled bare by Bruno as he nervously watched his wife knock back a third bottle of Ripple, then he eyed the gravy spoon in search of comfort from the rage of his former sweetheart. He ate compulsively when his wife drank in morose silence. Usually around her third bottle Mabel would be singing, “Ripple, the wine that winks back at ya, it winks back at ya! Look!” She would sing in a falsetto as she cheerfully waved a whorled glass bottle at her family. Tonight she was ominously silent, opening her mouth only to eat, take a long drag on her cigarette, or chug her glass of high-octane wine. Mia’s aunt was usually a fun drunk (provided she was having fun at someone else’s expense), always entertaining to be around, singing spontaneously improvised songs that would mockingly make fun of her family, witty lyrics that would echo in the heads of her nearest and dearest in their darkest moments of deep despair.
        “This ditty’s for Patty’s mismatched titties—pity poor Patty’s titties—one goes up, the other it goes DOWN!”
        “Good lord, Aunt Mabel is right, my tits are lopsided,” Patty would shriek one morning, as she stood naked before the bathroom mirror.
        But on this twofold holiday celebrating the pillaging of their Native ancestors, Mabel was silent. Drinking away.
        While her songs were amusing, they were viciously meant, and when she drank without singing she inevitably would proceed to humiliate her husband by haranguing him with his perceived inadequacies. It was no surprise to anyone when Bruno left his wife shortly after their youngest son died.
        It was a cold and grey October afternoon. A fire crackled in the fireplace, but did little to warm or enliven the family gathering. While Bruno picked crumbs off the table and compulsively licked his fingers, the sisters and their mother drank quietly, desolately chain-smoking Pall Malls, which according to Mabel were “OUTSTANDING . . . and they are MILD!” Through the archway, in the family room, Mia’s father, Granddad and her grandmother’s second spouse, Bud, bathed in the flickering blue glow of the television—its volume turned low—steadily drinking their way through a second case of beer and sneering at the incompetence of the Buffalo Bills. No one sat in Theo’s favorite chair.
        The air was filled with unvoiced thoughts about Theo.
        Collectively they had failed to feed Theo’s spirit properly—his feast like his funeral was a haphazard affair—so his specter hung about the corners of their lives. Instead of entering the Sky World, he drifted in and out of people’s consciousness. No Mohawk elder cleansed the house with sweetgrass, singing their sadness away, telling them to take joy in his life. Theo’s favorite foods were not made, his spirit was left to thirst and starve. Mia pictured her uncle as a lean and hungry ghost: a brittle phantom that no one could let go because they did not talk of him, or to him. They neglected to tell him that it was all right for him to go. They needed to cut the chains of their grief to him, their attachments that held him back, but no one spoke the requisite words that begged to be said. For his feast, sending him off on the journey that they would all eventually take, they sat in the kitchen drinking a bottle of Theo’s favorite malt.
        His father, instead of giving away his son’s possessions amongst the clan as was the tradition, kept everything the same and hoarded his memories. Mia had glimpsed her grandfather smelling his son’s hairbrush, clutching at the fading scent of his son. Theo’s sunglasses sat on the table by the front door waiting for him to put them on. He clung to the remains of his son, unwilling to accept that he was dead.
        Avoiding the disapproving gaze of her mother, Mia slipped through the kitchen and tiptoed out the back door. Outside, she bumped into her brother and Jacob heading for the backyard. Wondering what was going on, she followed them.
        Out back in the garage, behind the covered pool, Patty and Lorna were watching as their older cousins, the twins Ernie and Jason, passed around a bottle of Kentucky whisky—which they had lifted unnoticed from their parents’ basement bar—and a haze-inducing joint (courtesy of Ernie’s girlfriend Tracey Sommerstein, whose after-school job was school drug dealer). The garage quickly filled with smoke and the girls began to feel funny from the cloying fumes.
        At Lorna’s urging, Patty worked up her courage and took a swig from the bottle. All three of her cousins laughed at the shocked expression on her face. She was not expecting the alcohol to burn as it slid down her throat. But wanting to be cool for her older cousins—they were seniors at Grover Cleveland—she took another gulp from the bottle.
        Seeing the other three kids entering, Patty swatted them out of the garage. “You guys are too young to be in here.”
         “I’m gonna tell Mom you guys are drinking and smoking!” Matt snarled at his sister.
        She quickly relented, letting them enter, but she punched her younger brother in the arm as hard as she could. He drew his own fists up, preparing to hit her back.
        Patty and Matt had issues and were always fighting; half the time the brother and sister did not even speak to each other. Their parents were always grounding them for fighting and tattling. They were currently threatening the feuding siblings with having to share a bedroom until they learned to be civil to each other. Mia thought her parents were deluded. Clearly her brother and sister would never get along—their personalities were polar opposites and each embodied everything that the other despised. Part of the problem was that the two were involved in a never-ending war of one-upmanship; both were always plotting to get back at the other.
        Recently Patty had snipped off the nose of Matt’s beloved Snoopy. He instantly knew it was the work of his sister and the two spent days pummeling each other. His sister’s response to his accusations and his demands that she return the nose was malicious laughter and taunts. Then today, as they were driving over the Peace Bridge, Patty unrolled her window, held up the missing nose and let it fly out the window into oblivion. Matt vowed that his revenge would surpass anything that he had ever done to his sister. Coming up with a sufficiently humiliating payback would take some time, but it would be worth it to avenge the mutilation of his stuffed beagle.
        Jason stepped between his bickering cousins and handed Matt the joint, which was still burning strong. “You’re ruining my mellowness, let’s chill!”
        Matt took the proffered stubby and sucked on it, puffing away furiously, until his eyes were glazed, passing it off to Jacob who, not wanting to offend his brothers, pretended to inhale and promptly gave it to Mia, who took a drag, then offered it to Eric, who took a couple puffs, then passed it to Lorna, who finally finished it off, surreptitiously slipping the roach into her shoe for her later enjoyment.
        Such was the first family gathering since the sudden death and hasty funeral of Theo, from what was supposed to be a heart attack.

        There was a great deal of whispering and wailing behind closed doors over Theo’s death. Mia and her siblings and cousins knew that something was wrong, but could only put forth fantastic explanations amongst themselves, speculations that became more and more distorted with each passing day.
        Patty, Mia’s older sister, was a junior in high school, and since she was extremely popular her self-opinion was at an all-time high. She thought that Theo killed himself by shooting himself in the head. Up in the attic, away from the censoring eyes of their parents, she re-enacted his alleged suicide for their awed benefit using a bright green squirt gun, filled with cherry Kool-Aid, as a prop. A vivid picture of their Uncle Theo placing the barrel of an old .44 special in his mouth, cocking the gun and pulling the trigger emerged from Patty’s histrionic dramatizations—which left a smear of red sugar around her lips.
        As she pointed out, Granddad’s prized Smith & Wesson was noticeably missing from the locked gun case in the front hall of the house he shared with his only son and granddaughter, their cousin Lorna, aged twelve. Its absence coincided too eerily with the dead specter of their Uncle Theo. The recoil from this revolver would be enough to stain the living room with spattered blood and brains. Patty’s scenario explained the costly fresh paint and new furniture, the pristine drapes that were left permanently closed. The bodies of the living did not disturb the new cushions, leaving the room still with dusty disuse.
        Their grandfather was a notorious tightwad and wouldn’t replace anything unless it was necessary, even if life and limb were endangered. To spend money on something and then not to actually use it was blasphemy, an unforgivable sin, one that he thought should be punishable by death. The ancient cracked toilet seat in the downstairs bathroom, which he had riveted back together with the sharp metal prongs dangerously pointing upwards, was evidence of his stinginess.
        Each of them had been literally gored in the ass by this all too palpable demonstration of their grandfather’s cheapness. His youngest daughter possessed a long scar on her left temple from the time she passed out drunk and hit her head on the riveted toilet seat. Mabel invariably denied that she had smacked her skull on the toilet during a drinking binge blackout when she was a teenager. But the placement of the rivets on the toilet seat matched the trail of scars that were mostly hidden by her hair. Jacob thought it was more likely that she couldn’t remember the incident; his mother had a hazy memory of her frequent blackouts. He often turned her onto her side so she would not choke on her vomit.
        Mia and Jacob nodded their heads in agreement. They could see all too clearly the plausibility of Patty’s arguments.
        Granddad constantly entertained them with detailed accounts of waste and squander, the senseless frittering away of resources engaged in by neighbors, family, friends, old school mates, nuns—no one was exempt from this list. All these incidents of misuse became part of his daily rant. While he was annoyingly predictable, Mia enjoyed his gruff complaints. He was simply a naïve idealist and did not understand that utopia would not be achieved by saving everything in the off chance that it would be needed. Throw something away, a mushy banana, a frayed sock riddled with holes, even a broken band of elastic, and he would dig it out of the dustbin. Then he would angrily confront the offender with the evidence of their extravagant profligacy and loudly berate them. That banana skin, when he was young—when there was not enough food to eat—he would eat it.
         “Yes, I would eat!” he bellowed waving the brown banana skin at the culprit, who turned out to be their mother, his daughter Doris, who definitely ought to have known better. Normally, she surreptitiously brought a garbage bag to dispose of rancid food, which she kept hidden in the trunk of her car and disposed of at her house. Otherwise, food thrown away in Granddad’s garbage can was liable to find its way on someone’s plate. Food poisoning was a regular occurrence after a meal at his house. “Eat, eat—look it’s fresh,” he would say poking at a rock-hard bagel with his knife or scooping a load of putrid potato salad into his mouth with a spoon (a spoonful which guaranteed an agonizing evening of explosive fluids spraying from one’s orifices for everyone but their grandfather—whose cast iron stomach could digest anything).
        Mia constantly heard her grandfather complaining about her Uncle Theo; for him, his son was a spendthrift, an extravagant scoundrel. Theo’s actions constantly astounded him.
        “Mia—not to believe what he did now—Theo, he put out this pile of magazines in the garbage. I see this with my own eyes, him burying new magazines, from only ten years ago. I see, yes, I see,” he taps his eye. “They were perfectly good these magazines. Here, I show you Mia, what he place in the garbage.”
        Mia followed her grandfather out of the kitchen and into the dining room. Patty and Jacob were already sitting at the table laughing and tossing magazines back and forth. Their grandfather started to laugh as he held up a magazine. He waved the magazine at the kids, laughing and pointing at a foldout of a reclining naked man stroking an enormous penis. She laughed, partly out of embarrassment, but also at her grandfather. His face was red with mirth as he pounded the table with his fist and gasped for air, stopped for a moment and started giggling uncontrollably.
        Mia didn’t begrudge him his amazed amusement, but she felt how mortified her uncle was going to be when he came home and found his gay porn collection (over two hundred well thumbed magazines) on the dining room table. There he would see various relatives (and likely a few neighbors too) gathered and well informed of his suddenly not-so-private desires.
        But even she and Patty could see that Theo’s first mistake was in foolishly thinking that burying his porn in the garbage two houses down and across the street, in Doc Krukowski’s can, was not very bright. Granted, he did accomplish this task in the dead of the night, but their grandfather was a light sleeper, often to be found patrolling the hundred-year-old house with a loaded shotgun, the floors creaking under his tiptoes.
        “Anyone breaking in here and it’s an ass full of shot!” he would exclaim. “Har, har, har—so funny!”
        Patty had a valid point when she said, “Grandpaw”—this was her affectionate nickname for him—“is probably more than a few cards short of a whole deck.”
        There was talk of a nursing home, possibly a locked ward—even a padded room was seen as a viable option.
        Obviously, he spied his son sneaking out of the house with his secret box of shame. Certainly he should not have dug up Theo’s garbage; he crossed a clear line here, Jacob thought. But they all agreed amongst themselves—Jacob at the young age of twelve, Patty seventeen and Mia in between at fifteen—that their uncle should have been smart enough to dispose of his porno collection in another town, possibly even another state or country. At the very least he could have easily incinerated it. His father kept a fire burning in the wood stove in the kitchen at all times—even on the hottest day of the summer to the dismay of family and neighbors alike—disposing of garbage the proper way by the armload and into the fire. It didn’t matter what it was—a carpet, a bundle of newspaper, or Misty his dead cat—if it could burn, he would use it to heat his house.
        Once, while Mia and Matt were conscripted into mowing his front yard—with a rusty reel mower—their grandfather got in a fight with the neighbor across the street. Abe Mitchell was always yelling at him to stop digging around in his garbage and quickly became their grandfather’s sworn enemy over his weekly raid of the rubbish bin. The two men engaged in a subtle war of intimidation, one that mainly consisted of muttered curses, rude gestures behind each other’s turned backs, and exaggerated glares. The feud began in earnest when Mia’s grandfather—wearing a fluffy orange bathrobe with gaping holes in the elbows, a treasured garment that he had removed years ago from another neighbor’s trash—was picking a broken broom out of the pile of junk in front of the Mitchell house. Outraged by his discovery, he bellowed and shook the fractured broomstick at a startled Susan Mitchell, who was returning from a walk with her prized poodle.
        “This broom is perfectly good! You can still use this, you wasteful slut!”
        Mrs. Mitchell turned bright red, gave out a high-pitched squeak and stood there frozen, mesmerized by the spectacle. Her dog, Bitsy, wagged her tail, mistaking the excitement for a game of fetch.
        Mr. Mitchell, who was clipping his hedges, heard the commotion and ran to the curb.
        “Who do you think you’re calling a slut?”
         “Your slut of a wife should be lined up and shot, Mitchell!”
        Before Mia and her brother knew it the two men were circling each other, Mitchell holding up his hedge clippers, their grandfather comically waving the broomstick. The men exchanged a few blows, each landing satisfying cracks at each other’s head. Mitchell dropped his heavy shears after parrying a blow. As he bent to pick them up their grandfather leapt forward and started whacking Mitchell solidly on his rotund ass.
        As Mia and Matt watched the astounding spectacle, their mouths agape, their mother ran from the house, a cigarette firmly lodged in the corner of her mouth, and grabbed her father by the ear. Taking possession of the broomstick, she led him into the house, chiding him for making a spectacle in front of his grandchildren.

        The irrefutable miserly qualities that their grandfather possessed prevented the renovated living room from being explained away. Matt vehemently disagreed with Patty’s suicide theories. He thought that their uncle was too happy to just off himself, but he offered no real theories over his death. He just repeated again and again, “There’s no way he would blow his brains out! He may have been a convicted felon, but he had too much going for him.” However, Matt was the youngest and his sisters were of the opinion that he was just being naïve. After all, he was in middle school and still tucked himself into bed each night with his Snoopy doll.
        It was undeniable that something unspeakably bad had befallen their uncle. They had seen his distorted face in his open coffin; that kind of stretched and belabored appearance did not occur with a mere heart attack. He didn’t even really look like their uncle.
        Mia speculated that their uncle had been murdered, caught up in some underhand deal gone badly wrong, but their parents did not want to scare them and so made up an excuse, one that they thought was less frightening. Little did they know—or care, perhaps—that the children were scared by the possibilities that their obvious lie presented. Matt went along with this theory, Theo had spent an undefined period in jail for some unknown offence—it explained the new furniture and the missing gun, which had obviously been seized by the fuzz as evidence—but Patty quickly dismissed this hypothesis. Unlike her younger siblings, she had been assiduously reading The Courier Express and The Buffalo Evening News. There was no mention in either paper of a murder investigation surrounding the death of their uncle. His death notice had been tantalizingly brief, merely stating that he died suddenly and giving the particulars of his funeral.
        Jacob told them that he picked up the phone the morning after Theo died and heard his mother on the other line saying something to another woman, whose voice he could not identify, about there being so much blood that they were going to have to rip out the carpet and dispose of the furniture. His interest piqued, he started taking detailed notes for his cousins’ benefit. His mother proceeded, between long drags on her cigarette and frequent sips of her morning beer, to talk about the gory details of her father finding Theo.
        “He heard a bang. But you know my dad, he couldn’t find his cane, so it took him twenty minutes to get downstairs.”
        “So, Theo was just lying there bleeding to death.”
        “Yep, just lying there, bleeding away on the white carpet.”
        “Mabel, how awful losing your only brother like that.”
        “I know, I know. It’s just awful, too awful for words.”
        “What did the police say?”
        Our greatly feared Aunt Mabel responded with, “I’m not supposed to mention this—it’s supposed to be real hush-hush—but they,” then she paused, and shouted, “Jacob, you little shit, hang the phone up now, before I smack you silly!”
        In any case, they all knew that something terrible had happened, something so bad that none of the adults would tell them the truth.
        They said nothing to Lorna, who was silent and withdrawn. The night of her father’s death Lorna had been across the river visiting their grandmother, who a few years back had abruptly divorced their eccentric grandfather to marry her high-school sweetheart, Bud Polanski, and subsequently moved from Buffalo to Fort Erie. Lorna’s mother died during childbirth and she was now an orphan, the first that her cousins had ever known. As an orphan, one whose gay father had gone out in a blaze of gunpowder, she was an oddity—much like the cafeteria monitor at their school, a dwarf woman with blazing red hair, who reputedly had been a man. They were embarrassed and did not know what to say to their cousin. All of them pretended that nothing had happened, that everything was fine, awkwardly ignoring Lorna’s tears.

        The night Theo died Mia and her siblings had been asleep in bed when they were jolted awake by the screams of their mother. Scared, Mia leaped out of bed and ran to the top of the stairs with her sister and brother. They stood fearfully at the top while their father held their sobbing mother.
        “No, no, no, no,” she shrieked over and over.
        The phone was knocked to the floor and the squeal of the dial tone could be heard.
        Mia and her siblings stood silently in the darkness of the humid July night. Their pajamas were soaked through with sweat and clung to their clammy bodies. They watched their mother cry and were too paralyzed to do anything.
        The spell was broken by a loud rat-tat-tat on the front door. Their father let in Mabel, whose face was swollen with tears. Clutching her hand was Jacob—he was still wearing his Spider-Man pajamas. Their grandfather shuffled into the foyer behind them, wearing his tattered robe. The two sisters hugged their silent father. Then Mabel pulled away, dabbed at her tears and started issuing orders along with handfuls of tissue.
        “He’s at Millard Fillmore. Dad, you stay here with the kids. Doris and Dave, come with me to the hospital; we need to speak with the doctors right away.”
        “Where’s Lorna? Who is watching her?”
        “She’s at Mom’s, Bud is watching her. Mom’s meeting us at the hospital. My car is idling out front. Let’s go!”
        The three of them ran out the front door, slamming it heavily behind them, leaving the children standing there with their grandfather, who sat down on the hall bench with a heavy sigh.
        Mia ran down the stairs, shoving her siblings out of her way. Behind her Matt grabbed Patty’s braid and yanked it, using the ensuing fracas to propel himself forward. They hit the bottom of the stairs with a thud. Instantly, the four children all started plying their grandfather with questions.
        “What’s going on, Granddad?”
        He waved them into silence with his hands.
        Everyone except Jacob fell quiet, who quickly screeched out a last question, “What happened to Uncle Theo?”
        His grandfather tapped him lightly on the forehead with his cane.
        “Zip it, kid! Hush, puppies! I’m too old to deal with this—” he gestured at the front door.
        He leaned forward and picked up the receiver of the phone, placing it gently in its cradle, silencing its insistent shriek. In the resulting silence he motioned at them to sit down in a circle on the floor. When they were sitting with their legs obediently tucked under them and his Cuban cigar was lit, he began to explain the uproar.
        “Theo has been hurt. Not to believe, he’s really hurt. He is at the hospital. The doctors are doing what they can.”
        “What happened, Granddad?” asked Patty.
        “I don’t know honey, I just know that your uncle is hurt real bad, real bad.”
        “Is Uncle Theo going to die?”
        “I don’t know, I don’t know. Let’s go sit out on the porch and we’ll wait.”
        The five of them sat in the swing on the front porch. As their grandfather puffed away at his cigar and kept the swing in motion with his cane, the children sat in the shadows cast by the streetlights and watched the street in front of them. All night they gently swung in the breeze that wafted over the porch from the elm trees that lined the street like majestic slumbering giants—this was before the disease that would wipe them out leaving the city streets lined with withered stumps. The occasional car would cruise by, the windows down and a radio blaring loud music into the darkness. A few solitary people prowled down the sidewalks.
        As the chain of the swing creaked, Mia looked up at her grandfather, and in the dim stillness of the night she saw a lone tear trickle down his cheek. Her heart squeezed in her chest and she clung to her grandfather, who for the first time seemed old and vulnerable, capable of dying.
        They stayed like this until the early gray light of the dawn lightened the neighborhood. The sky was turning pink when Mabel drove up and parked her blue Oldsmobile station wagon out front.
        Mia knew that her uncle was dead. Nothing needed to be said. The set expression on the faces of her parents and aunt spoke volumes. The somber silence remained unbroken as the adults herded the children into bed. Mabel picked up Jacob, who was sound asleep, and carried him to her car, driving away in the early morning bustle of workday traffic.

        When Mia got up before noon, the house was still. She had a piano lesson at two o’clock with Mrs. Manovich. She had not practiced all week and she found herself fervently hoping that the lesson would be canceled by the events of the previous evening. Mrs. Manovich was an unsmiling bespectacled shrew with halitosis; she had been teaching all of them piano since they were in kindergarten. She clearly despised Mia and her siblings—more than once she had hissed at them as she rapped their fingers with a pencil, “No talent, you have no talent.” She snarled this out low enough so that her parents didn’t hear. Not that it mattered as far as Mia was concerned—if her parents couldn’t hear the tortured din of the piano as they stumbled through the same songs week after week, never improving after months of alleged practice, what made Manovich think they would hear her insulting them?
        The loathing between Man-o-bitch (as she was called by most of her students) and Mia was mutual. Mia would do anything to get out of having a piano lesson. Once she had even gone so far as to eat an entire box of Ex-Lax to facilitate her escape. It had made her stomach rumble and groan with painful gas. Her teacher stubbornly ignored the stench and the distress of her student throughout the entire lesson, making her pupil suffer through excruciating stomach pains that were almost worse than the lesson itself, but not quite. Only the most extraordinary circumstance could cause her to cancel a lesson, like the time Matt accidentally slammed the lid of the piano on his hand, breaking three fingers, and escaping from one lesson. Man-o-bitch convinced his parents that his hands would atrophy and kept up the lessons using his good hand to practice scales and Hanon exercises.
        Thus, she was not very hopeful as she stood outside the door of her parents’ bedroom listening. Nothing. She put her hand on the molded glass doorknob and hesitated.
        “Mom?” she whispered, stopped to listen and repeated slightly louder, “MOM? MOM?”
        The bed creaked and she heard her parents talking. The door jerked open and her father’s face peeked out at her, “What do you want, Mia?”
        “What’s going on, Dad?”
        He hesitated, “Your Uncle Theo died last night.”
        “What happened?”
        Her father shut the door. She heard a muffled and furtive exchange between her parents. Strain as she might she could not make out what they were saying. Her ear was pressed against the door when her father jerked it open a crack. He frowned at her and sighed, making her feel guilty. She stepped away from the door and put on her most innocent look.
        “He died of a heart attack.”
        “No way! He was only thirty-two.”
        “No, it was a heart attack. If anyone asks you tell them it was a heart attack. Am I clear?”
        “Why are you lying, Dad?”
        Suddenly, Mia’s mother yanked the door open and stood in the doorway, her eyes so red they looked bruised. She raised her hand to slap her daughter’s face. Mia cringed and cowered beneath the livid gaze of her mother. Her mother pointed a finger at her and shook it at her.
        “It was a heart attack! A heart attack! You hear me? You little bitch!” she shouted as she slapped her daughter’s face.
        Stunned, Mia covered her face with her hand and whispered, “Yes.”
        “What are you going to say if anyone asks about your uncle?”
        “Heart attack.”
        “That’s right. Now go get dressed and wake up your brother and sister. Mrs. Manovich is going to be here for your lessons. You remember what I said if she asks you.”

        Pleasantly high from the shared joint, Mia and her cousins silently pondered the death of their beloved Uncle Theo. They didn’t talk much about it anymore, but they all knew they were thinking about him. Mia stepped outside the garage into the deepening October dusk. Jacob was sitting on the diving board throwing white pebbles onto the black rubber tarp that shrouded the pool for the winter. She didn’t say anything, but stood there for a moment watching him. His parents were fighting a lot; they were heading for a divorce and everyone knew it. His mother, Mabel, had found out that his father had impregnated his girlfriend. Bruno wanted to leave his wife and move in with “that skank!” as Mabel called her. “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let that skank steal my husband.”
        Jacob looked so miserable that Mia was startled. Later she would think that maybe he would have lived if she had stopped to talk to him and ask him what was wrong. But to her regret she didn’t say anything to him. At that moment Lorna ran out of the garage shouting with Mia’s brother as they tossed a battered football back and forth, and the moment for speaking passed away.
        Patty and the twins stayed in the garage, having decided to use Bud’s old Buick as a hotbox. They would remain in there until they heard the screams.
        The four cousins decided to play football in the park across the street. Excited they ran through the yard to the road. Mia shouted excitedly, “Last one across the street is a rotten egg!” Not wanting to be it, they all ran across the street without stopping to look for cars. Mia was in the middle of the road when she saw the car coming and stopped, standing still on her toes, trying not to fall into the path of the car.
        Time slowed.
        Terrified of losing her balance Mia felt the wind of the car rush by, blowing her unruly hair into her eyes. The screech of brakes filled her head and she smelled burning rubber. She watched the car moving in slow motion as Jacob landed on the hood and slid off of it. As it came to a sudden halt, Jacob hit the pavement with a thud and his body floated like a leaf across the surface of the road. Then he lay heavily on the road unmoving. For a moment Mia thought her brother had been knocked down by the car too because she couldn’t see him anywhere, but then she saw him leaping over the curb onto the safety of the brown grass. She immediately felt her dismay turn to relief that her brother wasn’t hurt. She never told anyone that she was relieved that it was not her brother lying dead in the road. If someone had to be dead she would rather it was Jacob—she didn’t think she could bear the loss of her brother.
        Mia and Matt stood panic-stricken and looked at each other mute with shock. They surveyed the scene frozen in time. The station wagon had come to a stop between them. Lorna was lying on the side of the road clutching her leg, which was broken. The driver of the car sat in the driver’s seat clutching the wheel with one hand while his other hand was balled up in his mouth. The moment was in such sharp focus that Mia could see his teeth cutting into his knuckles. She spent the rest of her life wondering who he was, what he did with his life before and after the accident. She wondered if he woke up sweating from nightmares of children dashing endlessly across the path of his speeding car or if he slept undisturbed, his conscience clean.
        Mia ran to her prone cousin. As she knelt down and touched him, she saw that his neck was bent at an odd angle and she knew that he was dead. His eyes were open and stared emptily at her. She started screaming.
        Jacob was the only one who didn’t make it to the other side of the street alive.
        People began emerging from houses and cars running to the scene. Patty grabbed Mia and Matt, asking them what happened. They looked at her speechless, unable to articulate what they had just seen. Tears ran down Mia’s face. Someone called an ambulance, which soon arrived with flashing lights and a police car. The ambulance drove away empty, its lights dimmed, after a short consult and some head shaking.
        A sheet concealed Jacob’s body lying on the road. Another police car showed up. A crowd gathered. Ernie and Jason stood by the side of the road, not moving until a television crew showed up to film the scene. Angered by this disrespect to their dead brother they chased the news crew away, intimidating them with their clenched fists.
        Doris ushered her three children and two nephews into the house. She said nothing to them. The cousins watched the scene from their grandmother’s bedroom. They fell asleep in the dark on their grandmother’s bed.
        When Mia woke up she didn’t know where she was. She was confused for a moment—then her memory rushed back to her and jolted her awake. She felt sick to her stomach as she contemplated the trauma of her cousin’s death.

        Mia and Matt never spoke to each other about what had happened. Just as she felt a crushing guilt over the accident, she was certain he felt the same way, but they never found the words to communicate their loss. The only person she ever talked to about the accident was the OPP officer who calmly wrote notes in his notebook and patted her hand in sympathy at the end of the interview. For the longest time Mia felt like she was going to be sent to jail; she felt guilty for not preventing the accident from happening. At his funeral she found herself touching a red marble on the lampshade of a light wishing with all her heart that he was still alive, that she could take back the words she had said.
        Years later Matt would name his son Jacob. Mia doubted that her brother ever told his son how their cousin died or even who he was named after. His son was an offering, an attempt to replace what had been lost. Jacob, with his congealed eyes, would always be the rotten egg; he would always be it.

“This Is Where Your Name Comes From” was published in the 2012 edition of The Labletter.

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