Savages – Steve Passey

An old man now, he told me that he was the ninth of eleven children but that his mother had given birth to two brothers after him, both of them stillborn. This made him the youngest, he said, but with that specific provision for his two stillborn brothers, who he thought should be remembered.

My family, he said. Jesus, they were bad.

His father was a drunk who beat his mother and the other children. He told me that the first thing he could remember was his sister sitting at the top of the stairs with a needle and thread trying to sew a plastic eye back onto a teddy bear. She was barefoot after her bath, wearing hand-me-down overalls a little long for her. The cuffs were rolled up to just below her knees and her hair was wet-combed very straight by their mother. The old man come by and stuck a foot under her, lift-kicking her down the stairs. She landed hard and the back of her head hit the floorboards with a sound like a drum. I remember that sound, he said She was what, five or six years old? If a grown man hits the back of his head like that, he’s out for a half-an-hour. But my sister got up, picked up her bear, her needle, and her thread, and walked away like she had just remembered an appointment she had to go to. The old man never said anything. When my sister walked away, he walked away.
He told me that sometimes the old man, already drunk on Saturday afternoons, would open beer after beer and start, but not finish, drinking them. He’d pass out on the couch with the TV on and the open cans on the coffee table. His older brothers would take the cans outside, urinate in them, then set them back down hoping their father would drink them when he got up. Sometimes he did.
We hated him, he said. Hated. My brothers and sisters went bad. All of them had hard lives and lots of trouble except for my one sister, the one my dad put down the stairs that day. My mother died when I was sixteen. That was hard for me. My sister took me in then even though she wasn’t much older. I finished high school because of her. I owe her.

He told me that years later at a family reunion he’d slept with his brother’s step-daughter. It wasn’t like that, he told me, it’s not like you are thinking. We were both in our early thirties. Don’t blame me. She came on to me. She climbed right into bed with me. It was her idea. After we had done it, she asked if I would give her ten thousand dollars. She had a plan to open her own business. I said no. She didn’t seem too upset. All she said was that if you don’t ask, you don’t get.