By John Sheppard
Billy sat in his cloister trying very hard not to hear his mother’s screams. It was impossible. He had work to do, spreadsheets to fill out before Monday morning, or he wouldn’t get paid and if he didn’t get paid, his mother would have to do without her two staples: Butter brickle ice cream and bonded bourbon. So he tried to concentrate. The humming of the window unit air conditioner usually helped, but today it did not help. Not one bit.
“Billy!” she shrieked. “Billy!”
She hadn’t left the two-flat in five years—not since his father had passed away—unless she was visiting one of her many doctors. His father died on the Red Line L somewhere between Morse and Loyola on the far north side, standing up to allow a lady passenger to sit, and then falling down flat on his face, dead before he hit the ground, a stray bullet zipping through the L car and through his occipital and temporal lobes before settling in the bottom of his frontal lobe.
Billy was an accountant, just like his father. Or approximately like his father.
A coroner dug the bullet out of his father’s head, back to front. The funeral was a closed casket affair. His mother shooed everyone out of the room so she could take one last look at his poor dead dad. The shooed included Billy and his older-by-two-years sister Ellen, who’d arrived from Connecticut for the funeral and left immediately afterward. Ellen advised Billy to do the same, to leave as quickly as humanly possible. “You’ve done enough for the two of them,” she said. “It’s time to start thinking about yourself.”
“Ma needs me,” Billy said.
“She only needs you because you’re here,” Ellen said, taking his hand. “Come to Connecticut with me. Plenty of jobs for accountants there.”
The brother and sister shared a face. On Billy it looked too feminine. On Ellen, it looked slightly off, like it had been slapped onto the front of her skull haphazardly.
“Billy!” his mother shrieked at the funeral home. “It’s not him! It’s not him!”
Ellen let go of his hand, let it fall.