SKINNY JEANS AND A QUICK SMOKE by Tim Miller

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My brother had a reputation that I never approved of. He would always laugh whenever I brought it up, tousling my hair and walking away. I don’t think he cared what anyone thought of him.

He did his own thing, kept to himself. He helped out mum and dad whenever he wasn’t under a car working on the engine. The five-year age gap really meant I was his little sister — he was taller, bigger and had done everything first. I idolised him.

Little sisters shouldn’t have to give eulogies at their brother’s funerals. When I looked over at the few people scattered across the pews in the church, it hurt that no one from school attended his funeral. Just family and Mrs Jackson who lived next door.

Hours later at Caitlin Ray’s funeral, the entire school was bused in. I watched from my brother’s grave site as students exited the buses in single file, all dressed in black. They had to set up speakers so those standing outside the church could hear the service.

Everyone laid a flower on her grave after the casket went six feet down. They walked passed my brother’s upturned dirt like it was nothing but filthy mud.

On my first day at school he drove us in his 1970 Chevrolet Camaro that he bought from the scrap yard. The paint was stripped back revealing the skeletal frame – it didn’t look pretty – but he’d spent most of the summer under the hood. He was so proud of that engine and how he’d built it back up himself.

‘Doesn’t matter what it looks like on the outside sis, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.’

I laughed then because I loved him.

Our father quoted the same phrase in the eulogy – it summed up his life so much. It also made me cry because I missed him.

On lunch breaks he’d duck behind the east block for a smoke. He’d stand there in his skinny black jeans while he lit up and listened to whatever punk band he’d found the week before. He never joined the long rows of tables in the cafeteria, gave zero fucks about everyone inside and what they thought of him.

Caitlin Ray was always surrounded at the tables, laughing at some joke or recalling weekend parties. The clique seemed to hang onto her every word, waiting for her next moment of brilliance.

On the night they both died, there was summer heat and the flowers were wilting in the gardens. My brother had driven me under mock-protest to the party, promising our parents he’d keep an eye on me. His skinny black jeans clung to his legs, and perspiration ran down his spine as he closed the bonnet and wiped the grease off his hands.

The alcohol was flowing but my brother never touched it. He kept to the outskirts of the bonfire, smoking his cigarettes, while I chatted to my friends and sipped my first beer.

As the night grew on, the numbers dwindled, from drunkenness or tiredness, I didn’t know. Caitlin was tugging at her boyfriend’s arm asking him to take her home. They were both drunk.

After Caitlin vomited, her boyfriend laughed and ran off with his friends. We all watched on.

None of Caitlin’s friends – those that surrounded her at the cafeteria tables – made any effort to help.

My brother told me to stay with my friends until he came back. He took one last drag of his cigarette and squashed it under his heel. Ignoring the crowd, he went over to Caitlin, still on her knees, eyes rolling back into her head. He picked her up with ease and carried her to his Camaro. He propped her in, clicked in the seatbelt and drove away from the bonfire.

I don’t think my brother had even shared more than ten words with Caitlin Ray the entire time they were in school together. I certainly never saw her even glance in his direction.

Caitlin’s boyfriend returned, more drunk than when he left. He demanded to know where she was. One of her besties told him and I’d never heard anyone call my brother names like that. He jumped in his car with his mates.

His tyres screeched and kicked up loose gravel and we all watched the tail lights fade into the distance.

The bonfire went from laughter and fun, to silence and uncertainty. As the red glow faded from sight and the engine roar went silent, the crowd stood simply gazing into the distance.

My hands were shaking as I dialled my brother’s phone and waited the expected five rings before it went to voicemail. He never answered while he was driving.

I told him to be careful. I told him to call me when he got my message.

My brother never came back for me. My best friend waited with me for two hours before she called her dad to come get us. Traffic slowed as we neared the flashing blue and red lights of the emergency services.

My brother’s Camaro was wrapped around the old oak tree and Caitlin Ray’s boyfriend’s truck had smashed into the back of it. The Camaro was the smallest I’d ever seen it, crumbled and broken worse than when he bought it at the beginning of the summer. As we drove past, I realised they hadn’t been able to pry off the Camaro doors and my brother and Caitlin Ray were pressed right against the windscreen.

Stained with blood, the old Camaro finally looked painted – ironic that my brother had planned to coat it red.

I went to the florist before the funeral to buy red roses; the same red that he would have painted that car. I waited until the dirt was shovelled in, until he was buried six feet under, until my father finally led my mother away. I sunk to my knees and laid them, and looked up and watched one student after another turn up for Caitlin Ray’s service.


Tim Miller is a writer from Sydney. Follow him on Twitter at @Timwritesstuff

 

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