“Language of Men”: An Excerpt

Anthony D’Aries talks about his father, his parallel flaws, brotherhood, and culture of men in his new book.

This is an excerpt from Anthony’s D’Aries newest book, “The Language of Men“.

One day in my brother’s room, I slipped my bare feet into his black Doc Martens. The worn leather rode high on my leg, consuming the cuffs of my jeans. Sunlight cut across the rug like a golden guillotine. It was noon. The house was empty. I was supposed to be sick.

I walked like Frankenstein. I was alone, but I was being watched: The blood-shot, glow-in-the-dark eye Don had painted on the closet door; the melting face of Pink Floyd’s The Wall locked into a silent scream; black and white World War II photographs of hollow-eyed bodies bulldozed into mass graves. Dust sparkled at the window—a final warning. I put on Don’s favorite shirt.

It was a long-sleeved, brown-and-white-striped shirt with thumb holes cut into the cuffs. It was these minor alterations I envied most: the flannel patches stitched onto the knees of his jeans; paint speckles on his second-hand tweed blazer; stickers of bands I’d never heard of covering his wallet. Once I stole a sticker from the top drawer of his dresser, but when I stuck it on my wallet, it was crooked, and the glossy image buckled.

I watched myself, too, turning side to side, studying my reflection. Before I stepped in front of the mirror, I half-expected not to see any image at all. The mirror knew me, knew these clothes did not fit me, did not belong on my skin. You’re back again? Why? The mirror was bored, sick of my feeble attempts to transform myself, so it accentuated my chubby features, squished and stretched me, cast shadows on my face. The mirror wouldn’t let me pretend.

Patchouli, jasmine, stale pot, acrylic paint. If I couldn’t look like him, I could at least breathe like him. I stomped my way to his dresser, taking him into my lungs, and opened the top drawer. Though the mish-mash of ticket stubs, rolling papers, lighters, incense, matches, coins, pencils, receipts, and paintbrushes gave me no new insight into his life, his drawer would contain answers. I was sure of it.

I stood over the drawer, waiting for the objects to move: ticket stubs could tremble, twitch like moths, spread into a loud concert; Zippos might spark, illuminate a trap door in the room, shed light on a secret; rolling papers would twist into night, with teenagers in an open field gazing at a sky of falling stars. But nothing moved. I had to reach into the junk, pull something out and hold it up to the light like an archaeologist.

 ♦◊♦

In the back of the drawer, I found his gun. I took my thumb out of the sleeve of his shirt and grabbed the long silver barrel. The metal was cold against my hip. I walked like John Wayne back to the mirror.

My image was powerless. The real weapon was in my waistband; the mirror held only a reflection, a copy. I slipped my thumbs back into the sleeves. We paced in front of each other, my hand hovering over my right hip, the image over his left. I squinted my eyes. The image narrowed his gaze. I licked my lips. He licked his. We held our breath. The music swelled.

I reached and the gun fell down my pant leg, into my brother’s boot, clacked against my ankle bone. We dropped to the rug, cursing, still struggling for the first shot. I took off the boot and the butt of the gun stuck up like a prosthetic ankle. Breathing heavily, I stared at the weapon. The image in the mirror. The weapon. Our bullets collided, the mirror shattered. One image became a million, shards of eyes and fingers, denim and leather, long-sleeved striped shirts and bulldozed bodies, glow-in-the dark eyes, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and the air dense with falling stars.

Take a bow. Remove your costume. Return your prop.

Exit.

♦◊♦

It was the most realistic gun I had ever seen. Heavy and cold, the way movies tell you it’s supposed to be. My BB gun—the long black barrel dented and chipped from many leaps off the deck, the tinny click when I pulled the trigger—was no match for Don’s pistol. I needed two fingers to pull the trigger.

In a shoebox beneath his bed, I found a series of black and white photographs. In one, Don stood naked behind a bed sheet, holding the gun. In another, he aimed at the camera. To the left. To the right. At the ceiling. At the floor. There were several copies of the last image: head down, gun up, barrel pressed against his forehead.

My brother was armed. We handled him like dynamite, tried our best not to set him off. My father had brief conversations with him in the dark kitchen; the beginning of my father’s day was the end of Don’s night. My mother tip-toed to his bedroom door each morning before school and knocked lightly. She answered his muffled reply through the locked door. Are you getting ready for school? Sometimes, when she got tired of standing in the quiet hallway, she’d come into my room and ask me if, when I was done getting ready, I could wake my brother. I sat on the edge of my bed, slowly tying my shoes, and listened to my mother’s footsteps echo down the stairs.

There was a mirror in the hallway where I tried to project the image of a boy who had the guts to wake up his brother. I started across the hall, but returned to the mirror, making sure the boy was still there. Why did she always make me do this? I wondered. I heard him breathing. His lips stuck together; each breath forcing them apart in a faint pfft. I pressed my ear to the door. Maybe my sheer presence would wake him. Maybe I wouldn’t even have to touch the handle. Maybe he would just suddenly appear in the hallway, dressed and ready. I waited, but nothing happened. I whispered his name once and backed away from the door.

Buy Anthony’s D’Aries’ “The Language of Men” on Amazon.

 

Read Leah Carroll’s review of “Language of Men” in Guernica Magazine.

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Photo credit: Flickr / roberthuffstutter

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About Leah Carroll

Leah Carroll is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. She has contributed to the Atlantic.com and The New York Times. Find her on Twitter.

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