This week’s New Voices story comes to us from Mason Boyles. In “Aprovecha,” Rena’s brother, Walt, makes an unexpected appearance, early, for once, for her birthday. Walt’s career has caused friction in their family, and now Rena doesn’t know what to expect of Walt. Will this time be any different? Boyles’s prose, relying on sharp, precise verbs, carries this humid story along its strange journey. Sink in below.
The lady pulls a button bag out of her pocket. Two emoji-yellow tablets gleam under the plastic. The plastic seems to swell as she prickles the seal open, like the heat of her grip is causing the air inside to expand. She drops them into Walt’s palm. He cups one into his mouth and offers the other to Rena. “Aprovecha.”
This year Walt breaks into the trailer early. Rena’s rushing air into her bicycle tires when the gravel patch down by the 133 turnoff starts prickling. Only her brother would risk such a skid on that hairpin. She ditches the bike pump and ducks behind the hydrangeas just as his Jeep fishtails into their driveway.
He gleams shirtlessly out of the driver’s side, bicep-curling his backpack. He sets it down to kickstand her toppled bike. “Sis?”
Rena stays crouched.
He fishes the spare key from the bird’s nest and shoves inside. Rena peers through the front window, feeling eleven all over—she used to stoop outside his bedroom window just like this to snoop on him.
He pops the lid of her takeout and sucks a sauceless chicken wing, seasoning it with slurps from a spliff. The chest tattoo’s new, and the paunch blurring his abs.
Rena lurks through the doorway. “Are you bulking?”
“Missed you, too, Ms. College.” Walt scrapes the ECU magnet with the sharp end of a wishbone like a scratch-off ticket. “Did you bury Ma under the carport after she connipted?”
“I’m applying for need-based.”
“You’re not Lumbee enough.” Walt points the wishbone out front. “What you got’s a pinch flat. Told you not to ride those tires on gravel. Wheezing that bike pump won’t do a lick till you change the tube.”
Rena tries to place that alphabet of ink margined under his collarbone. A streak of epitaph- looking capitals. Maybe Greek. Better than the alleged Hebrew that looks more like SWAN on his bicep. Her brother a Rosetta Stone of languages he doesn’t know, breaking that wishbone. He sags into the La-Z-Boy and offers her the long end.
“Your birthday’s in my gym bag.”
The zipper splutters powders when Rena opens it. She digs through the Ziplocks of whey protein and creatine, coughing chalk and synthetic sweet. A new Macbook. A shaker bottle plush with mold. Glad-wrapped nugs of skunk weed. She reels up a lava-lamp printed fanny pack.
“Warmer,” Walt says.
Rena spanks out his wallet. Two tickets loll from the billfold. Roundtrip flights to Lima. Walt gives the wishbone a paper-football flick. “Happy early eighteenth. Don’t kiss me.”
“This flight’s for tomorrow.”
Walt just sucks at his spliff.
“I’ve got work,” she says.
“Horace’ll manage. Without your ass to grab he can cook with both hands.”
Somewhere out on the state road a truck engine starts gargling.
Rena rubs the tickets together. There used to be CPS files just like this, a matching pair of papers headed with their names. “How’d you—where, I mean—”
“Got a patron.”
The tickets go gross in her fingers. She sticks them to his sweat-wet chest. “I’m closing tonight. Will you be here when I’m back?”
Walt heaps his stare toward the carport.
“Ma’s on a headhaul to Fresno. She left yesterday.”
He hands her back the tickets with his keys. “Take the Jeep.”