The Things We Leave Behind
Fiction by Mischa Milne
I drive past row upon row of golden canola fields, a never-ending sea of sunshine. I’m still not really used to driving on my own, even though it’s been a sixth months since I got my license. Melodrama plays on repeat on my way to Dave’s house, the only album I’ve been listening to all month.
Alberta summers are hot and dry. The intense cold of winter quickly changes to a kind of inescapable warmth in May. There are no real seasonal transitions. I burn instead of tanning and spend days trying to soothe the skin on my shoulders as it peels.
When I get to Dave’s house he’s on the porch, drinking a beer. I get out of the car and lean against my door, keys still in my hand so that I can leave quickly if I need to. I haven’t seen him in a while and I don’t know how this is going to go.
There is nothing and everything attractive about Dave, because he’s one of those guys that used to be handsome and is now so messed up from playing hockey and fighting and drinking that you can’t really tell where the scars stop and his face begins.
“It’s not even noon yet,” I say, breaking the silence.
“What’s it to you?” he drawls, spitting onto the step and putting down his beer.
I roll my eyes and walk over, keys still tight in my hand. It’s cooler in the shade of the porch and when I sit next to him he makes room for me.
“Do you have him?” I ask.
“Yeah. You need to be really careful, though. I’m not just giving him out for free. I wouldn’t do this if me and your brother didn’t…you know,” he says, looking straight ahead.
There’s silence and I slap at a mosquito that’s trying to get at my arm.
“Yeah,” I say, softer now.
Dave stands and goes into the house, shutting the door firmly behind him. I get up anyway to peek through the window, but I can’t see anything beyond the thick blinds.
It takes him ages to come back, and I’m sweating, scratching at the peeling paint on the porch railing out of boredom. It’s so weird to be back here. I can almost see my brother and Dave running around the front yard as kids, spraying me with the hose whenever I tried to join in and ignoring me otherwise.
“Here you go. Be good to him, now,” Dave says, kneeling down.
In his arms is a ball of fluff, fast asleep. Stupid dog. Can’t even wake up for me when I come to get him.
I reach out and cradle him carefully. Dave’s so close to me I can hear him breathing and I know we’re both thinking about the same thing, but neither of us say it. I stay sitting, holding the dog, hoping this weird, giant guy will sit back down with me.
Finally he does, and I let out a sigh of relief. As long as Dave’s being normal, everything is fine.
“You know, I almost didn’t give him up,” he says, smiling.
Suddenly he gets up again and walks over to my car, then pops the hood. Brad always used to do this, just to make sure. As if I couldn’t check the engine myself. It was my car long before I was really allowed to drive it, but still, it was nice to know he would care if I died from an engine combusting or something.
Dave knows shit all about cars, though, unlike Brad. They used to get in arguments about who was better with vehicles, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to break down on the highway with nobody but Dave to help me.
“I should go,” I say, walking over to stand beside him and leaving the dog on the step.
The engine looks fine, but he won’t stop staring at it. I think he’s avoiding looking at me.
“You didn’t come to the funeral.”
The words fall out of my mouth without bitterness or anger. We both know he was Brad’s best friend in the entire world. Somehow, funerals feel dishonest to me, an inadequate way of trying to keep the dead alive for one more day. So many people came, some that barely knew my brother, and talked about how sad it was that he was gone. I didn’t blame Dave for not wanting to show up for that.
Dave’s still not looking at me, so I reach out for him.
“Funerals are bullshit,” he says, swooping out from under my arm and slamming the car hood shut. I laugh and feel lighter.
“I’m serious about the dog, you know,” Dave adds. Brad found that thing on the side of the road and rescued it. You don’t exactly have the best track record with animals.”
“I killed one hamster and it was totally an accident.”
“And like ten fish, Amy. Clearly they weren’t important to you. No wonder they had such a terrible fate.”
I groan and go back to grab the dog from the steps. He’s an old Australian Shepherd, sleepy and quiet in the shade of the porch.
“Come on, buddy,” I say, trying to entice him to get up on his own.
After a little of coaxing he follows me and gets in the back seat. I slam the door and put my hands on my hips, craning my neck to look up at Dave. I look at him and try to say everything I want to say: that Brad’s death was an accident, that it wasn’t his fault, or that I still love him like my own brother.
“Take care now, loser,” he tells me, messing up my hair because he knows it annoys me.
I think he gets it, but just to be sure I tell him, “I hate you.”
More snorting. Again he spits out chew. “Yeah. Hate you too. Seriously, don’t kill the dog.”
I flip him off as I get into the car and turn on the ignition.
“You sure you don’t want me to come with you? Your car might break down,” he says with a grin, bending down and resting his arm on the open window. I roll my eyes at him and stick my keys in the ignition.
“I think I’ll survive, Dave.”
As I drive away, I glance at the rearview mirror. He hasn’t gone back to the porch yet. He just stands there by himself, watching my car kick up dust on the road. In the backseat, the dog has gone back to sleep again, my brother’s only real legacy.
I’m not even at the part of the road where the tar starts yet but I turn up the song and start to speed up, listening to the gravel crunching under my tires and the noise from the wind picking up around me.
When I can see the canola fields again I roll down the window and stick my elbow out, letting my arm burn painfully against the hot surface of the car. I drive faster. For once, I don’t care about the way the sun will hit my skin and transform it from white to red. I think of my brother, of Dave, of the dog the two of them looked after together that is now sitting in my backseat, alone.