He walked into the funeral home wearing a trucker’s hat and smelling of Bourbon. An old lady sat on a bench nearby. She stood.
“Hello sir. Would you like to sign the registry?”
“I don’t reckon they gonna won’t a record that I was here do you?”
“It’s for the family. For Mildred.” The lady scowled from behind a heavy, powdered face.
“Sure then.” He wrote his name–Meanus Hale.
She looked over the registry as he moved away. His eyes ran over the crowd from a distance; black suits, gray hair, a few kids in khaki pants milling around, looking bored. Someone smiled at him. He didn’t know them. Didn’t want to.
“Are you Betty Hale’s son?” the lady asked.
“I was. She died years ago. I ain’t exactly her son anymore.”
The lady pursed her lips.
“Well, I reckon you still are…least to her.”
“Ok” he said. Balancing on his cane, Meanus walked into the large service room of the funeral home. He saw the casket against the back wall. It was half-opened with an American flag draped across the lower part. Meanus wished he’d taken a few more shots.

He saw Richard’s Mom, Mildred, from across the room.
What’s it been? he thought. Fifteen years?
He avoided her glance. Last time he’d seen her was the night before Richard went off to Basic. He and Richard had been friends since they knew the word. They went to bible school back when their parents considered Church important. They played baseball, spent hours talking about the ‘what-ifs?’ of life, and learned how to get in trouble as a pair. When Richard’s Dad left the boys grew closer. They were inseparable. When they both turned 14 they went down to the creek behind Boswell Stadium to try weed for the first time. Meanus pulled out his knife half-way through the first joint.
“Blood brothers.”
Richard smiled.
“Sure.”
Meanus sliced his hand open then handed the knife to Richard. He did the same. They shook hands while they looked each other in the eye. Neither spoke.

Meanus stole a bottle of liquor from his Mom. By the time he got to Richard’s, Mildred was three sheets gone and talking about her son dying in some goddamned war. Richard was sitting in a corner of the kitchen, looking at the floor.
“Mom, just be quiet with all that stuff. I ain’t gonna die. Tell her Meanus.”
“He ain’t gonna die Mildred. Might catch the clap from some girl, but it won’t kill him.”
Mildred laughed. Richard told Meanus to shut up. Meanus took another sip.
“He won’t do something like that Meanus. He’s his Momma’s boy, he won’t do no bad shit like that.”
Richard walked out of the room. Meanus pulled out his bottle and set it down.
“Wanna few pulls?” he asked Mildred.
“You know it!” Mildred poured some in her glass and downed it. Meanus sat down next to her. He was young then, full of strength and gumption. Mildred always had a soft spot for Meanus. Quietly she sometimes had wondered what he would be like as a Man. His shoulders were broad and his tan stomach was rippled. Since he had turned eighteen, Mildred had wondered more often…and less quietly.
“So what are we gonna do once Richard’s gone?” Mildred asked. Her smile offered an answer.
Meanus took a shot of liquor.
“Well, I guess most anything we want Mildred.”

Richard called from the other room.
“Meanus come here for a second.”
Meanus looked at Mildred’s blue eyes and let his gaze wander to her ample chest.
“Most anything.” he said. She smiled and patted his arm.

Richard was sitting on the couch in the living room, his lap holding a box full of pictures. He had one in his hands. It was a Polaroid of he and Meanus on two bicycles. They both wore Redskins coats and straddled their bikes in a front yard filled with snow.
“You remember this?” Richard said.
“Yep” Meanus smiled.
“I want you to have it. In case something goes wrong somewhere down the line.”
“I ain’t taken no picture if it means you might die.”
“That ain’t what it means dumbass. It just means that you and I will always be blood brothers. No matter what.”
“No matter what.” Meanus repeated, wishing he’d made it sound like a question. He continued.
“I ain’t taken no pictures of us Richard. You ain’t signed up for…but what? Four years? Nothing gonna happen in four years.”
Richard put the picture in Meanus’s hand.
“Take the picture. Just for when. For me.”
Meanus stared at him. He knew when Richard’s brown eyes went all black and serious it won’t no use arguing.
“Ok Richard.”
“Ok Brother.” Richard said.
“Ok Brother.”

Sheriff Burke lost his somber, respectful air when he saw Meanus standing alone. He walked over.
“Nobody wants no trouble here today Meanus. Why did you even come by? Wait. You been drinking? It’s a Tuesday son.”
“My condolences to you to Sheriff.”
“Shut up Meanus.” the Sheriff hushed his voice.
“Everybody knows what you tried to do back then. You think you deserve to be here now?”
Meanus looked ahead at the casket.
“I got more rights than you think Sheriff.”
“I’ll be watching you. You upset one hair on Mildred’s head and I’ll throw you out of here. You hear me Meanus.”
“You know Sheriff, they say the Richard got killed trying to pull some Arab kid out of a building before an airstrike hit it.”
“Yeah. He was a hero. No doubt.”
“Well, the way I see it, I got a little of his blood in me so I ought to be just as brave.”
“Meanus Hale I never thought I’d hear you talk sense in your life!” Sheriff Burke patted Meanus on the back.
“Yep, I ought to be brave enough to say what I need to say.”
“Well, I guess so–”
“Fuck off Sheriff. Just fuck off.”

Richard went upstairs to finish packing. Meanus sat down next to Mildred. She slammed an empty shot glass down.
“Where we were?” she said.
They both laughed.
“I think you’ve had about enough.” Meanus said.
Mildred leaned over to Meanus’s ear.
“I’ll scream your name when I’ve had enough.”
“Mildred, look, joking is one thing but that’s…”
Midred rubbed Meanus’s leg.
“I’m not joking anymore Meanus. You’re a grown up. I’m a grown up. He’s a grown up. I got things I want in life too.”
Meanus stood up and went back to the living room.
Mildred hoisted herself up and followed him.
He sat down on the couch and reached for the remote control. Mildred jumped on top of him, straddling his lap and burying her face in his neck.
“Just a little dry run until he’s gone.”
Meanus lifted her, but the woman pushed back down.
Richard walked in.

A middle-aged woman dressed in dark blue came over to Meanus. She looked like she’d cried for days and days.
“Mildred wants to see you. She wants to walk with you over to see Richard.”
“I’m here to see Richard, not Mildred.”
The woman smiled.
“She said you’d say that. She said to ask you nicely. For a Mother whose lost both of her sons. I thought she only had one though.”
“She had two. Sort of. Ok I’ll come over.”

Meanus called to get Richard’s address two weeks later. Mildred gave it to him and asked why he didn’t come over anymore.
“Richard said he never wanted to see me for trying to screw you. Don’t you remember that you damn drunk?”
“I told him we had feelings for one another and it was none of his business…”
“Feelings?” Meanus said. “The only feeling you have is for booze and young boys.” He hung up.
Meanus wrote, as best he could, as often as he could. Richard never replied. Meanus would call wondering when Richard was coming home, how he was doing, or if there was a number to reach him. Mildred would go through her spiel about feelings, and love, and lust, and needing one another during this “time of crisis.” It was always a crisis for Mildred to be alone. And sober.
Meanus stopped calling long after Richard decided to keep his word.
They would never see each other again.

Meanus walked over to Mildred.
“Hello Mildred.”
She smiled.
“I can’t stand it. He’s gone Meanus.”
“I know. He was a hero for doing what he done.” Meanus looked over at the casket.
“Have you been over to see him yet?” Mildred asked.
“No. I was waiting for some reason. I don’t know.”
“That man over there in the uniform, he was part of Richard’s unit. He was the one to find Richard…” Mildred wiped her nose. “He gave me this when he came over to the house yesterday. He said it was in Richard’s pocket when the shrapnel killed him. The little boy lived though. Ain’t that something? I thought you might want it.”

Mildred handed Meanus the picture of two boys trying to ride their bikes in the snow. They were smiling wide.
Blood stained the bottom of the Polaroid.
Meanus began to weep for the first time since he’d heard the news.
He rubbed his hand across the photo.
He walked over to the casket and looked at his blood brother’s body.
Meanus cried softly and laid the photo on Richard’s chest.

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