I pushed the button for the 14th floor, the tower suite. I got off the elevator and looked down at my feet. I was barefoot. This seemed crazy to me although I often go barefoot, not to meetings, though, never before had I been barefoot at a meeting.
I considered leaving but decided that no one would notice my bare feet. Later, during my meeting with the very powerful 14th floor dwellers, I realized I was wearing my pajamas. They were my up north flannel pajamas, pajamas that had already served time in the big city and had been relegated to cabin wear. They were reversible, tan on one side with brown stripes on the other, and the stripes had somehow bled through to create a curious abstract design on the tan side. They were also snug, which I thought gave me a tailored look, the bottoms fell right at the ankle.
No one seemed to notice that I was wearing pajamas so I decided to shrug it off. In a heart-stopping moment, it came to me that I’d neither washed my face nor brushed my teeth, my mother’s admonition to always be neat and clean blanketing me with shame, but I nodded politely when the 14th floor dwellers asked me to sample their new prosciutto. It was then I realized their business must include meat.
I drove my convertible to my next stop. There, the new adoptive parents of six children greeted me at the door and ushered me into their many kids’ bedroom which was filled floor to ceiling with bunk beds. It made my heart sing that all six children were barefoot and pajama-clad and I was flooded by a sense of belonging rare for a social worker. Next the parents showed me to a second bedroom, also crammed with bunk beds. “You have too many beds,” I advised them. “It will lead to excessive sleeping.” But they had already nodded off and weren’t listening.
I pulled back the blue curtain above our bed and saw the stars collecting in the southern sky. We had gone to bed early, having drunk too much beer and then rum, following the news of my brother’s closeness to death. It was so urgent, my niece said, that I should send him a message so I did that at the local bar while we were waiting for our pizza. I tried to put into a Facebook message what he had meant to me as a child, our having grown apart in the so many years since, but everything sounded used and glossy. I wanted to thank him for saving me as a little girl, the baby of the family, while my father worked all day at Sears and then played in dance bands at night for extra money and my mother spent her days ironing and privately nursing her bottomless depression. His absence and her inertness bonded me to my brother who was nine years older and vigilant about them and me, watchful for when he needed to step in. So, I said that in fewer words. Thank you for saving me. I love you.
I reached for my phone off the high bedside stand. There was no message from my niece. My brother was still alive. Unless my niece had fallen asleep and decided to wait until morning to tell me. There was no way of knowing. They were across the country, further away if you count the years we hadn’t seen each other. I blamed the situation for my vivid dream, my wandering around office buildings and people’s homes barefoot and in pajamas. I took it to mean I was nearly naked and unprepared for all of this and I rolled over then to stare at my husband’s back.
Tonight, there were snippets back and forth on Facebook Messenger. Yesterday, I’d sent an essay I’d written about him years ago describing how, when I was about 6 or 7, he convinced me there were elves who had parties every night under the bush in our front yard. He’d take me by the hand, tell me to be quiet so as to not scare away the elves, and then point to the tiny footprints where they’d all been gathered seconds before. “Oh, Red! We scared them away!” he’d say and then we’d go looking the next night and the next. It was years before I realized the footprints were the impressions made by his fingers in the soft earth. He always called me Red or Shortpants. That was how I signed the message I sent from the bar. Shortpants.
I didn’t ask her if she’d read the elves essay to him. It wasn’t my place to decide what he should hear and what he shouldn’t. It was her decision, so maybe she read it to him, maybe she didn’t. It is a little late to try to be close to your brother, I told myself. You’ve had years for that and the years passed by. Then I tell myself that we were close enough, there wasn’t anything else that I needed to know about him, nothing else I could tell him about myself. He carried me on his shoulders when I was a little girl, not just for fun, but to keep me from deep water. That was all we had connecting us – his valor and my trust. It’s all we had, all we still have, and it will have to be enough.
Discover Prompt #9: Pairs