Jonathan turned the steering wheel to make a hard right onto the gravel driveway that led to his sister’s house. The gravel crunched beneath his tires as he carefully navigated around the deep furrows that had been worn into the road. There were trees on both sides of the long drive, until he rounded a curve and passed the mailbox.
Sam Salt had cleared a patch of land just big enough to build a three bedroom house on and plant a large garden. While he had been alive, he had carefully tended and maintained his property, but Annie and the boys had let it fall into embarrassing disrepair. Jonathan felt a pang of guilt as he surveyed the state of his sister’s house. He hadn’t been there in easily two years. The gutter was hanging off the end of the house, and the yard was overgrown. It looked like it hadn’t been mowed at all since the grass started growing in the spring.
He pulled to a stop at the edge of the yard beside of his brother’s car. He had only briefly spoken to Titus on the phone after he received his text the day before saying they needed to talk. Titus called from the hospital where he was sitting with Annie, who had to have her stomach pumped. Jonathan hadn’t got a lot of details over the phone.
As he stepped out of his car, the front door opened, and Titus walked out to meet his brother. “Hey.” Titus gave his older brother a quick hug.
“Hey.” Jonathan hated how awkward he felt. “So, what happened?”
Titus leaned against the car, and folded his arms across his chest. “I’m not exactly sure why any of it happened, but I guess Annie overdosed on her prescription sleeping pills and her antidepressants. Caleb tried to wake her up, and called an ambulance when he couldn’t rouse her. He rode with her to the hospital, and called me when they got there. They had just pumped her stomach when I got there.”
“How is she?” Jonathan asked.
“She’s okay. Mom and Dad are with her now. They kept her overnight, but they’re going to have her put in Lakeside for a while.”
Jonathan sighed. “Lakeside is the…”
“Mental health hospital.” Titus finished his brother’s sentence. “Mom said she and Dad would take care of Annie, and for us to take care of the boys.”
The familiar pangs of guilt crept up Jonathan’s spine and made his skin crawl. “What’s the plan?”
Titus briefly looked irritated. Jonathan could see his brother attempt to neutralize his expression before he said, “That’s why I texted you. I thought we could talk about it. Talk to the boys. Figure something out.”
“Okay.” Jonathan nodded. “Are the boys all home.”
“Yeah. Clay just got here. They’re in the house.”
Titus turned and began walking toward their sister’s house; Jonathan meekly followed. When they passed from the bright sunlight into the dim interior, Jonathan had to let his eyes adjust.
“Hi, Uncle Jonathan.” Caleb had stepped toward his uncle, and was standing awkwardly before him.
“Hey, Buddy.” Jonathan gave his nephew a hug, and asked, “How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine.” Caleb shrugged.
“I’m really sorry about your mom.” Jonathan’s words sounded hollow to his own ears. He was usually so good in these situations. He had been in a good many of them in the role of pastor, but it was different when it was his own family. He felt inept. He didn’t know what to say, and he couldn’t shake the feelings of responsibility that made his scalp itch and his fingers tremble.
“Me, too.” Caleb answered. “It was pretty scary. But the doctor said she would be okay.”
“Except they put her in the loony bin.” Travis sounded both morose and angry.
Titus sat down on the couch beside of his seventeen-year-old nephew, and gave his knee a quick squeeze. “Your mom needs to get some help.”
“She wasn’t trying to kill herself.” Travis slumped farther down into his seat. “She said she was just missing Daddy and wanted to go to sleep.”
Titus nodded sympathetically, and said, “Either way, Buddy, she needs to get some help.”
Jonathan watched Titus’ interactions with their two younger nephews, and envied the easy way he spoke and acted with them. Jonathan had been away from Little River for four years, living in Louisville, and had only seen his family once a year during that time, at Christmas. He had been back home for four years, but had barely seen more of them now that they all lived in the same town than he had when he was away. He hadn’t meant for it to be that way, but his church work had consumed him, along with his own young family.
His twenty-year-old nephew, Clay, the oldest of the four brothers, cleared his throat. Jonathan raised his eyes from their fixed focus on the toes of his worn loafers to look at his nephew.
“I’m not sure what’s going on with Mama.” Clay’s voice was deep, and Jonathan was surprised to see a week’s worth of scruffy beard on his nephew’s face. “Josh and I are fine to stay here, obviously. We’re both adults. But I work till late, and I’m beat when I get home. Josh is only eighteen, and I don’t think he’s ready to be responsible for these other two.”
Josh looked relieved that he wasn’t going to be asked to babysit his younger brothers, and Travis looked annoyed to be spoken of like a child.
“I’ll be eighteen soon!” Travis protested. “I don’t need anyone to be responsible for me.”
Clay rolled his eyes. “Your birthday isn’t for another seven months.”
Titus spoke then, “No one is saying you’re a kid, Trav, but you are still legally a minor. With your mom gone for a while, we need to make sure we don’t get in trouble with you and Caleb.”
“How long is Mama going to be gone?” Caleb asked, his voice sounding nervous.
“We don’t know yet.” Titus replied. “We’re kind of playing this by ear until we do.”
“Well, if we can’t stay here with Clay and Josh, where are we going to go?” Travis sounded angry. “Foster care?”
“Of course not!” Titus said quickly. He put his arm around Travis’ shoulders. “We would never let that happen. Would we, Jonathan?”
Jonathan had slipped into the silent role of an observer, and was startled to be called upon. “No, of course not.”
“Where are we going to go?” Caleb asked.
Titus’ eyes sought Jonathan’s, and Jonathan looked helplessly back at him.
“You can come stay with me.” Titus said to Caleb. “Until your mom gets better.”
Jonathan could hear the fatigue in his brother’s voice, and he knew they were both thinking the same thing. Annie might not get better.
©2015 Rachel Holbrook
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, and various other literary journals. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.