Shane Combs

Outside

May 1, 2003. President George W. Bush has announced an end to the Iraq War. Matthew Lost, the older son of Pastor Johnny Lost, has been expelled from Eden Christian Academy for smoking pot and has announced he wishes to join the Army.

Jeremy found his brother sitting on the front porch swing, beneath a glow of light like an unrelenting moth. It was the time of night that often goes unexplored due to bed times and early classes. Matthew slid over, and Jeremy joined him.

“I like this,” Matthew whispered, “nothing out here is affected by anything in there.”

He was right. If the sky was aware that the President of the United States had called an end to war or that Matthew had enlisted in the Army, it did so indiscriminately. In the sky, the half-moon rested upon its back, head and legs elevated above its body.

“Dad’s praying I’ll end up in Iraq. Now that the war is over he says it will be like a rebuilding project.” Matthew released a hard laugh. “Leave it to dad to make it sound like a mission trip.”

Jeremy tried to ignore his brother’s words or act like he did not know their meaning. He listened as the crickets chirped a language all their own. He imagined theirs was a language that did not include a word for war, and one in which brothers never announced they were leaving home.

“Dad believes that Iraq is modern day Babylon and that most of the end-time prophecy will happen there,” Jeremy said, nudging Matthew. “Imagine if Jesus came back and you were the first one to see him.” Jeremy locked his eye on the church sign across the street. He’s Coming Soon was enshrouded by the light. “Just wondering, what would you say to him?”

The swing became unbalanced as Matthew slid out and crossed the front porch, stopping at the white vinyl railing. He stared hard and long as if Jesus himself were hiding behind the church sign.

“I’d ask him why I was born in a place that did not want me.”

“Hey now—”

“Why I was born to a conservative, Christian Pastor. What could I be other than what he wanted me to be? Now it’s the Army. Just another irony…”

Jeremy followed the lines on his brother’s face, watching his struggle. “What’s ironic?” he asked.

“I’m going from one place that would disown me for who I am right into another.”

Jeremy let the words move around his brain, but they failed to make a connection. He felt the night accelerate, as if he were in a speeding car about to crash and only now remembered his seatbelt.

Matthew paced in and out of the light.

“Stand still,” Jeremy demanded.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m gay, that’s why not.”

The crickets ceased to chirp, or Jeremy ceased to hear them. He only heard that one word: gay. It was a word he had heard in two places prior to this—the pulpit and the locker room—both in a derogatory manner. Now Matthew used the word. Not against someone else, but on himself.

Jeremy imagined himself standing next to Matthew. He envisioned telling him that he was the bravest boy in the world and that he would always have a brother. He emphasized the last part, “you will always have a brother.” Those were the words he wished to say, but he did not know how.

Matthew was breathing heavily, “For God’s sakes, say something!”

Jeremy felt a million words kicking around his stomach, more bees than butterflies. “Now that you say it, I think I’ve always known.”

Jeremy grinned; Matthew laughed.

Both their heads rolled back with abandon, white teeth, open-mouthed, feeding the night air with laughter. The sky above them was like a live online feed: refreshing itself every few minutes with a newer, brighter sky. Each time it did, it found the boys laughing harder. Outside, all words are created equal—nitrogen in and nitrogen out.

The Lost brothers sat outside until the early morning when the living room light flickered to life and their father called, “Boys, it’s time to come back inside.”