Alan Brickman :: Said and Unsaid ::

Flash Fiction

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I have lived in New Orleans since 2009, after being raised in New York and spending most of my adult life in Massachusetts. Never having lived in New York City as an adult, I feel like a tourist when I go there. In Boston, I was always the New Yorker, readily identified by my accent. While some in New Orleans see me as a Yankee, this city’s combination of bohemianism, Southern hospitality and pace of things, and the primacy of culture (the airport is named for Louis Armstrong, not some politician or war hero), makes this a perfect fit for me. I’ve never felt more at home.

Said and Unsaid

Jack opened the door to his apartment and shook his brother Joel’s hand. Joel walked in and Jack closed the door. Joel walked across the living room without saying anything. 

“So,” Jack said. “What’s going on with Dad?” 

Joel grunted and shrugged. He played with a button on his maroon cardigan.

“And?” Jack said, louder this time. More forceful. More annoyed.

Joel sat on the couch. He pulled a packet of gum from his sweater pocket and took his time drawing out one stick, unwrapping it and folding it into his mouth. He didn’t see a basket to throw out the wrapper, so he put it back in his sweater pocket.

“What’s wrong with you?” Jack pleaded. “Dad’s in the hospital, you went to see him because I couldn’t, now you’re back and you came here to fill me in. So … fill me in!” He dropped himself into the leather easy chair and faced his brother directly. “Is Dad okay?” 

“I guess,” said Joel, then rubbed his eyes. 

“What does that mean?!”

“It means I guess,” Joel said blankly, as if he couldn’t be bothered.

Jack grabbed a magazine from the side table and threw it at Joel. Joel ducked nonchalantly and the magazine hit the leg of the table on the opposite site of the room and fell to the floor. Joel rolled his eyes.

“Is that it?” said Jack. “You’re going to say as little as possible? I can’t tell if you’re upset, or if you just decided to be an asshole.”

“I’m not upset,” said Joel, again with no discernable emotion.

“I’ll make it easy for you,” said Jack. “How about a few yes-or-no questions?”

Joel shrugged.

“Did the doctors say it was cancer?”

Joel shook his head.

“Stomach ulcers?”


“Can Dad keep any food down? Is he back to eating?”

Joel nodded. “But not much.”

“Is Mom okay?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?!” Jack was losing his patience for this game. 

“I didn’t see her. She didn’t come to the hospital.”

“Wow,” said Jack. “Two sentences in a row. No information, but genuine sentences.” Jack rubbed his eyes. “Gimme a piece of gum.”

Joel reached into his sweater pocket, pulled out a stick of gum, and reached across to hand it to Jack. Jack took the gum, then grabbed his brother’s wrist and yanked him up. He let go and Joel fell back onto the couch. 

“Quit being such a jerk. Can you just tell me what’s going on?”

Joel looked down at his feet and shook his head. Without looking up, he said, “Apparently, Dad’s dying. Internal bleeding that they can’t diagnose and can’t stop. Dad told me that Mom doesn’t always come to the hospital because she’s too upset.” He paused and ran his fingers through his hair. “Not much else to say.”

“What the fuck is your problem? ‘Not much else to say?!’ Dad’s dying and you act like it’s a hang nail.” Jack stared at his brother with fire in his eyes. “I know you two didn’t get a long, but this is bullshit!”

Joel stood and walked toward the kitchen. He looked back. “You want to know what going on? Skip one of your oh-so-important business meetings so you can visit him. Call Mom. Do whatever you want. I’m done.” He turned away and continued toward the kitchen. 

Jack ran at his brother and tackled him. Joel’s head hit the kitchen’s tiled floor, causing a small cut above his right eye that bled a little, then began to purple. Jack flipped him over and slapped him hard across the face. Joel crumpled. His eyes were closed and he braced for another blow. Jack stood up and glowered at his brother, who was motionless on the floor. When Joel finally stirred, Jack said, “You suck, you know that? You don’t like Dad, fine. But your attitude is fucking heartless. He’s dying for fuck’s sake! You’re pathetic.”

Joel struggled into a sitting position, and looked up at Jack. “First off, go fuck yourself. I did my bit and paid my respects, which is more than you did. But that’ll be my last visit. He can die, and I won’t miss the bastard one bit, no matter how much you want to slap me around.” Joel rubbed the back of his neck. “He threw me out of the house when we were teenagers, remember that? And remember why? I’m entitled to be who I am. To be me! And you know what else? You can be you. So like I said, do what you want.” Joel stood slowly, walked to the kitchen sink and splashed water on his face. He dried himself off with a dish towel, then walked back through the living room and opened the front door. He stepped into the hallway, then turned and looked at his brother. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said and shut the door behind him.

Jack picked up a book from the coffee table and threw it at the door. It made a loud crashing sound and dropped onto the carpet. He walked into the kitchen, took the receiver off the wall phone and dialed his mother. It rang and rang, but there was no answer.