Michael Johnson
Say Nothing

My older brother Russell says we're going to shoot cars with his air rifle if I shut up about it. He makes me promise not to tell. We walk out to the woods near our farm, which backs up to a country road. The road is only about 30 feet away, but the cars can't see us, we're protected by a thick grove of pines. Russell shoots every car that comes by. There's one about every 15 minutes. He aims, tells me to be quiet, and shoots. When he hits one you can hear a loud pop and then see brake lights as the cars slow to see what's wrong.

Let me shoot one, I say.

Shut up, pussies don't shoot, he says.

Let me just try, I'll bet I hit one on the first shot.

I thought I told you to shut up?

He starts to hit me hard in the chest.

Stop, I say, just let me shoot one time.

Here pussy, he says handing me the air rifle. One time, then you have
to shut up for the rest of the day.

I wait for a car. I'm nervous. The gun is getting slick in my hands. Finally, a blue mini van comes around the corner.

Don't miss it, Russell says.

I'm not going to, I say.

The van passes right in front of us.

You're going to miss it, he says and starts to take the gun from my hands. I jerk it back. Just before the van rounds the corner I get a shot off. It shatters the back window and the van looses control. It jumps the road. It seems to happen in slow motion. The van lifts off the ground and rolls twice. With each roll, small blue pieces of glass fly through the air. It slides for almost 20 yards before it finds an oak tree. The horn breaks in the crash. It fills the air with a loud, dull sound that I'm sure can be heard for miles. The horn is loud, but it seems to create silence. When we speak we cannot hear each other, it is as if we have suddenly become deaf. I run towards the car without thinking. Russell is yelling something I can't understand. There is glass everywhere in thick piles on the ground. Metal shards from the hood glare in the sun. There is a teddy bear on the ground that was thrown from the car. There is a baby's shoe. There are bodies. One is outside the van. She is a teenager about Russell's age. She moves. Her face is in the mud and her legs are spread eagle, her foot moves again. I go over to her. I roll her over and begin to breathe into her mouth and pound her chest like I've seen in movies. She comes to for a moment, she looks at me as if she is seeing an angel or a demon, I can't tell which. There is an innocence in her eyes. For a moment it feels as if we are the only two people in the world.

Something hit our car, she says, I read her lips.
Everything is going to be okay, I tell her.

She passes out again. Russell grabs me and I pull away. He says, There is nothing we can do. But I can't hear him.

The fire trucks finally come. They go to work. They cut the car open and begin to work on the family. The police come. A policeman takes us to his car. At some point they get the horn to stop. We can hear again.

What happened? The policeman asks.

We were shooting… I start to say.

Squirrels, Russell says. We were shooting squirrels and we saw the car just lose control.

We tried to help, I say, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.

Shut up. Shut your crying, there was nothing we could do, Russell says.

A helicopter comes and takes the girl away. It is a strange scene, on lookers and news vans. The policeman tells us the girl is in a coma. We watch them take the family, the two parents and the small child, one by one in ambulances. They are all dead. When it is over there are dark red bandages and used rubber gloves littering the ground. The firemen stand around smoking cigarettes. No one bothers to pick up the teddy bear. No one seems to notice the small shoe beside the car.

Weeks pass. Russell and I don't talk about it, but everyone at school wants to know what happened. The guidance counselor calls us into his office. When I get to the office, Russell is leaning against the wall.

You know what this is about? I say.

What the hell do you think it's about?

What are we going to say?

Nothing. Say nothing.

The guidance counselor is a fat man with large glasses named Mr. Hopper. He used to come to my elementary school class with a dolphin puppet that told us not to smoke drugs. He tells us to come in. We sit at a round table.

Okay, first I want you to know that whatever you tell me will not leave this room. This is a safe place, Mr. Hopper says, I want you boys to think of me as a friend.

Is that really true? I say. You won't say anything that we say.

Russell gives me a look.

It's the law. The only time I have to say anything is if there was a crime committed.

Oh, I say.

Why don't you boys tell me what happened at your farm a few weeks back.

Nothing happened. There was wreck, it was an accident, Russell says.

That's what I heard. How are you boys feeling?

Fine. We're both fine.

Mr. Hopper looks at me.

There was a girl that lived. What happened there? He says.

She got lucky, Russell says.

I tried to help her, I say.

Russell kicks me under the table.

"How did you help her? I heard you boys might have saved her life."

She was awake when I first came to her, I say.

What happened? What was she doing? Did she say anything?

She said…

She didn't say shit, Russell says.

Russell, there is no need for that kind of language.

This is bullshit. I don't have to sit here and listen to this.

What are you feeling Russell? I'm sensing some pain here.

How 'bout you sense this, Russell says, and gives him the finger.

You're acting out, Mr. Hopper says.

Get up, Russell tells me and we leave. As we walk back to class I break down.

We have to tell, I say crying, we have to.

You're a goddamn fool, you've gotten away with it. Now all you have to do is shut your mouth about it and everything will be fine.

We haven't gotten away with it. What about the girl, she knows something hit the van and the policeman knows we had the air rifle, it's only a matter of time.

There is no 'we,' he says. You shot the van. It's your problem now.

Fuck you, I say, drying my tears. We're brothers and we've killed a family. We are in this together.

There is no 'we,' he says.

I know if the girl wakes up we will be caught. I see the girl's face in my dreams. She is screaming for help. I try and calm her. I try and tell her everything is okay. I tell her I killed her family and she says she forgives me.

I plan to wake up early and tell my parents what happen. I wake up at 6 A.M. and it is still dark. I creep past my brother's bedroom. I go down the hall into my parent's bedroom and no one is there and I hear voices from the kitchen. My parents are making breakfast downstairs.

I have to talk to you, I say.

About what? My mother says.

About the wreck.

What about the wreck? Russell says coming downstairs wearing camouflage.

We did it, I say, we made them wreck and we killed them.

Now, I know you feel responsible, but it's not your fault, my mother says. She puts pancakes on to big plate and pours coffee and sets everything on the table. Now, eat up, she says, you're going to get hungry out there.

Where, out where?

Hunting, Russell says, eat up.

I'm not going anywhere with him, I say to my father.

Listen to your mother, he says, shuffling though the paper to the sports section.

You boys went through a trauma and you just need to get things back to normal that's all, my mother says.

He's fucking crazy, I say pointing at Russell. He's the one.

Russell doesn't look up. They seem to think it is some sort of joke. It is like I'm not even in the room.

Don't talk to your brother that way, my father says sipping his coffee then going for the business section.

What the hell did you think you were doing back there? Russell says
once we're away from the house.

This has gone too far, someone has to know it was an accident.

You're a fool. Don't you know the world works this way? People kill
people and they just shut up about it.

Russell takes the tree stand near Spring Lake and I take the one closest to the house. I climb up and get settled in. I load my rifle. I wait. I picture the wreck over and over in my head. I also picture the family just before the wreck. I can see inside their car. They are listening to the radio. The mother is saying something to the father about vacation. The father is thinking of work. The girl is thinking of a boy as the baby starts to cry. I see them pass us on the road. I see them going on, passed us, back into the lives they had before. Suddenly a fawn walks out from behind a tree and I am back in the woods again. The fawn has a small, round face and a white chest. I flash forward to the fawn dead and bloody in the grass by some tragedy. I want to protect her. I want to save her from something that hasn't happened to her yet. I whistle. She spooks. She runs back in darkness of the early morning.

I get down from the tree stand and walk to the edge of the woods. The sun is just starting to rise in the east and I've made up my mind. Just as I get to the field, Russell is there.

Shoot anything? he says.

I'm calling the cops.

No, is all he says.

I'm going into the house and I'm calling the cops and you're not going to stop me.

He punches me in the face and I fall to the ground and drop my rifle.

You're going nowhere unless I say you do, he says.

I get up and start to walk. He pushes me down. I try to hit him and he blocks my punches and gives me a few more shots to the face.

You're going nowhere. Give it up.

I take a few steps back. My face is full of blood and tears. I find the rifle in the grass and pick it up. I point it at him.

Get the fuck out of my way. I'm calling the cops.

Put the gun down, he says.

You're my brother, I don't want to do this, but I will.

You're not doing anything, he says, you don't have the balls.

I've killed once and I'll do it again.

He grabs the gun from me and slaps me across the face with the butt. He is on top of me, hitting me.

You're not telling shit to nobody, he says.

He is yelling. Then suddenly everything is silent. That dull moan of the car horn comes back to me. I am lost in that moment just before the crash. I feel as if I am outside of everything and there is no time. I see the face of the girl. Then I am back in the field I can feel the cold grass under me and I can see the sky full with color and at once I seem to have a great strength. I over power my brother. I am on top of him, choking him. I can see something in his eyes starting to slip away.

Our mother sees us and she runs out to the field. I stop. I sit without moving in the grass. Russell takes a huge breath and gets to his knees. He spits blood. Mother says she has something to tell us.

The girl from the car crash is dead, she says. She woke up and they told her family was gone and she told the doctors she wanted to die. Then she fell back into the coma and her heart stopped.
To see you boys out there fighting. It kills me. You boys are so lucky to have a family that loves you. You are so lucky to have each other. No more fighting. Put all this behind you. It's over. Do you understand?

Yes, Russell says.

I don't say anything.