We Count on Brady
by Vern Rutsala
It was our first summer on this street, the nights thick with a gauzy mugginess weighing us down as we tried to find places for the various pieces of our lives, letting them uncoil from boxes, coaxing all the wrinkles smooth. We poked at dusty corner shadows and ushered out the ghosts other people had left behind. They dragged their musty feet, grousing and carping, but finally left.
Late every night an old man walked a dog and cracked a bullwhip, muttering to himself. And as we worked we came to count on the punctuation of that whip near midnight, signaling time for a beer. We liked the way the whip shocked the night into silence.
Now we’re sure it was Brady. Just as we’re sure that what he muttered—there was a brogue mixed in with the mumble—was meant exclusively for us. After that summer we never heard the whip again, and as time died away we had daylight answers—the dog died or they carted the old man off. After dark, though, near sleep, we knew better, knew he was still with us somehow. Of course it has been Brady all along. He’s in any music we can’t quite fathom—tunes like jiggling locks or a door easing open. We’re certain it was Brady who shot a BB through the kitchen window that day we sat at breakfast. Clearly it was aimed at keeping us on our toes and fired out of spite only Brady understands.
Lately, he’s let us know he’s still around—plucking off a shingle now and then or losing a letter—and we know he wants our attention. If it flags in the least bit he comes up with something pretty fancy—cracks zigzagging down the wall, the chimney suddenly spewing sparks like a Roman candle, a ruptured pipe in the middle of the night. And we sit up then, we take notice, knowing he’s capable of even bigger things—we’ve heard of mudslides swallowing houses, earthquakes, maybe even tornadoes. So we play it safe, countering his legendary binges with our own dull sobriety, knowing he wants us to be steady, to pay our bills on time—in fact, to do all the things he never did by fleeing family and mortgage and regular hours to run the streets boozing and cracking that whip. By now it’s become clear that his mischief keeps us straight. We know he’s always there and without him we might bail out, too, but he cracked that whip all those summers ago just to show us who was boss.
Vern Rutsala’s The Moment’s Equation was a finalist for the National Book Award. Other recent books include How We Spent Our Time, which received the Akron Poetry Prize, and A Handbook for Writers: New and Selected Prose Poems. Several chapbooks, including Ghost World and Like a Chaos Just For Me, were also published by the Feral Press. Recent work has appeared in The Paris Review, The American Poetry Review, North American Review, Tar River Poetry, and Northwest Poetry. (1/2011)