"Aron? It's Becky. Mom. Call me back as soon as you get this message. You have my number."
Aron flipped to the next message.
"Aron, call me right now. We need to talk!"
"You have got to stop ignoring me, young man. You call me back right now!"
"Aron!! Just answer the phone!"
A few moments later, Aron heard a long tone signifying that the messages were deleted. He tossed the phone into the passenger seat of his battered 1990 Lumina and focused his attention on the road ahead. He had no intention of calling the woman back, not after what she had done to him. She had no explanation that could quiet his rage and ultimately protect herself from his anger.
Aron pulled into the parking lot of the Casa de la paz, the House of Peace.
The wide glass door opened automatically before him and as he entered the cool building, he felt his anger wash out of him, going to lurk in the car.
"Ehron!" Roger Koma, the manager greeted him.
"Roger." Aron inclined his head.
"Yo find Rosh or Daun furst?"
Roger grinned for no apparent reason and waved his arm in a grand gesture to let Aron pass. Aron walked past with a forced smile that fell as he continued down the hall to his sister's room.
He was the middle child of seven, Rojsh being the only female. His brother Dahnyil also resided in Casa de la paz and his brother Brasht worked there. His oldest brother Jak had been dead for six years; he had been a policeman and was killed while on duty. The brother closest to him in age, Terrance, had been killed in a freak accident involving a train. His brother Cozmin, younger by sixteen years, had recently been taken from his mother, Becky, to enter the foster care system. Aron had once worked out plans to care for the boy, but they had all been dashed when Becky had withdrawn all the money from Aron's bank accounts and used it to pay various persons to attempt to kidnap Cozmin and bring him home to her. All this circulated, as it always did, through his mind back to front, back to front. When its freakish cycle reached the back of his mind, he made a conscious effort to keep it there, knocking gently on Rojsh's door.
"'Ello Guv-nuh." came a bright voice. Aron pushed open the pseudo-wood door to reveal a light-skinned, slightly overweight woman of about thirty sitting cross-legged in a patterned hospital issue robe on a cot fashioned to look like a standard bed. She had a deck of cards with stark-white backs and appeared to be playing some kind of game, although Aron knew she really wasn't.
She looked at him from the corner of her eyes, never turning her head. "Aye, that it is."
"Just thought I'd come visit."
"Didja now." she sounded amused.
"Yeah, I did. How are you?"
"How'm I what?"
"Doing. How are you doing?"
"How'm I doin' what?"
"How are you feeling?"
"With m'fingers, I'll bet. They've got these funny nerve things under m'skin."
Aron always went through this routine with Rojsh; she needed routine and humor; no matter how many times she heard the same joke, she would never cease to smile or acknowledge it in some way. For this reason, and this reason alone, Aron laughed. "Would you like to see Dahn?"
"Dahnyil? But the dear boy was in here a mere eighteen minutes and seventeen seconds ago!" Rojsh had some kind of internal stopwatch; she was always keeping track of things. She could not, however, read the time of day from the face of a clock or from a digital watch, as number meant nothing to her. Still, Aron knew Rojsh was lying to him, whether intentionally or not, because Dahnyil didn't leave his room.
"Really." he knew she wouldn't comprehend his sarcasm. "Do you have anything you would like to do?"
"Watch them leaves fah jus outside that window over yonder." She was constantly changing her accent and phrasing as though she were taking a virtual tour of the world. Sometimes she seemed to spend a very long time in one place, and sometimes she spoke only a few words with the timbre of choice.
"Okay." Aron knew that it was not the season for falling leaves, and he reasoned Rojsh did, too, but because the thought of falling leaves had occurred to her and she had no real responsibilities, she was free to watch the trees in hope of seeing one. Occasionally, Aron envied her. Becky never did to her any of the numerous unforgivable things she did to him. She suddenly swept up off her bed and came over to him, bending low as if to tell him a secret. Her breath tickled his ear uncomfortably, but he knew better than to shy away.
"I'm missing Jak something terrible." Her words threw his thoughts from the back of his mind to the front, as if they were rebelling for being kept from their usual schedule of causing him worry and anguish.
"Yeah, I miss Jak, too."
"2191 days and nineteen minutes since they called here about him."
"Hunh." He knew she was right and wondered how many things she was counting in her head.
"What's that laddie? You're makin' no kinds of sense."
"Nevermind." It was indeed, the anniversary of Jak's death. He had never been very close to that particular brother, but the loss stung him nonetheless.
"Going to work later?"
"Work? Oh, yeah. I got a new job. I work for the county, repairing roads, stuff like that."
"That's not the job you wanted."
"I had to take the job when it came up." he was still trying to convince himself.
"Oh, you were so smart, Aron." Brasht's quiet voice from the hallway startled him, but he managed to cover himself.
"Don't." he said miserably.
"You were so smart." Brasht was pleading quietly with him.
"It doesn't matter how smart you are, if you can't pay for college, you're sunk." he didn't sound at all bitter, ashamed maybe, as though the blame for that particular flaw in the American system rested solely on his shoulders.
"You had scholarships. You could've done great things."
"I like working outside." he avoided Brasht's eyes with skill, as he had done many times before.
"Why'd you blow it, Aron?" Brasht wasn't accusing or intimidating, and his question seemed almost to be rhetorical.
"I don't want to talk about it." Aron sounded cool and impassive, but not cold or angry.
"I know. You never do."
"No point in living in the past."
"I know." he paused and repeated the two words with more conviction. "I know." Brasht pulled the sheets off the bed Rojsh had vacated and stuffed them unceremoniously into a canister on his cart. "Later."
"He's a strange lad." Rojsh said, not allowing a moment's silence.
Aron considered this. "Not really." He stood up. "I'm going to see Dahn, are you coming or not?"
"Dahnyil? But the dear boy was in here a mere twenty-three minutes and fifty-two seconds ago!" She was still counting her lie.
"Goodbye, Rojsh." He kissed her forehead and left the room, leaving the door open just a crack behind him. A sigh escaped his lips and he made his way further down the hallway. He was an actor, always an actor. His whole life was acting, really. Put on this face for this person, that one for that person, use this language around her but not around him. He wasn't sure when he was wearing a mask and when he was being himself; it all felt so unnatural. Lost in his thoughts, he almost walked past Dahn's room. Upon entering, he found Brasht sitting on the radiator, talking quietly to Dahn. Dahn's eyes sparkled as they rarely did and he looked excited but peaceful. That was Brasht's way. Even when Aron was furious with him, Brasht's calm, quiet, peace made him feel as though his fury, too, was all an act, and as such, he could never hold a grudge against his brother.
"Look, it's Aron." Dahn didn't look, but Aron smiled slightly anyway.
"I've gotta...be somewhere. Just thought'd I say hello. So...hello." To Dahn, the fact that Aron was his biological sibling meant nothing.
"Do you want to talk to Aron? Please, Dahn?" Dahn studiously ignored Aron, just as he usually ignored everyone, with the exception of Brasht. He would always want to see Brasht, even try to talk to him. Brasht was the only person who had ever persuaded Dahn to leave his room. Aron was not jealous of Brasht, just grateful that Dahn had someone.
"Well, I'll see you two later." Brasht used to be embarrassed that Dahn would pay him alone any attention, but that was all in the past. Now, he just waved and smiled with his eyes, sending out gentle waves of serenity that could never make anyone seasick.
Brasht's peace managed to hold off the anger waiting in his car for only a short while. He missed Jak and Terrance. He missed the Dahn and the Rojsh he used to know. He missed seeing Cozmin. Most of all, he missed Ru, his father. His internal fight with his anger toward Becky (he always called her Becky, never Mom or Mother) coupled with his lasting grief was tearing him apart. The tears that leaked from his eyes and stained his tattered blue jeans were the remainder of Brasht's waves of calm leaking out.
He was losing control, not for the first time. He wanted to drive and never stop, he wanted to run until his heart burst, but at the same time, he wanted to lie perfectly still and never move, he wanted the peace and serenity of his brother. All these things he wanted, he swallowed as one might swallow a boulder. The boulder itself was out of sight, but the bulge in the body was visible. The pain was evident on his face, in his eyes, in his trembling hands. All these things he wanted, he tried to hide as he pulled into the parking lot.
He dressed quickly in baggy work clothes and checked in for his next assignment at the county office. In his orange eyes, an unexplainable cold grey fury sparked and twisted and gave him the look of a cruel and desperate man.