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GLEN - Linda Shapiro

Striding through the smoke of Canadian wildfires lingering far from home, my brother, fully bearded, heads toward me without knowing it.

Surprise, surprise! Glen walks into the unsavory trailer where I’ve been waiting, looks at me with barebones hatred as he yanks out a kitchen chair and slams his hands on the metal table, leaning in.

“Give yourself a fuck and plate it you little shit. I’ll know the minute you wrench yourself out of line, that would be the microsecond.”

As if he’d last seen me yesterday, not five years ago.

“Have I come at a bad time?” I whine, though I have been fully expecting to be maligned and spoken to harshly.

“And when, mon frère, would be a good time? Terror looms large in a world where people are hacked to death or strung up and creatively mutilated. Where refugees languish, exposed to tsunamis of shit in the camps to which they have been consigned for nothing but being alive in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Glen goes all Wide-World–of-Misery on me to deflect the issue at hand. Exactly what I had in mind.

He paces relentlessly from table to sink to microwave, a big guy negotiating small spaces.

“People just trying to live a life, inside or outside of a burka, with or without their genitals intact.” I nod assent, egging him on, giving my big brother plenty of space. Because space is the one thing he can’t so without.

Glen became my guardian after our feckless parents tried to recapture their carefree youth on a snowmobile ride one sub-zero New Year’s Eve with a couple of bottles of organic wine. It did not end well.

In their disillusioned early thirties, my parents had relocated from a commune in Oregon, mainly because Mom inherited a log cabin in the north woods near the town from which Bob Dylan had fled as soon as possible. There they eked out a living running a small shop that specialized in everything homeopathic, playing up Dad’s scant drops of Native American blood.

Glen had inherited their interior padding, the way they could just soundproof themselves against anything that wasn’t happening in faraway lands or within the four walls of their inner sanctums. I had inherited their thwarted wanderlust and Dad’s ratty parka, which was too small for Big Glen.

I never knew what had turned Glen from a guy who was the center of everything, equal parts envied and loved, or at least lusted after, into a hermit. Maybe he finally embraced his generalized rage, the Berserker of Norse legend eating his shield. Maybe he needed to remove himself from civilization.

Anyway, a year after Mom and Dad tanked he moved out of the Family Manse to a small trailer next to a deserted barn. Started building artisan canoes of White Cedar and Sitka Spruce--sleek, beautiful, heavy as hell to portage. People bought them, though, and sometimes gave them pet names.

The trailer, it seems, was only for eating and sleeping, a place to escape varnish and enamel fumes for a while. When we both still lived at home, I had freebased in trailers like this, curling up in all the rural Gothic corners I could find while Glen was out hunting or reading, ice fishing or reading, or catting around in local bars.

Meanwhile totally unsupervised back at the manse, I ‘d been indulging in adolescent experimentation. So when I went to college and we sold the house, the trailer was the place where, unbeknownst to Glen, I temporarily stowed the meth. Packed up a tidy little box of mementos--Boy Scout badges and CDs on top of several tiny triangle bags--and with Glen’s blessings, stuck it in the back of a closet.

The first e-mail I received from Glen was after I had carelessly told a few friends about my last act of brotherly defiance. They apparently got very publicly high and talky, in consequence of which a vigilant officer of the law paid Glen a visit.

I who witnessed your evolution from the nasty little carbuncle of your childhood through your seriously flawed adolescence, must speak plainly. You got me if not arrested then NOTICED, which is a far more grievous offense. I live out of sight and out of mind by CHOICE, not happenstance. And if you should ever, EVER return to your place of origin, I may find it in me to transport your festering innards to the outside, where I may see and know them better.

Still, he did give me my share of the money from the house sale that paid for tuition at the college-of-my-choice, which I was able get into thanks to my stellar, hacked-into high school transcript.

“So you managed to graduate, hearty congratulations, with a degree in what was that again?”

“Theater and film studies. A BFA.”

“And what will that Big Fat Artifact get you? A couple of commercials, a life of infinite variety in the major cities of the world? Enough filthy lucre to support your habit? He rubs his powerful workman’s hands together, blisters crackling.

“I’ve been clean for four years.”

“So you’re up to what now?”

” I’m auditioning, you know, all over. Wherever. Doing some stand-in and grip work to pay the bills.”

I do not tell him about the stand-up I’ve been doing on the advice of an actor friend who has actually landed a couple of off-Broadway gigs: If you can do character comedy in clubs without getting spat or shat upon, you can ace any audition.

I am currently building an act from the Legos of Glen-talk I’ve collected via memory and e-mail. Now I need some face time.

“Let’s walk,” Glen says.

Outside the woods look like some piney smoke house, the stink fills my lungs. Glen makes his nimble way through the woods in silence.

But I need him to talk. Have come here to unlock the oracular ping-pong of his patois and, yes, to record a strand or two with a hidden device, nestled in my parka.

We walk to the shore of Lake Superior and gaze out toward murky Canada.

“Getting crowded up here. Fucking humanity polluting our lakes with their deformed vessels, stalking mammals with assault weapons, festering snowmobiles all over our sacred ground.”

Glen is clearly taking up his Thor hammer, beating back civilization. I, Loki the trickster, look on knowing something of what’s coming next. I visualize him paddling through remote Canadian waterways cursing climate change and every man-made disaster.

And me? I will be onstage somewhere in a leaky spotlight in a half empty club, channeling Glen. Trying for the heft of his rage, the virulent dissatisfaction that pulses through him.

In the Grand Guignol Theater of comedy, I will cannibalize Glen nightly.

For now, however, Glen and I seemed to have reached détente. We’re just a brotherly peaceable kingdom out here, watching the sun bleed out into Lake Superior


Linda Shapiro is a freelance writer who has published articles, reviews, and essays on dance and the performing arts, architecture, design, and other subjects in numerous Twin Cities and New York publications. In her former life she worked as a dancer and choreographer. Her fiction has appeared in On the Premises, Bending Genres Journal, Treehouse, and The Ocotillo Review. She was shortlisted for the 2019 Fiction Prize for the Canadian journal Into the Void.

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