Mr. Funk's back in the Bareknuckles Pulp Dept. And here's the thing: "little" don't last forever.
Home For Soldiers by Matthew C. Funk
Little Andy ran crying to his brother, an ice cream sandwich down his shirt front and gunpowder on his hands, after he killed the older kid. Big Andy hid Little's pistol with the heroin behind his PlayStation, hid Little's sobs inside his arms, held Little's runny face in his hands. He spoke to Little's lidless eyes in with the steady delicacy you'd brush glue onto a broken figurine.
"You can do right by this wrong," Big Andy swore. "There's no bad done if you make good by it."
Big Andy had a practiced hand at turning bad into good. His first heroin brick, sold almost pure from his shaking hands at the bushes of Edith Sampson Playground, had saved Mama's mortgage when the rates first spiked. His first bag of Oxy paid for a broken air conditioner, Little Andy's summer school and a Colt 1911. The Colt secured him the stretch of Treasure Street south of the playground, territory he leased to other slingers in the Old Crows—enough to bring game consoles and a magic clown to Little's tenth birthday that year.
"There's no going back," Little Andy wept as Big Andy pulled his brother's shirt off. "No bringing that boy back."
"Did you mean to kill him?"
"He was coming at us. Sneaking around the back to your room. I was feeding the anthill some Hubig’s back there. Told him to stop. He drew on me. I got to the mailbox, got your gun, got him."
Big Andy bleached Little's shirt in the toilet. He listened to oncoming sirens rise over Little's sobs. He gathered the gun, looked to Little's toy soldiers on the wall, dreamed a way out.
"Did you mean him any evil, though?"
He didn't mind the bullets that had landed next to his sleeping head on two occasions. He didn't think much about seeing rival boys as dogs, handling them by the neck and making them heel, as they barked over his Treasure Street turf. He lost no sleep over the men and women and children who begged him to let them slide one time, let them pay him back, do him a favor, paint his house, suck him off, for a tiny baggie from his pocket.
What Big Andy minded was the evil of it. Letting that corruption stain the happy home he was building for his family. He did what he did to shut that away. He'd given his life.
"No," Little Andy said. "No, of course not."
Big Andy took up a toy from Little's collection and pressed it into his brother's palms. "This is him now. This soldier. You give his soul a good home here. You lead him by strong example. You do right by him from now on, and you'll have done no wrong."
Little took the soldier and dried his eyes for the soldier's sake. Big took the pistol and walked toward the encircling sirens. Little brushed his other models from the mantle and installed the soldier on a watchtower of books. Big fired two shots out the window and the came out with hands up and empty. Little begged his brother not to go, but then stood brave for the sake of the household that was now his. Big went into cuffs, under a 10-year manslaughter sentence and onto The Farm up at Angola.
"How's our soldier?" Big would ask, hand on two-inch glass, when Little visited that first year.
Little stopped visiting by Christmas.
"How's your cirrhosis?" Big asked Mama, the four times she wrote him over the years.
Letters ended five years in.
"How's Little Andy?" Big asked any fellow Old Crow members sent up to the Farm.
Nobody knew that name.
Big Andy's welcome to the outside was a bus ticket and a Waffle House sirloin eaten alone. He walked down Louisa Street from the bus stop, into Desire District, seeing the same corners with strangers working them. Gang logos in blazing spray-paint color layered four or five deep like pressed flowers on the concrete of Treasure Street. They coiled up to the steel-gated porch of his house.
His house's face was gone: Hidden behind a black helmet of wrought steel fencing. Hooded by boards, bars and black paint. Stripped of its flowers, its Saints banners, its hanging groves of purple, green, yellow beads.
Big Andy could only stand the sight for a second, before he spun from it to head for the highway—for some other world that didn't wear the corpse of the one he'd loved and left. A booming voice stopped him.
"Bro. As I live and breathe, you've come back to us."
Little Andy was giant now. He cracked the porch gate enough to offer open arms to his brother. Big filled them, wrapped arms about Little's blockhouse body best he could and tried to take the measure of the tattooed, Polo-wearing man who held him off his feet.
"You been good, Little?"
"I been great, but nobody call me Little no more." Little lost his gold-capped smile. He locked the black gate behind them. He brought Big into the blue haze of a house reduced to couches, weight sets and dope-cutting tables.
"Where's Mama at?"
"She dead a while back." Little opened a fridge choked with red meat and beer. He cracked two Cobras and put one in Big's hand. He took Big down their hallway, where chains draped a bare, blood-stained mattress in what was once Mama's room—a room with windows blacked by trash bags and fringed with tool racks.
"I asked about you, but everybody talked like you were dead and gone."
"Gone, maybe," Little said, sitting down on the King-sized bed that spanned where their double beds had been. "Dead, they only wish. Have yourself a seat."
Big didn't. He couldn't notice the chair. He ignored the duffels of heroin, the gun-cleaning desk, the knives and cell phones and masks.
He could only stare at the toys—the six shelves stuffed with toy soldiers, some inked to black-face, some with weapons made of paper clips, some with crudely sewn custom clothes. He saw some without weapons at all, some etched to look old, some painted to seem asleep. He saw Barbies, a dozen of them and over half of them naked, strapped upright among the soldier's ranks. He saw three baby dolls on the top shelf.
"Like that?" Little smiled. "They call me Big Toys now. I got quite the family going. Do right by 'em all. But they need more room."
Big felt his old house about to collapse on him, as if it were tons of disease covered in wood and paint. His heart stopped under the boot of Little's voice. His body was numb as plastic.
"We got to get new shelves," Little said. "You know any motherfucker who got some nice shelves and who don't sleep too lightly?"