He died here.
Marlo lays down on his side on the stained carpet facing me. He has to bend his knees to fit between the bed and the wall, he is tall. Much taller than my brother. Marlo puts one foot at 90 degrees to the other in the corner where the two walls meet. He looks up at me, and I nod. I want him to get up off the floor. But I had asked him to show me. The room is tidy with a suitcase sitting in the corner near the door. An empty vodka bottle props the window open, and the frigid air feels good, I am too hot in my wool coat. There are a row of bowling trophies on a chipped veneer dresser and a cracked mirror above a small sink.
They were here when I moved in. Marlo says.
He must have cleaned it up before I came. There is nowhere to sit except his bed, so he gets up and sits down next to me. We sit side by side. I sit and stare at the place in the carpet.
Marlo why did you lie to the police? I ask him. His eyes are large, brown. All of him is too large for this room, and he shifts on the edge of the bed, bent like a staircase collapsing. He doesn’t appear to be high, or even drunk, but I know he is probably both. My son squirms in my arms, and I let him down. He sits in the spot where Marlo had been laying on the floor, smiles and looks up at me.
Well, Ya know, I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. And well…When did you know he was dead. I interrupt him.
His phone, it was ringin and ringin like, and he was not movin. So I touch him. he makes a shaking gesture. I could tell. And then I looked in his face and it was blue like. So I knew.
And the black mark, between his eyes? How did that happen? He looks at me, bewildered.
The police report said he had a black mark, between his eyes, here. I point to my forehead.
I did not see nuffin like dat. he had one of those hats on. He gestures with both hands as if pulling a hat of his head. His eyes are glassy now.
My son gurgles on the floor, walking over to the dresser, he yanks the handle. It falls off. I wonder what is in the drawer. I want to go through all the drawers, the closet, search under the bed. I want to find the stash, hold it up, and scream, vindicated. But instead I scoop my son up and stick the handle back in place.
I notice a Barbour coat, hanging neatly on a hanger on the back of the door.
I know from the police report that the body had no track marks, but there are other ways to do it. Did you get high? Did my brother die of a heroin overdose? Marlo shakes his head, No mon, we talked a bit, I was drunk you know like really, it was late. We watched some ESPN. We known each other such a long time. You know I used to live in NYC. I came to your place der in Brooklyn when he lived with you. I had an apartment in the East Village.
What did you talk about…that night? I yank at my scarf, I am sweating now.
Nuttin really. Just the TV.
Marlo cannot tell me what happened, he will implicate himself if he does. In New York now, you are charged with manslaughter if you gave someone drugs and they die from taking them. I look at Marlo a long time. He looks back at me. Sitting there, oversized.
Do you want to go have a coffee? I need to get out of the room, and it is all I can think to say. I want to keep asking him questions, but I can’t think of them in here.
We walk out into the parking lot and down the street to a café with real napkins and chai lattes. I feel like laughing. My brother would find this funny. His older sister going for tea with his drug dealer .
My one year old son is watching Marlo from the baby bjorn. Marlo doesn’t look like a junkie. He is tall and his limbs seem to be fighting to break free. He is clean cut. He wears clothes that are too big and he holds his pants up with one hand as we walk.
In the café I can breathe again. We make some small talk. He tells me about his family in Jamaica, but my mind wanders off. I know from Officer Allan that my brother died laying more on his stomach then Marlo had demonstrated, with his arms under him, as if protecting something. He usually slept like that. The edema had settled and he had defecated, riga mortis had set in by the time the ambulance arrived. He had not vomited, so it was less likely a heroin overdose. More likely a combination of pills and alcohol, crack, years of drug abuse finally catching up to him. He was young, but had been at it a long time.
I try to see the spiritual significance of this, sitting here, in the noisy café with Marlo. We are now eating eggs and toast.
Marlo is talking about a Danish girl named Danica he dated, once.
At home, after weeks away, I am in my kitchen. I reach for the refrigerator door and catch my breath. There is photo of my brother a friend of his took when he was in his late 20s. In it he is smiling, every detail of his face I can see without looking, but I can’t turn away. The mole on his cheek, overlapping bottom teeth, the way his nose scrunches when he laughs, his dark eyes. I put it in a magnetized photo frame 10 years ago, and never really thought about it, stopped noticing it. At some point, probably during a bad period he was having, I put a quote from the artist Jenny Holzer that I cut out of a magazine, at the bottom of the frame. May you live to bury me. It reads.
Everytime I have to open the fridge to get milk, to put away leftovers, to forage for something when I am hungry, I see him, smiling.