Today's Story by Caroline Taylor

Her disapproval wafts down the phone line like a cloud of tear gas at a protest, making my eyes water and my throat close up.

Red Trees

I had to do it, I say, even though I can tell my sister is not really paying attention.  She’s whispering No.  Not right now, to one of her kids, probably Rob, followed by the sound of a door slamming. Hes at that age.

Anyway, the deed is done, I continue.

What deed?


You could change your mind. Dad is heartbroken, and Mom . . . Shes coming undone.

My mother is always coming undone, so nothing new there. Its too late.

Its never too late.

Rose and I should be having this conversation in person, but I’m thousands of miles away and not likely to change my mind. I’m stuck (thankfully) with the telephone, even though long distance is costing me money I don’t have. I had no choice, okay?

It’s all in your mind, Sam. Her disapproval wafts down the phone line like a cloud of tear gas at a protest, making my eyes water and my throat close up. Leo misses you. We all do.

I wish I could believe that, especially about Leo. Anyway, things have changed, now that I’ve been seduced by red trees. They’re Canadian maples, and this fall, they apparently lived up to their name.

It’s absolutely amazing, said my neighbor, a native who swears hes never seen them such a brilliant red. You could go for years and years and, sure, they’re red, but not red, if you catch my drift. To document the miracle, he took several pictures with his Leica, adding, This may never happen again in my lifetime.

When I first got here, I hated it. I missed the bright city lights and the restaurants and museums. There’s none of that here. I didn’t realize it would be such a drastic a change. I’m homesick, especially for Mom and Rose, but I’m pretty sure I made the right decision at least it seemed right at the time. Still, I can’t return.

Maybe there’ll be an amnesty, Rose says as though she’s been reading my mind.

Too late for me.

Don’t say that, Sam! It’s our only hope of seeing you again.

I wish I could believe that, but they know what I did. They have to be blaming me for Leo, not that they’ve ever said it. Dad chooses to paint a different picture:  He just cant understand why I would as he puts it bring dishonor on myself by dodging the draft. He doesn’t understand that I would have gone. I was planning to go. Until Leo.

Rose plays go-between. She has to live with Mom and Dad;  they’re only forty miles away and visit their grand kids often. Speaking of which, I’m waiting for her to guilt trip me on little Rob (who’s not so little anymore) and baby Josie any time now.

. . . varsity baseball. He practically sleeps with his glove.

I always knew he’d be good. Takes after his uncle Sam. Ironic, the name.

Who could have gone into the majors, if it hadn’t been for if things were different.

Well, they’re not. Although the neighbor, who saw me pitching at a weekend softball game, says he could put me in touch with somebody in the Expos.

I don’t think so. Those days are gone. Ruined, like a lot of things, by me playing asshole older brother.

. . . see Rob pitch. Hes got a really mean knuckle ball.

Which he learned from me.

Which he learned from you. Dammit, Sam. Get your ass back home, will you? We could be going to the state championship this year. It would mean so much to Rob.

Not with both your brothers in jail.

There’s a sigh that lingers longer than is comfortable. Leos gonna be out in six months. I know he wants to see you.

I doubt it. He’d more likely bust my chops. Id been pulling his leg when I told him he could burn up his draft card because they only took one person per family, and I was already planning to enlist. Before I could get up the nerve to go down to the recruiting station, though, they came after Leo.

He’s doing fine, Sam. Really.

You always were one to believe whatever anybody tells you. How could Leo be fine? After going through that trial and then spending three years in prison, not to mention

Him being an amputee is not your fault.

Leo had fled on his motorcycle. He’d taken the turn too sharp, and the wheels went out from beneath him, crushing his right leg beneath the rear wheel. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t been kidding around about the goddamn draft. I have to go, Rose. This is costing me. In ways you’ll never know, sis.

Just come home, Sam. Please? Well work things out. She sniffs loudly, the looming major meltdown as clear as though she were sitting across the table from me. I can practically see her blotchy face and red-rimmed eyes. And if if we cant make things work, I promise Ill visit you every day.

One jailbird brother is enough. The minute I say these words, I want to yank them back because now I’ve made her cry.

Its just I don’t understand why.

Actually, I don’t either. Maybe Leo has more in common with me than I thought. We both seem to run from trouble. I left before the trial, mostly because I couldn’t bear to tell my side of things with Mom and Dad sitting right there in the courtroom. Coward.

The neighbor and I have a bet going on whether, next fall, those red trees will measure up to the benchmark established in the photos he took. Well probably keep that bet going for quite a while. I know what I have to do, but I’m not ready yet. When the maples turn not just red, but crimson, I’ll go home and take my lumps.


Caroline Taylor’s stories have appeared before in Fiction365 and in other online and print magazines.

Read more stories by Caroline Taylor


To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page