Important terms for walking on water

Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes

Places where I knew my brother.

In the backyard we pinned down my father and made him eat parsley to keep his strength up for the coming battle. Waukee was our favorite Chinese restaurant. For his fourth birthday, my brother didn’t want a party. The whole class would have come. He wanted one thing—a date with his best friend, Frieda, at Waukee. He called her “Marry Frieda” just so everyone knew his intentions. He wanted to sit across from her and order the #9, pork wontons and noodles in steaming broth. My parents and I went too, but we sat at a booth across the room from him and watched them talk the entire time, barely finishing their soup. The waitress who always fussed over him, adding extra chilies to his soup when he asked, took their order. Perhaps he ordered for the both of them. I couldn’t hear over the hum of the air conditioner. Maybe he got up and brought them ginger sodas from the sliding door fridge, the glass fogging up at his breath. Politely asked the waitress to add them to the bill. I don’t know what they talked about, all I have is this image in my head—them both leaning over the Formica table. Him so sure.

A list of relevant locations.

The house on Rutledge Street in Madison. The house on Acadia Drive in Madison. The cabin in the woods of northern Wisconsin. The lake beside it. The Chippewa River that flowed through it. Our grandmother’s farm in Lafayette County. The apartment where his heart stopped. Cleaning that room, finding things I didn’t want to see.


Tip-up: the trap set for the fish, straddled across the hole in the ice, the hook dropping into the water, with an orange flag that goes up, alerting my brother, wherever he was across the ice that something was underneath him, moving. Auger: four feet long drill for making holes in the ice, electrical or manual, my father’s task. Skimmer: the slotted spoon used to scoop the ice out of the hole he made, stalling a constant race against the water wishing to be solid. OxyContin: pharmaceutical for relieving acute pain. Heroin: chemical composition identical to OxyContin. Bait bucket: the Styrofoam with minnows slashing and dying, their bodies floating the next morning, my brother stringing treble hooks through unprotesting forms in the wind. Paring knife: bone-handled, slender as a vein, for slicing open the catch. Ice shanty: the plastic foldable hut he carried on a yellow sled to keep warm in, to wait in. One winter it was so cold the plastic shattered when he touched it.

Places he loved.

The lake, his boat, the ice shanty, the only place he could stay still in except for the blue Coleman canoe. The skate park, but he said he couldn’t balance anymore. The roof of our house, he peeled the glue off the sides of the screen and climbed out his window, then over to the larger sloped side, to smoke or to get a suntan, slick with coconut oil. Mostly I don’t even know where he went.

In a house that’s no longer mine.

His room, with the walleye hung above the bed, the posters I brought back from Ireland of pubs and different beers because that’s all I could think of that he liked, the closet where he kept the incense until my parents wouldn’t let him burn it anymore. My door down the hall, I taught him how to pick it open, proud of this knowledge and immediately regretted it, my fingers pinching the tiny brass lock. He tore off part of the frame, trying to get in, carved words into the locked door, it sounds so sinister now, but what did he want? Just for my door to be open. The downstairs bathroom, a week before I left for college, coming home drunk the first time, getting sick. He told me in the morning that he’d wiped underneath the toilet seat after me, not for a thanks, but because I didn’t know to look there yet. The basement where we practiced with our new roller skates, the neon elbow and kneepads, whirling around the red metal poles that held up the ceilings. The garden, again, him in my yellow dress from Tía Yola, covered in layers of taffeta, chasing my girlfriends with a tube of my mom’s red lipstick. The kitchen, late at night, at sixteen, I had just chopped off all my hair and I covered it with a hat but I was proud too and he could see everything anyway. You look like you just escaped from a mental asylum, he said. So do you.

What my parents cannot read.

All the things I found in his room. Most of this.

What I will not write about.

Two rooms: the hospital chaplain’s and the one covered only by a white curtain. In a pool in Cuba, the gentleness of his question, no way to convey that innocence.

What I keep writing about.

A pointed gun on a frozen lake. A desire to be haunted.

What we threw out.

The stained white undershirts, grey socks, boxers, textbooks from marketing courses, binders for his firefighting training, the poster that hung above his bed, a black and white photo of a beach with a mushroom cloud in the horizon. He said he didn’t notice what it was when he bought it, but he kept it up anyway.

What I kept.

The poster he’d just bought and never hung, black and white too, but a drawing of a koi pond and a forest, the reflection of birches on the water taking up most of the space. A t-shirt I’d never seen him wear of a girl holding a bird. Two photos peeled from an old album. Cleaning out the closet at his apartment I found a wrinkled piece of plastic—a single horn left over from his Halloween costume that year. My mother had sewn him furry knee-length pants just like when we were kids and he wore the horns spirit gum-glued to his forehead, a leather jacket with no shirt underneath. The horn was fleshy, like a relic, and I could neither throw it out nor put it in the pile of objects that my parents and his friends would pick through later. I kept it in the pillowcase with the rest of what I kept and I tried to throw it out each time I unrolled the case but I couldn’t. Moving from one apartment to the next I decided to bury it, to put it in the backyard of my old place the day I moved into the new. But I couldn’t do that either, the idea of it being found, unearthed, or chewed by some animal. So I took it to the creek I walked over everyday and dropped it into the water, a stone inside the hollow tip so it would sink. My mother told me that when his ashes hit the Chippewa river, they turned the brown, tannin-filled waters red. They created a whirlpool which swirled around itself, slowly transforming into fluorescent pink and finally the white of sea foam and polished rock. The horn dipped beneath the current and sunk. Maybe it floated away and maybe it stayed put.