My Brother, Baumstein

by Steven Cuffari

Maria Baumstein comes home one night after a long day at work and puts on her favorite white robe in her giant duplex loft in downtown Mud Village. She pours a ruby red wine into a large Burgundy glass and flops down on her gray suede couch. Letting out a sigh, she picks up the remote control on the wrought-iron and glass coffee table between her and her enormous HD TV and flips through the channels. She finds an old movie network and tosses the remote onto the spacious cushions of her couch. With a wave of her hand, the lights dim and the light of the movie, Rear Window, on TV casts shadows around the room. Just as Jimmy Stewart flashes a bright bulb at Raymond Burr, Maria notices someone standing in a corner of her apartment. She shrieks and waves her hand again, turning the lights back on.

When she sees the person’s face, she lets out a sigh of relief and puts her hand over her heart. Eyes still wide from shock, she looks at her gray suede couch, now stained with red wine.

“Oh, my god! Brad!” she shouts. “What are you doing here?” She puts down her glass and runs to the kitchen while Brad just stands there.

She returns with a towel and club soda. Getting on her knees in front of the couch, she frantically starts scrubbing the indelible stain. Finally, she looks at the blotches of red and hangs her head in defeat.

“Are you just going to stand in the shadows all night?” she asks in a deep, commanding voice.

Brad steps out of the corner. “I’m sorry,” he says.

“How did you find me? Or better yet, how did you get in here?” She gets to her feet and places the towel and water bottle on the coffee table.

Brad doesn’t answer.

She puts her hands on her hips. “Well?”

Brad smiles. “You know I have my ways.”

“I don’t even want to know what that means,” she says.

“Aren’t you glad to see me, sis?”

Maria huffs and puts her hands in the air. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the asylum?”

“They don’t call it that anymore, Mary. It’s a hospital,” he replies.

“Don’t call me Mary. If you’re here, you must know I changed my name to Maria.”

Brad laughs. “I can’t! Not with a straight face.”

She doesn’t think it’s funny and puts her hands on her hips again. The murderous look on her face shows him that she is not kidding. The same look demands him to answer her question.

“What can I say? They let me out on account of my good looks.”

“You still don’t take anything seriously, do you? Are you saying that you’re better now?”

“You want me to be serious?” Brad comes closer to his sister.

She crosses her arms.

“They let me out, because my doctor said I was no longer a threat to society. He backed me up in my review.” Brad pulls out a bottle of pills. “And it’s all because of these. I am better now.”

Maria stares sternly in disbelief at her brother.

Brad smiles at her, holding his hands out, and cocks his head.

Her frown melts upward into a smile. She laughs and throws herself into his arms. Her white robe almost pops open, but she grabs it.

“Sorry,” she says as she refastens the robe’s belt.

“Here, let me help,” he says, pulling her lapels closer together.

They both laugh and smile at each other.

“So how did you find me?” she asks. “Has it really been ten years?”

“How do you think?”

“You saw mom and dad.”

“I did.”

Maria shakes her head in happy amazement. “Come on,” she says, dragging him and her empty wine glass to the kitchen. “I was drinking wine until you interrupted me. You’re lucky I wasn’t doing anything else, you freak.”

Brad laughs and follows her. “You’re still gonna call me that after everything?”

She stops and says, “Oh, I’m sorry. That sounded terrible. You know I didn’t mean it that way, right?”

Brad doesn’t stop smiling and says, “I know.”

She smiles back at him, relieved and leads him to sit at the kitchen table. She pours herself a new glass of red. “Wine?” she asks.

He shakes his head, shaking his bottle of pills, pointing at them.

“Oh, really? Okay. Do you want something else?”

He shakes his head again.

“So, what are you going to do now that you’re free?” she asks and sits down.

He smiles at her, and then looks away.

Maria squints her eyes. “What is it?” she asks.

“Nothing,” he says and looks at her again.

“So what are you going to do?” she repeats.

“I’m already doing it.” Brad locks his eyes on hers.

She cocks her head and squints even more. “I don’t get it. You’re here? That’s all you want?”

Brad nods.

Maria shakes her head. “No, I still don’t get it,” she says and takes a big sip from her glass.

He leans in. “Sis. Maria. I love you. Not like a brother. I love you. Like a lover.”

She laughs and waits for him to do the same. When he doesn’t, she cocks and shakes her head. “What? No, I don’t get… You’re joking, aren’t you?”

Brad shakes his head and rolls his lips together.

She frowns and says, “You’re serious, then?”

He nods. “Yeah. Finally.”

Maria continues to frown. She clasps her glass with both hands and drinks deeply from it, standing up. She paces the kitchen while Brad stays silent at the table.

“You know, I always thought there was something strange about you, about the way you treated me.”

“Strange?” Brad asks. “Maria, I killed twenty-four people in one weekend. Yeah, I was strange.”

“No, I mean the way you always protected me. At school, in the neighborhood.”

“I was your brother. That’s normal.”

“You freaked out when I started dating. Oh, my god. Now I know why!”

“I hated the idea of you with someone else.”

“No, no. This is too much. This is disgusting. Wait. This is because of your sickness, isn’t it?”

“No, I’ve always felt this way. It’s the drugs. They’ve helped me to realize what is important in my life. What I want. I’m finally seeing things clearly. I’m better now.”

Maria stops in her tracks. “You’re better? Now?”

“I just want you to give me a chance. Let me show you I can be a good…” He lingers on the word.

Maria gulps down the rest of her wine and sits back down at the table.

“Brad,” she says, putting her hand over his. “I love you. I am so happy you are able to tell me your feelings, but I can’t. I can’t love you that way. You’re my brother.”

Brad sighs and puts his other hand over hers.

She pulls away.

“I knew you were going to say that,” he says. “That’s why I have to tell you something else.”

“No, no,” she says, standing up. “No more. You have to go.” She points to the door.

“I don’t have any other place to go,” he tells her.

“I, I, that, that’s not my, you can find a, a place to stay,” she stutters. “Please, just leave.” She covers her face in agony.

“No. I can’t. Maria, calm down. Just listen to me.” He pauses. “They didn’t let me out. I escaped.”

Maria is momentarily dumbfounded. When she snaps out of it, she shouts, “Brad! Oh, my god, you’ve got to be kidding me!”

“No, I’m not. So if I leave, someone might see me, and I don’t want to–”

“You idiot! What are you going to do now!” She starts pacing again.

Brad laughs. “Everything is going to be fine. I just have to lay low here for a bit.”

As Maria paces and mutters to herself, the door bell rings, and she stops.

Brad watches her every move.

She is frozen in place and wide-eyed, face drawn. “That’s the bell to my apartment,” she whispers. “It must be one of my neighbors. Just wait there and shut up.” She tiptoes over to the door and looks through the peephole. When she sees who it is, she freaks out, but without making a sound. She signals to Brad that it’s the police.

Brad gets up and walks over.

Maria frantically waves for him to go hide, but he ignores her. Her face reddens as she silently tries to stop him.

“Don’t worry, I’ll handle this,” he says. He opens the door.

One of the cops begins to speak. “There’s been a complaint about some screaming…”

Brad just smiles at them.

The other cop gets a good look at Brad and nudges his partner. He whispers, “That’s the 529 from Skitemoore Terrace.”

When the first cop realizes it, he draws his gun on Brad as does his partner. “Put your hands on your head!” he shouts.

Before his partner can radio back to the precinct, both officers lose control of their breath and drop their guns. They fall to the floor and simultaneously go into seizures.

Brad smiles while Maria shrieks. “Oh, my god, what’s happening!”

She runs inside but Brad stops her. “It’s okay,” he tells her. “There’s nothing anyone can do for them now anyway. Trust me. They’re dead. I killed them.”

“What are you talking about!” she shouts. “We’ve got to do something!”

Brad smiles at her, holding her by the shoulders. “Just calm down, sis, and listen to me. Watch.” He looks over at the downed cops, their bodies now stiff. The corpses slide into the apartment on their own and the door closes by itself. “Now just sit down and listen to me.”

“What in god’s name is…” she says, tears beginning to stream down her face.

“Just listen to me,” Brad says. He sits her down and joins her on the couch. “Before I was born, our parents kidnapped you and extorted your birth parents until one day they were found dead and penniless in a dumpster.”

What?” Maria says, incredulous, wiping tears.

“That’s right. Just listen. When I was a kid, I found all the newspaper clippings in a box in the attic. I bet they’re still there after all this time.”

“What are you talking about, Brad? You’re making no sense. I’m scared. What happened to those cops?” She points at their bodies and begins to sob.

“I’m trying to tell you that we’re not brother and sister. We’re not related. We can be together.”

“I don’t understand,” she says. “If this is true, then why didn’t you say something before?”

“Maria, you know I was sick. And I was already in love with you. I didn’t want to hurt you. You were the only one I cared about. You still are. My doctor says that my type of illness runs in the family, even if it doesn’t show up in every generation. I never told him about them, but now I know it’s all their fault. They are the reason I was sick. With my new medication, I am finally seeing it all so clearly. I’m truly better now.”

Maria sniffles and composes herself enough to ask, “If you’re better now, then why did you say you killed those cops?”

Brad laughs. “My drugs don’t make me better at being good. They make me better at being me. It’s too bad my doctor didn’t see that sooner. It changed my brain structure. I can do anything now. We can do anything now.”

Maria wipes her tears again and stops sobbing, but is still distraught. “So you can… you can… what can you do?”

He looks at the red stain on the couch and little beads of wine rise up until the couch is spotless, and a mass of red liquid floats between them. “It’s telekinesis,” Brad says.

Maria’s face wears amazement, and she tells Brad as much. “This is unbelievable.”

The red wine floats over to the kitchen sink and flies down the drain.

Brad smiles as he watches her face light up. “So will you give me a chance? Will you give us a chance?”

She turns to her ex-brother and touches his face. “Brad, this is amazing, but I’m scared. I’m not like you. I don’t want to kill anyone.”

“That’s okay,” he says, sitting closer to her. He puts her hands in his. “We don’t have to. We can take it slow.”

Maria finally stops crying and smiles. She shakes her head at herself. “This is crazy. I must be crazy,” she says.

“It does run in the family,” Brad jokes.

She laughs a little and says, “Okay,” throwing her hands in the air. “But we take it slow, right?”

Now it’s Brad’s face that wears amazement. “Yes, of course! Anything you want!” he shouts.

Maria stands up and takes his hand. “Okay,” she says. “Then I want a sandwich.” She pulls him gently into the kitchen, where she leads him to sit at the table.

He can’t stop himself from beaming.

She grabs some plates from the cabinet and cold cuts from the fridge.

“What kind of bread do you want?” she asks him, pulling a large knife from the rack.

“Pumperni–” His answer is cut short by the knife Maria shoves into the back of his head and out of his mouth. He still has a smile on his face as she lovingly guides his lifeless head to the table.

She reaches into his pocket and takes out the bottle of pills he had been waving around. She reads the label, nods and says, “I guess I’m more like our parents than you thought.”