Their father threw a faded quilt in the middle seat where Ulysses would sit. Ulysses developed the habit of wetting himself when he felt the slightest urge to go. Their father assumed the habit would just up and disappear sometime soon because Ulysses had been wetting himself less frequently. Today, he and Emile had to pick Ulysses up from school. The ride was long, and their father figured the quilt was better safe than sorry.
Age had worn the quilt rough, and Emile pushed it from rubbing its bristles on his leg. He hated its texture, and it rubbed his thigh raw on long car rides.
“Don’t move it! His piss will get on you if you move it.”
“I’ll move it when he gets in.”
Their father thrashed his arm into the quilt, pushing it against Emile’s leg. Emile pushed it back with another thrashing arm, bunching the quilt against his father’s thigh. Their father pushed the quilt, and so did Emile, and they pushed it back and forth and back and forth until Emile gave in.
“He’s gonna piss on your seat if you leave it bunched against my leg.”
Their father ignored Emile. Emile pushed the quilt back to its original spot, scooting it just a bit so the bristles didn’t touch his leg. Their father drove on with eyes stuck to the road, silence.
There never was silence in the trees. She sang and she sang and her feathers brushed the browning leaves. They came back green, more life than they’d ever had. She stopped her singing to listen, but she found he hadn’t arrived just yet.
Ulysses walked out of his school’s entrance, holding hands with his teacher, Ms. Ashworth, who carried his backpack and lunchbox. Ulysses’ hand was wrapped loosely in plastic wrap and some light, white bandage. Their father and Emile were still set in the blue Chevrolet.
“What’s he got on his hands?”
“They probably noticed that burn.”
Ms. Ashworth approached their car, signaling to roll the window down to speak.
“Hello, Mr. Gonzalez. I just wanted to walk to help Ollie carry his things. He complained about his hand during class earlier today.”
“Well, I am sure he is fine. How about you get in the truck, Ulysses.”
Ulysses stood there, impervious to the entire interaction. Picking at the bandage around his wrist, he giggled at how the bandage tore and split beneath the pressure of his fingernail.
Emile exited the truck and took Ulysses’ things from Ms. Ashworth. He smiled briefly and hoped she would not ask him any questions.
“It’s good to see you, Emile. I hope you have been well since graduating.”
Their father interjected as Emile opened his mouth, “He’s been well. Once he gets on working, he’ll be useful.”
“Things have been good,” Emile said to quell the silence that followed his father’s joke.
Ms. Ashworth smiled and walked away. Ulysses, still picking at the bandage, had settled on the quilt by the time Emile packed his brother’s bags into the floorboard.
“We’ve got to stop by Walmart on the way home. I’ve gotta pick something up for tomorrow.”
Emile nodded to agree and laid his head back to try and fall asleep. Ulysses prodded at his brother’s shoulder to tell him something.
“Bubba, I can fix this,” Ulysses said, touching the exposed burn.
“Quit pickin at it, Ollie. We’ll put a new bandage on when we get back home, just quit pickin at it.”
“Bubba, I can fix this.”
The blue Chevrolet rolled into the parking lot from a crowded boulevard and found a spot to park underneath a large oak. The oak was full of birds, and their father moved parking spots. He hated getting bird shit on the truck.
She heard him somewhere. She knew they had to see each other today. He was hurt. It was not time to call for him.
Emile woke up in a sweat, sitting in the truck under the mid-afternoon sun. Drowsy-eyed, he caught sight of Ulysses and their father heading into the store. He got out of the truck, locked the door, and caught back up to the pair now entering the store.
Ulysses was pacing behind his father, trying to keep up with his long stride.
“Daddy, why’d you move from under that tree.”
“Too many birds.”
“But that’s where I saw her! In that tree!”
“Where I saw her! She told me about her feathers, how they had magic in them.”
“Ulysses, who are you talking about?”
“She had these blue feathers. And she sang so pretty I didn’t want her to stop.”
“Well, if you see her again, you get me. Got it?”
Emile felt nauseous after waking up and told their father he was going to the bathroom. He was always nervous to leave Ulysses with his dad because his dad often walked too fast for Ulysses to keep up. Emile nudged Ulysses before heading to the bathroom, and their father kept walking.
“Ollie, stay by Daddy, okay?”
“Okay, Bubba. I wanna tell you about someone when you get back.”
Emile left Ulysses for the bathroom. He figured Ulysses would catch up to their father as he was always too scared to stray off.
The open entrance let in a sound he’d heard before. Ulysses followed that voice. The voice was pretty and was singing and he didn’t want it to stop. She told him to come to the tree where all the birds were. She sat high and proud with her family. She spread her wings. The tips stretched the width of the oak’s shady crown. Falling feathers shimmered and danced to the whimsy of the wind, slipping through the air as silk. Ulysses asked to take and he did just that.
Emile hurried to the bathroom and tried to finish as quick as he could. He finished and went to the aisle he thought Ulysses and their father headed to. He found their father holding a hose, Ulysses not by his side.
“He wasn’t with you?”
“I told him to catch up with you!”
The pair ran to the entrance where Emile left Ulysses. Emile saw the white bandage strewn across the floor near the entrance — no other trace of Ulysses.
“So you just let him leave? I figured he was going to the bathroom with you.”
“Maybe if you paid attention to him for a second, you’d see he wasn’t with you.”
“Boy, don’t talk to me like that, he can just run off. You should’ve known better than to leave him without watching him catch up to me.”
“You should’ve left us at home. You should’ve fucked off and come by yourself if you didn’t want to pay attention to him.”
Their father snatched Emile by the wrist, snatching all of Emile. He gripped him violently with eyes ablaze. Their father did not care if they were in public; he had been wanting to shut Emile up all day.
Ulysses approached the two who were causing a scene near the entrance. Their father, who towered over Emile, clutched him by the wrist and cocked high an open palm. Emile attempted to resist his father’s grip but was frozen, restrained by a brutish hand. Emile’s winced face turned in anticipation of the hand poised to rain down.
Ulysses plucked his brother’s spare thumb from the unmanacled arm. Their father’s grip broke, and hands slid from Emile’s wrist as their father’s grip fell limp without power.
“Ulysses, where have you been!?”
“Are you okay, Ollie?”
Healed fingers gripped a blue feather. Twiddling its quill with twinkling, iridescent bards. Its sparkle was ethereal, Emile motionless by the way it scintillated.
“Bubba, I wanna show you someone.”