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April 15, 2024

The Dawes Limit: Part 4

By Paula Petruzzi


As he had predicted, Alex had a lot of trouble persuading Tyler to match wits with the security system of a bank. He had met Tyler at their favorite hangout, a restaurant called Brixie's, which had several pool tables and a dart board. While waiting his turn at darts, Alex mentioned that he had "another little thing" that needed to be done. Tyler signaled that they should leave, and they drove to his house where they could be sure of their privacy.

"Financial institutions are a little bit trickier to mess with than contractors are, you know," Tyler pointed out. He was dying to ask just what the hell Michael had done to deserve not one but two kicks to the groin, but after years of experience in the security business he was wise enough to keep his mouth shut.

"I'll pay whatever you want," Alex said earnestly.

Tyler was becoming increasingly concerned about his poetic friend's sanity. "Are you going to pay my bail, too?"

Alex couldn't tell if Tyler was being serious or making a joke. "I have faith in your skill."

"Well, I'm glad," Tyler said, leaning forward, "because my skill is going to need all the faith you have. And if you want it done right, there's more involved than just changing a number to all zeroes."

Alex shrugged. "Of course I want it done right."

Tyler sighed in resignation. "Okay, but I'm sending you a bill for this one."

The third act in the existential drama that Alex had written didn't make the news, but it did end up on Poison My Control's website. In paragraph after paragraph, Michael ranted and raved about banks in general and his bank in particular. The sizable sum of money in his account had, to all appearances, been legitimately withdrawn and the account officially closed. The manager of the bank insisted that none of her other customers had reported any problems. Then the police got involved, and the first thing they did was run a background check on Michael. His past contained enough criminal activity to make them suspicious of him. They tracked him down, knocked on his hotel door, and asked him a few brusque questions, and that was as far as their investigation went. Michael's electronic diatribe took a new direction, in which he explored his opinions of law enforcement personnel, and then it finally wound down.

In the "comments" section of the site, some wag had written, "Gee. It looks like God took all your stuff." This shrewd observation sparked a lively, if theologically dubious, debate among the fans who frequented the site. Michael himself was conspicuously absent from the discussion, which was unusual; he loved verbal wrangling as much as his fans did, and he rarely passed up an opportunity for electronic fisticuffs.

After all the events of the last couple of weeks, Alex expected that his brother would soon appear on his doorstep. With a ruined boat, an incinerated and uninsured house, and a vanished bank balance, Michael had to be in dire straits, even though the band still had money coming in from ticket sales. Alex had briefly considered using the Mustang as a fourth lesson, but he had abandoned the idea. He had owned the car for the better part of a year, and he felt a lingering responsibility for it.

Finally, someone did come knocking. It was a police officer, and she wanted to ask him a few questions about Michael. He answered all her questions as honestly as he could, after pointing out that he only saw his brother about once a year.

When the officer had finished taking notes and was on her way out the door, Alex decided to show her the crossbow that Michael had given him for his birthday.

"I think you should check this out," Alex said as he took the weapon out of the box and set it on the table. "It's brand new, and I never used it."

"What about it?" the officer said, looking puzzled.

"My brother gave it to me as a birthday gift, not too long after those burglaries I saw in the paper. Weren't some crossbows stolen?"

Now she was interested. "And what makes you think this is one of them?"

"These are expensive, and he was broke. In fact, the same day he gave it to me, he asked me to loan him some money." He pointed at a mark on the stock of the bow. "There's a serial number on it, so I thought you might be able to trace it."

"Yeah, the high-end ones are usually numbered." The officer picked up the bow carefully, so as not to further smear any prints that might be on it, and put it back in the box. "I'm going to take this with me, and if it's cleared, you can come down to the station and get it."

Alex began to wonder if he had done the right thing. Michael certainly didn't need any more brushes with the law, but since the people who had committed the burglaries had already been caught, his brother probably wouldn't get into serious trouble. It was even possible that Michael had bought the bow from a store rather than from someone who sold things out of the back of a van.

The odds of it being a legitimate purchase, Alex knew, were about the same as the odds of his brother turning into a poet.


A few days later, Alex went out to cut some firewood. He scoured the forest for several hours, looking for fallen trees. When the back of his truck was piled high with sections of log, he threw a tarp over the load, tied it down, and headed for home. His brother's Mustang was in the driveway when he got back. Michael was nowhere in sight, so Alex parked his truck by the cellar door and walked around to the back porch. There was nobody there. The back door was locked, and when he tried the front door, it was also locked. Alex stood on the steps and tried to figure out where his brother had gone; the impatient city boy might have grown tired of waiting and taken a stroll in the woods.

There was no point in standing in the yard, so Alex took out his keys and unlocked the front door. When he swung it open, the first thing he noticed was the smoke. It was cigarette smoke. He left the door wide open to air the place out, and then he went looking for Michael. Somehow, his brother had managed to get into the house. Alex found him in the living room, drinking a beer and using an empty peanut can as an ashtray.

Alex was expecting another appeal for help, but what he got was cold fury. He stopped halfway across the room when he saw the look on Michael's face. His brother was watching him like a snake looking for a good place to strike.

"How did you get in?" Alex asked quietly. "I always lock the doors."

Michael plucked a keychain from his pocket and dangled it in the air, as if to tease Alex with it. "I had a key."

"But I didn't give you one."

"I had one made," his brother said, with an icy little smile. "I could have robbed you blind any time I wanted, or sent someone else to do it. But I didn't."

Deciding to let the subject drop, Alex said, "I heard you've been having some problems."

Michael slid out of the chair and strode over to stand right in front of Alex. "The biggest problem I had was you!" he said, and he poked Alex in the chest with a finger. "You called the cops on me. Why?"

Alex took a step back. For the first time in his life, he was afraid of his brother. "I didn't call them," he explained. "They knocked on my door and asked me questions, and what was I supposed to do?"

"Why did you give them that bow?" Michael said angrily. "It was your birthday present!"

"It was right after those burglaries, and I thought . . . "

"You thought what?" There was wrath in Michael's voice, and he stepped forward until he was an arm's length from Alex again. "You thought I stole it."

This time, Alex held his ground. "I didn't think you stole it, I just thought you might have bought it from someone and maybe not known it was hot."

Michael took his wallet out and extracted a piece of paper. He held it up so Alex could see it. "It wasn't hot! I even saved the receipt in case you didn't like it, you little prick!"

Moving slowly and carefully, as if he were dealing with a wild animal, Alex reached out and took the slip of paper from his brother's hand. It was a faded but still-legible receipt from Cabela's. "I'm sorry," he began, but his apology was cut off.

"You're just like the cops!" Michael practically shouted. "Sure, I did some stuff years ago, and now everyone thinks I'm a piece of shit!" He gestured in the general direction of the city. "They didn't care that my money was gone, they just thought I was playing some cute little game!"

Alex saw genuine hurt in his brother's eyes, and he just stood there, totally paralyzed. He no longer had the faintest idea what to say or do.

Michael pointed at the receipt. "Your piece of shit brother just wanted you to see that." He turned and stalked out of the house.

Shaking off his inertia, Alex hurried after his brother, but it was too late to catch him. Michael was already in his car, and he drove away without looking back. Alex sat on the front steps and put his head in his hands. He had made a grievous miscalculation, and in his foolishness he had severed the final link between them. After the scene in the living room, he knew that he would never see his brother again; not on their birthday, or on any other day.

Abruptly he stood up and headed for his truck. He untied the tarp, flung the cellar door open, and took out his frustrations on the pile of wood. When the cellar was fully stocked, he added the last few pieces to the stack behind the house. Then he hosed the truck off and took a shower.

He wandered into the living room, completely at a loss as to what do to next. The smell of smoke was finally gone, but the air was still thick with his brother's invective. Casting about for something to distract himself with, his gaze fell on the row of notebooks that were neatly filed on the top shelf of his bookcase. They had been his most precious possessions since he was a teenager, but the many years' worth of work and study that they represented meant nothing to him now. As he stared fixedly at them, they seemed to be mocking him.

Then, as if to prove that he was descended from Adam and Eve, he avoided taking responsibility for his own actions and put the blame somewhere else: on the notebooks. The poems they contained had set in motion a chain of events that had resulted in the loss of his brother, the one person in the world who was dearer to him than all the abstract metaphysical exercises in the world.

Alex stood up and walked over to the bookcase slowly, as if he were in a trance. He gathered up all the notebooks, took them into the cellar, and loaded them into the woodstove. When he had a good blaze going, he latched the door of the stove, and then he drove to the police station to pick up the crossbow.


Three years passed, during which Cindy moved in with Alex and they adopted two dogs from the shelter. Cindy, Bozo, and Maggie kept him busy, but there was always something missing. Two birthdays had come and gone without so much as a postcard from Michael. After some painful soul-searching, Alex had finally admitted that he deserved to be shut out of his brother's life. Michael had faithfully paid back his loan, and he had given Alex an honest gift. And if Tyler hadn't wiped out his bank account, that whole scene with the crossbow wouldn't have happened.

Through all of Michael's difficulties, Poison My Control had held together. Not only had the band completed two more albums and several music videos, but they had even done a small tour in Europe. Alex was genuinely happy for them and impressed with their accomplishments. He could even look at pictures of the Mustang without flinching. In the last big pissing match he'd had with his brother, he finally conceded defeat.

Alex came home from work one day to find an envelope on the kitchen table. Cindy had brought the mail in, before she left for work, and left it there for him. The envelope had Michael's artsy handwriting on it but no return address. He tapped it on the table while he weighed the pros and cons of opening it; the two of them hadn't parted on the best of terms, and Michael might be trying to start a new game of cat-and-mouse.

Refusing to let himself be tortured, he tore the end off the envelope. There was a single piece of paper inside. He unfolded it and was astonished to see that it was a page from one of his notebooks. In fact, it had been torn out of the very notebook that Michael had stolen and used as inspiration for his abominable lyrics. The page was well-worn and looked as if it had been carried in someone's wallet. One side of it was blank, but on the other side was a poem called "The Field":

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other"

doesn't make any sense.

Michael had circled the second line of the poem in red ink. He had also written a date and a time right next to the line.

Alex made the connection immediately. There was only one field his brother could be referring to: Hanson Field, the place where they had spent so many hours of their childhood together.

"I'll be there, brother," Alex said, and he carefully folded the page and put it in his shirt pocket. "I'll be there."

Paula Petruzzi

* * *

"Arms of the Beloved", "No Walls Here", from "Rendezvous with the Beloved" © 1999/2002 Richard Shelquist

"Be As The Sky", from "Resurrection" © 2002 Richard Shelquist.

"Chipping Away", from "Journey of the Heart" © 2006 Wahiduddin Richard Shelquist.

"The Essence of All Sciences", "Permission to Destroy", from "The Pocket Rumi Reader" © 2001 Kabir Helminski. Originally published by Threshold Books.

"The Absolute Works With Nothing", "The Field", © Coleman Barks. Translated from Rumi's originals.

All poems used by permission.

Article © Paula Petruzzi. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-03-01
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