Jonah and Derrick were born thirteen months apart to Judy McInnis. The boys shared their mother’s last name because she was never sure who the fathers were. They lived in a small house on the outskirts of a small city in a neighborhood that may have been beautiful when it was new, but by now had become overgrown and neglected.Jonah was the oldest. Born with a thick batch of brown hair, he was large for his age, but docile and rarely ever cried. He would lie quietly in his crib watching Judy intently. Wherever she went his eyes would follow.
Derrick was blonde, premature, and colicky. When he screamed it seemed to be as much out of anger as it was need. When he raged Judy would come running and as she tried to calm him down a bond formed between the two that did not exist with Jonah. Judy talked incessantly to Derrick while she carried him around. She shared every detail of her life with him and although he could not understand it explains why Derrick began speaking long before Jonah every muttered a word.
It was taken for granted that Jonah was slow and a doctor confirmed the suspicion before he attended his first day of school. He was not retarded, but try as he might he would always struggle to keep up with his peers. For his own benefit, he did not start school until a year after he was eligible so that he brother could attend with him and provide him the support he was deemed to need.
Derrick, on the other hand, was sharp. Aggressive by nature and curious to a fault, he took pleasure out of blurring the lines of acceptable behavior. He would often con the other children of whatever he wanted and then once caught he reveled in the art of talking his way out of it. He bullied and swore on the playground all throughout grade school. Even Jonah was a target when there was no one else to harass. Although short and wire thin, Derrick was fearless. His classmates were wise to befriend him to avoid becoming victims themselves.
Home was much of the same for the boys. Derrick was the center of attention, reciting his acts of guile while Judy ate up his exploits and at times seemed to encourage them. Jonah sat alone on the couch, silent. He did not read or play or watch television. He quietly observed the back and forth between Judy and Derrick as if it was some great drama unfolding before his eyes.
For her part, Judy rarely spoke to Jonah except to tell him to get ready for school or dinner or bed. It was shameful, but Jonah never asked for much. Also, Derrick took up so much of her time. Then again, some effort should have been made, but that is in hindsight and in that moment Judy saw nothing wrong in how she raised her sons.
As the boys navigated their teenage years Derrick became more and more unpredictable. By high school he had begun using drugs and drinking, sometimes with his mother, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. His penchant for violence cost him much more than he made. People avoided him. His wanton vandalism kept him in the constant gaze of school administrators and police. Judy always rushed to his defense and to the psychologist he was ordered to see he was honest when he claimed to have no idea why he did the things he did.
Derrick took to crime before the age of ten, breaking into houses to see what was inside. Eventually, he began to loot these houses for drugs, money, alcohol, and anything of value. Jonah’s job was to watch for trouble, but it was not a partnership. Jonah was just used to doing what was asked of him. Judy knew what her son was up to and did not care so long as she got her cut. Derrick would display his bounty on the kitchen table and he and Judy would divide the proceeds.
He began to notice girls early on. His temperament though was unpredictable and kindness would often turn to cruelty. He didn’t care how they cried because he knew there would always be someone else and there always was. A mother could have taught him the proper way to treat women, but Judy was as enamored of Derrick as the little girls he toyed with.
Judy had become desperate in the face of her approaching middle age. No longer able to rely on her looks to secure the things she needed from men, she clung tighter and tighter to the sorry few foolish enough to stay. Eventually, they too would run and this made her lean even heavier on Derrick as her sole confidant. When she couldn’t dance, she waited tables, and when she lost that she looked for the easy dollar. Derrick was her protégé and partner.
Jonah in turn had become more steady and self-reliant. He no longer needed to watch Judy and Derrick act out their pantomime of madness. He was content with himself. He could focus, which in many ways made up for his deficiencies. He did well in the school’s remedial programs. He was never late, always polite, and always gave his best effort. He was not outgoing, but he had friends.
Hailey was Jonah’s best friend. She lived a couple blocks away and was raised by her grandmother. Like Jonah, she was slow and they took many of the same classes together. From an early age they were inseparable. Each would follow the other around like there was a string attaching the two of them. As close as they were neither said much to the other. What they had was a shared experience.
Hailey was attractive, blonde hair and blue eyes. There is no doubt that Jonah noticed her in that way, but unlike Derrick he was not impulsive and not articulate enough to express his intentions if he had been. She gave little of herself away and that further encouraged Jonah to keep his feelings to himself, but he did love her.
By the time Jonah was a senior in high school Derrick had long since dropped out. When Judy discovered methamphetamine she introduced the drug to Derrick and he had become lost in a world of ever intensifying criminality. The addition of paranoia to his already reckless behavior made it impossible for him to function in the non-high world. He and Judy would spend days at a time awake, locked in their little house, simultaneously destroying it and putting it back together.
If Jonah was afraid he never let on about it. He could always find a quiet place for himself. For Hailey though, he was frightened. She did not see the danger Derrick and Judy presented. She was too trusting. Jonah took pains to move her around the house to avoid them or leave with her if he could not.
It was Hailey’s naiveté that precipitated the great tragedy about to unfold. She thought Derrick was funny. He always talked fast and made faces. She knew him as Jonah’s brother and she trusted Jonah more than anyone. That doesn’t mean she always listened to him.
When Jonah and Hailey arrived at the house they found Derrick alone. Judy was busy pawning items Derrick had stolen the night before. He was in a miserable state, alone in the kitchen, smoking meth, talking to himself. Jonah and Hailey sat on the couch in the living room, took out their homework, and began to study.
Derrick usually liked to tweak by himself, but he wanted company today and took his pipe with him to the living room and sat across from the two of them. He took a deep drag and blew out a large white puff of smoke.
“Look, a cloud! Oh, no. It’s gonna rain in here and get your books wet.” He knocked the book out of Jonah’s hand and began to laugh.
Hailey smiled so he turned his attention to her. “He is so clumsy. Why do you have such a clumsy boyfriend?”
“He’s not my boyfriend.” Her face turned red in embarrassment as she replied. “He’s Jonah.”
“I know my own bro, yo. What do you know bro. Hailey says she’s not your girlfriend.”
Jonah stood up and tried to take Hailey with him. “Let’s go.” But, she was having fun. Derrick was inches away from her, staring with a big goofy smile that made her giggle.
“I think that’s a no, bro. Hailey, does my brother know no?” He was caught in a loop. He reached out and touched her face. “Look, I got your nose.”
Hailey let out a loud, wild laugh that made Derrick sit back in his chair. Jonah too sat back down, visibly agitated.
Derrick reached for his pipe. He stared at it for a moment, as if trying to figure out what to do next. Then he leaned in again towards Hailey. “Do you want to make clouds?”
“No!” Jonah blurted out. He had never been told to stay away from drugs. He certainly had not been told at home. It was instinctual. He had never been offered or asked to be a part of the things his mother and brother did. From what he had seen he should know enough to be afraid.
“I didn’t ask you, bro. I asked Hailey.”
Hailey had no idea what she was agreeing to when she said yes. Jonah was speechless as Derrick showed Hailey how to smoke from his pipe. Afterwards she was stunned as if hit on the head.
“See, you can make clouds too.” Jonah took some more for himself. “Do you like it?”
She said nothing and looked as if she was trying to focus on some far away object she could not quite make out. Derrick took a moment to size her up then reached for her hand and walked towards his bedroom. She went willingly, docile, and stoned.
A panic overtook Jonah, as if the worst possible thing he could imagine was happening right before his eyes. His hands shook and the nausea in the pit of his stomach swelled. He went outside, sat on the front step, and wept silently.
Judy arrived home and saw Jonah outside. She saw that he was crying. She felt compelled to ask why but thought of it as a burden she did not want to deal with.
“What’s wrong, Jonah?”
He collected himself and replied, “Hailey.”
“What’s wrong with Hailey?”
“She’s with Derrick.”
A glimmer of recognition crossed her face as she knew exactly what was going on and gave him a sly smile. “Well, if you wanted her you should have done something about it.” With that she brushed him aside and walked into the house.
When Hailey opened the front door she was disheveled and confused. She did not say anything and Jonah did not ask her anything. He followed her all the way home, a step behind in single file. She never returned to Jonah’s house.
Afterwards, Jonah spent less and less time at home. He was not even aware that Derrick had been arrested for burglary. A startled home owner had awoken to find him unplugging his home computer and shot him in the leg. Jonah visited him briefly in the hospital because his mother told him to, but he was not there for the trial.
Jonah was staying with Hailey and her grandmother, who thought of Jonah as a son. She knew he was good for Hailey and that she cared for him deeply. She was not sure whether or not Hailey and Jonah were romantic, but was not opposed to the idea. She was very old and it was important to her that Hailey have trustworthy people in her life after she was gone.
When Hailey began to show obvious signs of being pregnant she naturally assumed Jonah was the father. Before confronting the two of them she decided to talk to Jonah’s mother. She wanted to make sure they had the support they were going to need.
Hailey’s grandmother knocked on the door to Jonah’s house for several minutes. She could hear noise coming from inside, but there was no response. Eventually, she decided to try the door knob and with that the door flew open and Judy was standing before her. She introduced herself and Judy let her inside.
Judy was a mess. Her hair was clumped and unkempt. Makeup that had been on her face for days was smudged and streaking. Her clothes looked as if she had been sleeping in them, but she had really been up for days.
The house was no better. There were scorched marks on the walls and places on the floor where the carpet had been pulled up. It was cluttered and filthy. Hailey’s grandmother was shocked. She had to pull herself together to talk about the matter at hand.
“I am here about Jonah.”
Judy took a moment to shake her head and clear her thoughts. “What has he done?”
“He hasn’t done anything, not really.” She wanted to ease Judy into the news she had. “He has been staying with us for a while. Both Hailey and I are very fond of Jonah. In fact, I believe Hailey and Jonah are in love.”
Judy’s face was emotionless like someone was reading her the phone book.
“As sometimes happens…” She paused for a minute then blurted it out. “I think Hailey is pregnant.”
Once Judy realized what she was being told, her eyes lit up and she started to snicker. Judy cackled, “Your Hailey is pregnant and you think my Jonah is the father? Hailey may be pregnant, but Jonah is not the daddy.” Hailey’s grandmother was taken aback. “Derrick is the father.”
“Who is Derrick?” She asked.
“That’s my other boy. Look, if you want some money he’s going to be in prison for the next couple of years so Hailey is on her own. Hell, he probably won’t be much of a provider when he gets out.” Judy was tickled and could not hide it.
Hailey’s grandmother knew there was something wrong with Judy and did not know what to believe coming out of her mouth.
“Hailey and Jonah want to be together.”
“If Jonah wants his brother’s sloppy seconds I’m sure Derrick doesn’t mind. He can have her.”
She was appalled by Judy’s coarseness. “I want Jonah to stay with us.”
“Keep him. I don’t care.” She didn’t. “I he wants his stuff though, tell him I sold it or it got stolen. Make something up. There’s nothing for him here.”
As far as Hailey’s grandmother was concerned it was the only thing Judy said that made sense. During the walk home her face was so red with anger that her cheeks burnt to the touch.
Hailey and Jonah were married shortly before the baby was born and Hailey’s grandmother died soon thereafter. She lived long enough to see the circle of life complete and left in peace. Jonah worked full time as a bagger at the local grocery store and was well liked by everyone. The pay was not good, but Hailey’s grandmother had left her the house so they did not have many expenses. They were the perfect example of a young couple, happy and in love.
Jonah never questioned whether he was the father to their little girl and he was listed as the father on the birth certificate. Though the timing of the birth may have suggested otherwise, it was something neither he nor Hailey cared about. The prospect of seeing Derrick again, or that he would even care, never crossed their minds.
Judy cared. Her life spiraled out of control after Derrick got locked up, not that it was so great before he left. She no longer had anyone to confide in. Paranoia began to tear at her psyche. She thought people were following her. She heard voices. She became bitter.
She and Jonah rarely ever spoke, but she was aware of the life he was leading. She was filled with envy. She felt Jonah’s quaint life of domesticity was one that he had stolen from Derrick. The son she didn’t care about was living the life she wanted for the son she loved. The idea that Jonah should raise Derrick’s child as his own infuriated her. Jonah was a usurper.
In the three years Derrick was incarcerated Jonah did not visit him once. Judy went once a month. At first, their conversations were of the typical sort. There was plenty of I miss yous and hope you’re alrights. Eventually, as Judy’s madness became more pronounced, Jonah was all she talked about.
Derrick didn’t care about Jonah or Hailey or the baby, at least not at first. He had his own problems. He missed out on early release because of frequent fighting. His impulsive behavior was a liability in prison. He spent much of his time in isolation.
Soon enough, Judy’s ranting began to take root. When the only person you talk to has only one message that they repeat over and over it soon becomes brainwashing. By the time he was released, Derrick was as obsessed she was. The only difference was that he knew how to hide his envy when he needed to.
Jonah was standing alone at the foot of the checkout line when Derrick approached him. He did not smile upon seeing his brother for the first time in three years. Jonah gave little of himself away. He had the same placid expression he always carried, but his eyes did light up.
“Hey bro, I’m back!” Derrick gave his brother a quick hug.
Jonah did not know how to react. Derrick had never hugged him before. It confused him.
“It’s been a long time.” Derrick tried to express sincerity. “I’ve done a lot of thinking bro. I’ve had the time to do it. I just want you to know that I’m sorry if I was ever mean to you. I don’t know who that guy was. I’ve changed. I’m a new man. I came to tell you that I’m here for you.”
“You don’t say much. That hasn’t changed. How are you doing?”
“I hear you’re doing great! You got a job. Everybody likes you. You’re married and you have a kid.” He grabbed Jonah’s fingers firmly. “Look, you have a ring on your finger!”
Jonah pulled back his hand. “It’s nice, bro! Is it gold?”
“I don’t know.”
“It looks like gold to me.” Jonah was becoming anxious. Derrick decided to wrap things up. “I know you’re working and I don’t want to take up too much of your time it’s just that I want us to be a family again. I’m staying with mom. You should come for a visit. I’m sure she’d like to see you.”
“I should come over to your house too. I’d love to see my niece.”
Jonah felt all the air sucked out of his body. He did not make a sound and there was an awkward silence between the two.
Derrick laughed it off. “We’ll do that sometime. Nice to see you, bro. You haven’t changed a bit.”
With that, Derrick was gone. Jonah did not know what to make of the encounter. In some part of his mind though there may have been a glimmer of optimism.
While he claimed to be a new man, Derrick began using again as soon as he got home. Judy scrounged up every penny she had to throw him a party. It was for two people. Judy talked for days, she was so strung out. She recounted every day since Derrick left back to him. She had been so alone.
Derrick was too blissed out to really care or listen. Every now and then he would jump up unexpectedly, scream at the top of his lungs, and break something. The he would laugh maniacally and sit back down as if nothing had happened. The only time he paid attention was when Judy talked about Jonah and Hailey and the baby. This meant something to him.
Judy knew what buttons to push. Before Derrick left to see Jonah at the store she told him, “You have got a lot of anger in you, boy. You need to put that anger to good use. You have got to let it out or it will ruin you.”
As they embraced in the doorway she whispered in his ear, “Make your mother proud.”
When Derrick wen to see Jonah, it was really to check on his whereabouts. As soon as the two parted Derrick went to Jonah’s house. Hailey didn’t get the door open enough to see who it was before Derrick kicked it in. She was panicked and crying. Derrick was smiling as he pummeled her. He attacked her savagely. Somehow he blamed her for everything. His incarceration, his terrible life, his rage, were all her fault and he needed to rectify the situation. He would torture her as he felt tortured, but he was not angry.
The baby screamed uncontrollably as Derrick first attacked her mother then destroyed the house in which she lived. He broke anything that had any value. He put holes in the walls.
When he grabbed the baby, Hailey begged him to leave her alone. She could not stand. Only her outstretched hand was able to plead with Derrick. Sociopaths have a convoluted sense of right and wrong. He saw himself as completely justified. The idea of consequences never crossed his mind.
He laughed as he held the child. “It’s my baby now. You had yours. Now I get mine. Tell my brother if I see him he gets double.”
Jonah did not suspect anything as he walked home from work. He was in a good mood. He didn’t know what to tell Hailey about seeing Derrick or how she would react, but for once he could think about his family and not be filled with dread.
As soon as he walked through the front door he knew what had happened. He found Hailey in the dark, crawling on the floor. He held her in his arms and tried to wipe the blood from her face. His heart broke looking at her. She kept calling for her baby.
Jonah placed a pillow under her head and ran next door to ask them to call the police. Then he took off to find Derrick. He knew where he would be.
Jonah was a large man. He stood over six feet tall and weighed about 220 and would be intimidating if he wasn’t so docile. As he ran through the streets towards his childhood home a fury coursed through his veins. Derrick was much shorter and skinnier, but was able to take advantage of his slower brother and had tormented him. Jonah never fought back. All Jonah wanted was the child, but he was prepared to kill Derrick if he needed to.
When he walked in the unlocked door he saw Judy holding her sobbing grandchild and Derrick doing lines of drugs off the table.
Judy looked at him, red faced and trembling as he stood before her, and sneered, “What do you want?”
He could barely speak the word, “Baby.”
“It’s my baby now.” She squeezed the child, which caused her to cry even louder. “Derrick’s the father and not you. This is my grandbaby.”
“You can’t do this.”
“I did it.” She tapped Derrick on the shoulder. He had not even looked up from the drugs before him. “We did it.”
“You don’t get to have it all. You think you’re better than us.” Judy’s eyes stared right through Jonah. “You are us. You always kept to yourself. You never wanted to have anything to do with your mother and your brother. We loved you. The first chance you got you ran away. You abandoned us.”
Judy could not grasp the irony of her statements. She wholeheartedly believed every word she said. Jonah arms were outstretched to the child who was reaching back to him. Derrick snapped out of his stupor and jumped up.
“You should have stayed away, Bro.” He said has he stepped towards his brother with his fist pulled back and ready to strike.
Jonah dropped him with a single punch to the jaw and Derrick crumpled in pile on the floor.
Neither Judy nor Derrick ever foresaw that Jonah would fight back. As Jonah reached to take the child out of Judy’s arms she grabbed a knife. She cut a wide gash in his open hand. He took hold of her wrist with the other hand and squeezed until she shrieked, releasing her grip and dropping the blade in his bloody palm.
Judy was horrified and gave up the child without a fight. She clung tightly to the father she knew. As he turned to walk away Derrick rose to his feet and attacked him. Jonah desperately tried to shield the child with his body. Still holding the knife he took from Judy he waived it in the air, but Derrick was unfazed and began to taunt his brother.
“What are you gonna do, Bro? You gonna cut me with your little knife? Don’t you know retards aren’t supposed to play with sharp knives?”
Derrick lunged at Jonah. He deliberately and with force sunk the knife deep in Derrick’s chest. Derrick gave out a loud gasp and died almost instantly. Judy screamed and ran to her son.
“My son. My little boy.” Her years dripped onto his lifeless face. “You can’t leave your momma. Momma loves you.”
Jonah, in shock at what had happened, stood nearby holding the child. For once he spoke up, albeit meekly. “I am your son too, momma.”
She looked back at Jonah. He was crying now as he had never done as a baby. He wanted to see some tenderness, some recognition in her eyes. Instead she moaned, “You are a monster. How could you do this? You killed your brother. You are a murderer. You are marked for life. I hope they fry you in the electric chair.” There was no forgiveness here.
When the police arrived, both Judy and Jonah were placed in handcuffs. Jonah went peaceably, but Judy fought with the officers and had to be subdued. She swore and told them it was all Jonah’s fault. Then she blamed Derrick. She said she was a kindly old grandmother who just wanted to see her grandchild. The scene in the house told a different story and no one was listening to hers.
As Jonah was led to the police car he knew that he could never reconcile the pain he felt. For all the abuse and torture he endured, Judy and Derrick were his family. He could not bring his brother back. He could not make his mother love him. He was alone and dejected.
Then he saw Hailey. She was badly beaten but alive. She held her baby in her arms, kissing her over and over again. She did not see Jonah watching her. He wanted to call out. The love and affection she flourished upon their child rendered him mute. He felt a great warmth rise up inside of him. While this great conflict had torn one family asunder he knew he had found another and within it he was complete.