by Eric Bailey

Billy Callahan, thirteen years old, stood quite intently on the edge of the bridge, staring straight down between his sneakers at the water rushing underneath. Dirty Pig Creek was running pretty low this season; he could see the tops of large rocks jutting through the torrent. He never felt the rain pitter-pattering his dark head of hair. He did, though, tug at his jacket, as if in a desperate attempt to snag the last bit of warmth left in the world. Not that it mattered, as affairs back home were not something a jacket could cover, no matter how hard you tug.

“Hey! Billy!”

He squinted as he turned to the source of the voice. The town was too small for guardrails on bridge roads over dirty creeks; it only naturally followed that it was too small for consistent street lighting as well.

“You little punk.”

Billy groaned, recognizing the voice and shoving his shuddery little hands into his thinly lined pockets. It was his brother Jared, four years his elder, and briskly jogging closer with a grin-lit face.

“What, not gonna talk to me? A’right, you don’ have to. We’ll just stand here in the dark, in the rain, like two idiots.”

Jared chuckled, standing parallel to Billy but remaining several feet away. He chose to join in the water-watching, understanding the appeal that such an endeavor could offer in such times.

“It’s not like they haven’t fought before. You know how it is. Tonight they’re tearing each other’s throats out, tomorrow grandma stops by and they act like nothin’ ever happened.”

Jared eyed his younger brother, gauging his reactions, searching for any sign of care or life. He then sighed, staring back into the shadowy flow below.

“Fine. I won’t tell you everything will be okay, that you just gotta hang in there and soldier on through. Maybe tonight’ll be too much, and mom’ll get another divorce. Maybe we’ll be stuck in this dead-end hellhole forever. Maybe you’ll lose all your hair and grow feathers, I dunno. But I don’t care. Sun still comes up tomorrow an’ I’m gonna have fun while I can. Sometimes you just have to take off the skirt and keep moving.”

He smiled as he spotted Billy shaking his head, stifling a smile of his own. Jared continued.

“Besides, I-”

“How’d you know I was here?”

They made eye contact amid the still-pelting rain, faces fading as the light had. Jared shuffled his feet and shrugged, looking heavenward.

“I used to come here too, when it got rough. Collect my thoughts, ya know?”

Billy finally fully smiled, looking up to his older brother.

“Awww, now don’t make this weird, kid. Tell you what, I bet Dandee’s is still open. I’ll buy you a Coke if you wipe that stupid grin off your face.”

Billy laughed, even as Jared began leading the way down the road back home.


They were a few yards apart when it happened, both frozen in their tracks. The coupe was just going too fast on a road too wet. Mrs. Hoff, the driver, elementary school teacher, sincerely tried to miss Jared. She stomped on the brake and jerked at the wheel, screaming as her right front tire hydroplaned, causing the vehicle to violently jerk into an awkward fishtail. The back door clipped Jared, shattering two of his ribs. His body was flung off the bridge into the wet darkness. Billy held his hands up, temporarily blinded by the headlights, only to watch the car lurch and roll, soon tumbling tumultuously. It flipped seven times before coming to rest on its roof; it was later said that Mrs. Hoff died because the dashboard’s frame cracked wide open, allowing the steering column to shift to one side before the airbag even went off. Next, four bone shards and twelve percent of her cerebral matter burst out of her left ear.

Jared’s demise was slightly cleaner, but still demanded another closed casket as he snapped his neck on impact with the rocks. Dirty Pig Creek brought one of his teeth four miles farther downstream than the rest of his body. One of his shoes was never found at all.

Billy pissed his pants and threw up–twice–before his knees would stop shaking enough to let him run home. Upon discovering his parents still fighting, he decided to go to bed. His pillow, since then, has never been so tear-soaked. He never told a soul what happened. Not when he woke up the next morning, not when his mom heard the news from police, not when the story hit the newspapers, not when he listened to the eulogy, not when all the theories were wrong, and not when his sixth girlfriend asked what his deepest, darkest secret was.

To this day, part of cashier training at Dandee’s Stop-On-Inn is The Billy Callahan Rule: You never, ever ask Billy Callahan why tears are running down his face when he orders his nightly Coke.

“If you say anythin’ about it, he’ll lose it completely … he’ll start sobbin’ like a big friggin’ baby and walk right back out th’ door,” the manager will snarl. “So you never, ever ask why. It ain’t worth th’ buck thirteen.”

5 Responses to “Responsible”

  1. Cindy Brantley says:

    What a great story! Could really feel the emotion!

  2. Jenny B. says:

    Wow. That is painful. Very well written.

  3. Dara Joy says:

    Wow…Amazing, Eric. You have such a great talent. This made me cry…I don’t even have words for how good it is.

  4. Drew C. says:

    Wow man, amazing story…

  5. Terry Ervin says:

    Interesting, well-told tale with reasonable results from such an event in a child’s life.

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