Fiction Sad Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

I can still smell them. Sloppy Joes. The simple combination of sauce and ground beef. The steam rising off of the stovetop. Sizzling beef, cracking and popping, my mouth still waters at the sound. It was a Thursday. Payday. Sloppy Joe night. They were a family favorite. We didn’t have much. Mom was raising three kids all on her own. She did her best on a teacher’s salary. The money was stretched to its limit. We never knew. The mark of a great parent. Your kids may not have everything, but they want for nothing. The absolute joy on my little brother’s face was priceless. His freckled face, chubby cheeks set in a perpetual grin. The light in his blue eyes. Pure happiness. Over a meal. The grin got wider when she said he could have seconds. Simple pleasures in life are the most treasured. They don’t come from a box or a store. It is a shared experience. Sloppy Joe night was that for our family. The Duncans of Blueberry Lane.  

Snapshots in time.

His name was Jeremy. He was eight. He was my only brother. He’s dead now. He was murdered. It’s my fault. I’m responsible. My name is, well it doesn’t really matter, it isn’t important. My mother named me Johnny. She had a thing for J names. My younger sister is Julia, but I’m getting off topic.

Jeremy was my younger brother by four years, I’m the eldest. The responsible one. The one in charge when Mom went out or when we were allowed as kids to stay home alone. It was always an adventure. Everything is an adventure when you are young. Everything is new and shiny, bright and sunny, the possibilities are endless.  

I’m old now. My sun set long ago. My adventure turned into a nightmare; the day Jeremy was taken. 

It was a Saturday afternoon, ten or eleven in the morning. 

I owned a Swatch back then, but kids don’t keep time like adults. 

It is measured in scars earned doing something exceedingly stupid, days left before the end of summer vacation, minutes of play crammed in before the call of the mothers as the streetlights came to life. 

We used time as a bargaining chip. 

Mom, it is the weekend! 

It is only eight. 

Can we please stay up to watch the movie? 

Sad face cued, watery eyes.  

Time is a weapon.  

For me, it is a curse.

It was mid-July, school was out, we had just watched Saturday morning cartoons. 

Scooby Doo, Yogi Bear, Super Friends, The Jetsons. 

Hours of boob tube watching had us hungry. Breakfast had been Eggos and a glass of whole milk, but that was hours ago. Julia, Jeremy, and I, the triple J’s, as we called ourselves, had broken through Mom’s defenses. Like superheroes defeating the villain at the end of the show, we had been victorious. She said yes! You are the oldest, she said. Keep them safe. Go right to the store and right back home. Understood?

Yes, Mom. We were on cloud nine.

Mom never let me take them before. They were too young. I was too immature. It wasn’t safe. Any of a million reasons she always gave to thwart our adventurous spirit.  

Here is five dollarsShare it equally with your siblings. If I find out you hogged it all, there will be hell to pay.  

Snapshots in time.

I never got to spend that money. It still sits in my wallet as a constant reminder of my failure. The deep-set eyes of our sixteenth president burrows into my soul.  

You failed. 

You let the villain win.  

Our trio tumbled out the front door, eager to live our lives. 

Julia had a bright pink Huffy with tassels, pink and white, streaming off of the handlebars. She had just lost the training wheels three months ago. 

I rode a BMX Frankenstein, a combination of three bikes melded together mad scientist style. 

Jeremy had the newest bike, a tan Huffy with a banana seat. It was his birthday present, a month before this day.  

It was hot. My money was going towards an ice-cold Coca-Cola and as much penny candy as I could carry. Julia had said something about Ring Dings or some such chocolate delight. Jeremy wanted baseball cards. It was his current obsession. For six months now, it was all baseball, all the time. He slept with his baseball bat. His Red Sox cap never left his head except when Mom forced him to bathe. Even then, it went right back on after the bath. He was determined to get a Yaz card. Carl Yastrzemski, the star left fielder of our beloved Red Sox. Topps were the best cards. Jeremy would rip off the cellophane wrapper, discard the awful chewing gum, and rifle through his latest treasures. Only to be disappointed once again.  

It was a black van. It happened so fast. Jeremy in the front, Julia, safe in the middle, me bringing up the rear. Jeremy was a smart kid. Always safe, always checking his surroundings for danger. Except, we were looking for dogs off leash, cars being inattentive, not real evil. The evil no one tells you about, the evil stalking in the souls of broken people, the dark side of humanity. 

Snapshots in time.

At twelve years old, I understood the nature of guilt. I’ve felt its weight crushing me for fifty years now. Two weeks after my failure, a frayed flowered sheet covering the shape of a body, no bigger than a child was found. A left hand uncovered by cloth; a Red Sox cap caught in a death grip.  

Snapshots in time.  

It was about twenty miles north of Brattleboro Vermont off I-91, where they found Jeremy. The article about his untimely death sits in an album I’ve created. It is carefully cut out of the newspaper with perfect edges. It sits next to a mint condition Carl Yastrzemski rookie card, a school picture of my brother Jeremy, and my suicide note. 

 I’m sorry Jeremy, the villain won.

December 11, 2023 01:11

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AnneMarie Miles
16:08 Dec 17, 2023

True to its tag, this is so sad. And a parent's worse nightmare. I like the way the narrator reveals bits and pieces, these snapshots in time (which could have worked well as an alternative title). When a significant event like this happens, it is those small details that stick with us. Everything else fades but those little specific glimpses, which make them extraordinarily powerful. That final paragraph hits hard when we learn about the album and the suicide note. Grief and guilt together are a fatal combination. Thanks for sharing, Bruce!


Bruce Callahan
16:16 Dec 17, 2023

I tend to gravitate towards stories that bring up strong emotions as a writer and a reader. Thanks for your kind words AnneMarie


AnneMarie Miles
16:23 Dec 17, 2023

Me too! Both our stories this week are both sad dramas. Think this might be my second or third drama in a row, ha. The ability to touch a reader in their most sensitive emotional spots is what I love about writing and reading stories, so thanks again for sharing :)


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Timothy Rennels
05:57 Dec 17, 2023

Your story started with the rhythm of a jazz drummer and made me lean in and listen closer. I was transported to a similar time by "kids don’t keep time like adults. It is measured in scars earned doing something exceedingly stupid, days left before the end of summer vacation, minutes of play crammed in before the call of the mothers as the streetlights came to life." Then it ended with a booming bass note that still resonates in my head.


Bruce Callahan
12:59 Dec 17, 2023

Timothy thank you for your comment. I try to make the reader feel something or connect with the story. I appreciate your words.


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Hannah Lynn
02:50 Dec 18, 2023

Oh no! I was gearing up for Jeremy’s death as we knew that was coming but I was unprepared for the suicide. That caught me off guard. Well done!


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