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Picture by Jeff Suwak

The brothers cracked their beers, toasted over their father’s tombstone, and drank.

“Well, dad, we’re here because your youngest son is about to make a terrible mistake,” the older brother said as he wiped suds from his mouth. You could tell he was older because of the silver in his otherwise black hair and the crow’s feet around his eyes. His name was Zeke.

“The poor, dumb, gullible bastard is getting married,” Zeke said, clapping his brother on the back. “And since marriage is essentially a funeral, we figured this was the place to go.”

The brothers laughed, toasted, drank again.

Younger-brother Shane’s features were more rounded than the angular Zeke’s, and his hair darker and eyes bright blue compared to the elder’s hazel, but their body types were identical.

Thick chests, broad shoulders, knotted forearms, they’d grown up working farms and quarries and whatever else challenged the body. They liked hard work. It was a game to them to see how hard they could push themselves. Work was their sport of choice.

The cemetery they were in stood on a hill overlooking the wide, slow, turbid Susquehanna River. Sun shined down on Autumn-colored trees along the riversides.

To the west, a little country road snaked by. The brothers turned simultaneously to it as the roar of a mufferless car approached.

A beaten-up, maroon Chevy Malibu clattered by. Its mufferless roaring faded slowly away after the vehicle passed out of sight.

They finished their beers and cracked two more. They didn’t really know what they wanted to say. The moment Shane said he was getting married they’d agreed they’d drink a six-pack by their dad’s grave as a send-off.

The man had died when they were just kids, though, and was rarely around when he was alive. He’d been a driller, and not a man prone to opening up. They’d not known him very closely even while he was there.

So, instead the brothers talked about old fist fights and adventures battling blizzards and embarrassing sexual mishaps. They laughed and drank and laughed some more.

The six-pack ended and they grabbed the rest of the twelve from the trunk of the car. Hours passed but it didn’t seem like hours. Zeke had been gone from home a long time and they rarely saw each other.

As the sun began to set they decided it was time to go. They had a cabin to get to and a weekend of fishing to begin.

Three beers left. They each cracked one and held up for a toast, paused. They’d been there for nearly four hours and had barely said anything to their dad.

“You know,” Shane said, “dad never cared for emotional shit. I never once heard that guy say he loved me.”

Zeke pretended to wail and cry. “I feel so neglected.”

They laughed.

“Seriously, though,” Shane went on, “did I ever tell you what Steve Machenski told me? He said that back when they were younger he’d always find dad just wandering around in the woods and fields. He’d say ‘hi’ and all that and then just go back to wandering around. He liked to be alone, like we do, and he couldn’t stand fakeness. He’d rather just be out in the woods away from people’s bullshit.”

“Wow. That’s a really cool story. I didn’t know that about him.”

“Me, neither. Not til Steve told me, I mean. So anyway, I’m pretty sure whatever cheesy ass emotional shit we’re getting ready to say would just piss dad off.”

“Hell, it pisses me off.”

“We’re so emotionally damaged,” Zeke wailed.

They fell into guffawing hysterics.

“So, anyway,” Shane said once he composed himself enough to speak. “How about just this.”

They both held up their beers.

“Dad, I’m getting married, and you’re fucking dead. The end.”

“We could always dig him up and take him with us,” Zeke said. “Throw a tux on the bones and call it good.”

Shane yelled down to the tombstone. “What do you think about that idea, dad? Would you like us to dig up your fucking corpse and put a suit on it for the wedding?”

They laughed so hard that Zeke puked up some beer foam.

The brothers toasted and pounded the rest of their beers. With that, they left the final beer on top of the tombstone and walked back to the car. They drove off into dusk to get to their cabin.

Darkness thickened over the cemetery after the brothers’ taillights disappeared down the country road. The river sounded faintly in the distance.

A crescent moon rose into the sky. An owl hooted and deer emerged from the trees to nibble at the well-tended cemetery grass.

Then, just as the brothers neared their destination many miles away, the sharp crack of a beer can opening split the silence.

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I’m not in the Matrix. I AM the Matrix.

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