Last Cut / No, No One Wins by DM O’Connor
In his author’s note, DM O’Connor says that he and his brother “shared a great love for each other but few words.” These nonfiction micros addressed to his brother take the form of few words, trimmed back like his brother’s haircut in “Last Cut.” Memory returns in what O’Connor calls “caught moments.” The occasion of his brother’s last haircut before he died opens with “firsts”—“You let me drive. You let me choose the radio station.”—and closes with a series of “lasts”: a last haircut, vividly recalled, followed by a last drive, an unpunctuated blur of familiar scenery, and “the last time you went to bed.” In the “caught moment” resurrected in the second micro, O’Connor remembers a basketball game with his brother when they were teenagers. “Sports and fighting were our only method of communication,” he writes in his author’s note; the competition between the two brothers that day was so intense that “we only spoke when absolutely necessary for ten years after.” Again, the spare language they exchanged is reflected in the economy of the micro itself.
Grief is as individual as those who experience it and the losses they grieve. In these beautifully concise micros, O’Connor memorializes his brother by addressing him directly. “Speak to your dead. Write for your dead,” Alexander Chee writes in How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. “[A]sk them in, listen, and then write.” —CRAFT
All firsts. You let me drive. You let me choose the radio station. You rested your huge head against the headrest, closed your eyes. Never a willing passenger. Seventy-five quiet kilometres to the London Regional Palliative Care Clinic. I walked the Thames riverbank for an hour. Back in the car, you said, I need a haircut. I want it all off. These patches are butt ugly.
Outside Masonville Place in London, Ontario, the most conservative city in Canada, you said you wanted to vomit but couldn’t get out of the car. In the Gentleman’s Barber, I told your story, and Orhan, the barber, followed me through the mall to the car, we rested your head out the car window against the door frame. If we had a bucket, we could give him wash, Orhan said or joked. Thin tufts fell to the asphalt. Orhan towelled your scalp, returned your head to the rest, refused payment. You mumbled thanks. Orhan mumbled in Arabic. A prayer I imagine. Shook my hand, squeezed my shoulder. Blond brown sandy grey tumbleweeds blew down the highway home.
This drive home was more silent. You tilted your head to stare out the window. Chin-high cornrows rutabaga wheat cattle an old friend’s farm our primary school Our Lady of Mount Carmel the church the hill where your body decomposes now. In the driveway, you put your arm over my shoulder. We hobbled inside; a soldier battle done. For the last time you went to bed. Left your body there.
No, No One Wins
I beat my brother once. We only spoke when absolutely necessary for ten years after. It wasn’t hockey or soccer—the sports that counted for money in our family—but basketball, the deadbeat uncle. My fifteenth summer, I trained furtively as much as possible. Daily: Thirty layups left side, thirty right side, thirty three-point jumpers, thirty round-the-back-under-the-hoop-hooks. Drilled all types of dribbling, bought good sneakers, made the rules clear—best of eleven wins—you insisted on the best of three after my first win.
On the tenth point in the second game leaping into a layup you slammed me into the maple tree that held the hoop, I wheeled the tough ball full force into your face you grabbed my neck I roundhoused your jaw we froze dropped invisible gloves: Are we really going to do this? Yes, we are.
You got my head down on the brick driveway full one-hundred-and-eighty teenage pounds of muscle hand over hand like giving CPR but on the side of my head above my ear a pebble excavating brain—pestle and mortar—bone pesto. I squirmed a circle break-dancer no helmet. Dad’s car filled the lane my vision gone his two fingers on my neck pulse. Begging. I heard you too, brother: you got a soft head.
DM O’CONNOR has an MFA from University College Dublin and the University of New Mexico. He is a contributing reviewer for Rhino Poetry and fiction editor at Bending Genres. His work has appeared in Splonk, A New Ulster, Fractured Lit, Cormorant, Crannog, Opossum, The New Quarterly, The Irish Times, The Guardian, and others. He is the recipient of the 2021 Cúirt New Writing Prize, Tom-Gallon Trust Award, and is the current writer-in-residence at the Kerouac House.
Featured image by Paul Krishnamurthy courtesy of Unsplash