Raging Alone 12: Guilt

It was past midnight but Desòchu couldn’t enjoy the celebration anymore. For the last hour, all he had been thinking about his father and brother. It felt like a knife hanging over his head, the rope holding it slowly fraying with every passing second. His breath puffed out in the desert night as he crossed the common area on his way home.

“Sòchu!” called Kiríshi as she ran up. She wore a yellow dress that fluttered behind her. The fabric was from the north and lighter than most things they wore during the day. He could see how it molding against her breasts and shoulders as she hurried after him.

He waited.

“Heading home already?” She had the faint flush of too much to drink.

“I have duties.”

“Someone is watching your brother. You can take one night off.”

Desòchu glanced up toward his family cave. “Yes, but I don’t… I…” He realized he didn’t have the words. Letting his voice trail off, he looked away.

“He’s fine, I’m sure.”

He looked at her. He wanted to come back with her, to spend time with the overly friendly couple from the other clan. It would be a promising night of being naughty and drunken entertainment. There was even a chance he would enjoy a bit of company. However, he felt exhausted. The thought of coming home drunk or sleeping the night away in the arms one of the girls from Nikogāmi would be appealing; it wouldn’t be the first time.

Kiríshi stroked his hair, looking at him with a slight front. “Are you going to be okay?”

“I’m just… tired.”

“It isn’t too bad, is it?” She said with a smile. “We’ve all watched him together. Not every hour of every day does the Great Shimusogo Desòchu have to watch over his brother.”

He snorted. “Yeah, and how many of us actually finished a round of cards with Jìmo wandering around? Ever since he started walking, we have to keep him from the cliffs, the rocks, the drinks, the glass, the… then… everything. He’s everywhere. Breaking everything.”

Kiríshi stroked his shoulder. “It’s going to be okay. We are all helping.”

As much as he knew the others took their turns with Rutejìmo, it was only an hour or so before Desòchu would be called back to take over. His brother was his obligation, either from the demands by the clan elders or his own realization that he would never escape taking care of him. His friends may offer to help but he could see in their eyes the struggles to handle the responsibility.

He sighed. “I know, Ríshi. It’s just, my duty right now.”

“Tomorrow, I’ll take him for the morning.”

He chuckled. “You’ll be sleeping off the drink tomorrow morning.”

She rolled her eyes, shook her head, and grinned. “Probably with Zéso doling out punishments. At least you don’t get many of those.”

Because he didn’t have the free time to get in trouble like the others. Desòchu kept his thoughts from his lips. “One small favor, right?”

Her hand slipped from his shoulder. “Well, maybe that new clan moving to the valley will help? It’s more adults, maybe they can watch Rutejìmo too?”

“The Tateshyúso? We don’t know anything about them.”

“If the elders trust them to let them move in, then they are probably good enough to watch your brother for a day. Right?”

“Y-Yeah, I guess. I wonder how big the clan is? I haven’t seen more than three of them.”

Kiríshi shrugged. “It doesn’t matter tonight. Come on back. Just another hour.”

“I… shouldn’t.”

With a frown, she hugged him. A small part of him hoped it was something more than a friendly embrace but he and Kiríshi had never really connected like she did with the others.

He squeezed her back. “Thank you, Ríshi.”

“Tomorrow, I promise.”

Desòchu smiled knowing that she wouldn’t wake up in time. When she bade him a good night, he watched her run back toward the celebration before returning to his own route home.

To his surprise, there was light leaking underneath the blanket. He heard Rutejìmo giggling and a rattle being shook.

Ice ran through his veins. There was no way his father was playing with his brother.

Trembling, he pushed aside the blanket.

His grandmother was kneeling on the floor, a couch cushion underneath her knees as she changed his brother. Her shoulders were slumped as she moved with practiced grace.

His brother was on his back, shaking a rattle and giggling. His eyes caught on Desòchu and then a brilliant smile crossed his face. “Sochu play!”

Desòchu froze.

Tejíko wiped her face with the back of her hand before she turned back.

When he saw her red-rimmed and glistening eyes, Desòchu froze. The shadows of her face giving her the impression that she had aged a decade in the last few hours. She sniffed and gestured for him to come in.

“Grandmama? What are you doing here?”

“L-Little Jìmo was… he was crying.” Her voice cracked and the sense that something was wrong rose up. The sound of it twisted Desòchu’s stomach and squeezed his heart. It had been years since his grandmother had cried. The last time was when Desòchu’s mother…

His fingers clenched as he inched into the living area. His eyes automatically went to his father’s place but it was empty. Not even a bottle marked Hikòru’s customary spot. He stopped and stared, his eyes scanning for a discarded bottle, a blanket, or even a cap.

There was nothing.

“Where is Papa?”

His grandmother made a strange, choking noise in the back of her throat. She turned and fumbled with Rutejìmo’s diaper. The cloth slipped from her finger before she caught it again and pulled it over his brother’s groin.

“Grandmama?” When she didn’t respond, he spoke more forcefully, “Where is Papa?”

“J-Just don’t ask that, please?”

“Grandmama? What is going…?” His voice trailed off. He felt something claw at his throat. Spinning on his heels, he rushed to his father’s room.

It was dark.

He fumbled for the glow light he knew was on the table. His fingers scraped along the empty surface. He frowned and stepped forward. His toe caught one of the lights. Reaching down, he grabbed it and twisted the handle. A faint clicking noise rose up as the light flickered to life.

His father’s room was almost empty. The bed was still there but it had an entirely different blanket. The dresser stood there with open drawers but he didn’t see even a hint of clothes or bottles.

A low gasp rose in his throat as he hurried around the other side.

There was nothing besides an empty room.

“Grandmama?” Desòchu rushed out of the room and back into the main one. “What is going on!?” he yelled.

She looked up, tears in her eyes.

“No, no.” He stopped and shook his head as his own throat began to seize. “N-No, he can’t be dead.”

“Stop.”

“Where is my papa!?” He yelled.

She planted a hand on the couch. Her face twisted into a scowl but it wouldn’t hide the tears in her eyes. “Boy!”

“No, not this time! I won’t let you do this again! What happened to my Papa!?”

Tejíko shoved herself up. “Stop asking!”

He stepped forward, inhaling as he did. “No!”

Tears ran down his grandmother’s face.

“Listen, you wrinkled sack of a dog’s balls! You told me to stop asking for my mother. Now you ask me for my father!” He smacked his chest. “My family. My parents! Do you honestly expect me just to roll over and pretend they didn’t—”

Tejíko slapped him.

Desòchu stared at her for only a minute before he slapped her back. The force of his blow cracked in the room.

His grandmother stepped to the side. Her hand flew up to her cheek as she stood there, half bent over with tears in her eyes.

He knew he shouldn’t have struck her back, but he couldn’t stop himself. Grinding his teeth together, he turned on her. “I’m not going to forget my mama and my papa just because you tell me. I don’t care if Mifúno herself—”

She stood straight, her hand snapping up to strike. “Do not say that name!”

“Why not!?”

“Because I don’t want to lose you too!”

“I’m not going anyways, you wrinkled cow!”

Tejíko pressed her lips into a thin line. Her hand shook for a moment before she lowered it. He could hear drawing in a deep breath with a shudder. Slowly, balled her hand into a fist before she spoke in a forced growl. “Take care of your brother.”

He watched as she left. He wanted to chase after her and punch her but he kept himself still. When the blanket came down, he counted to five before relaxing slightly.

His father was gone. Dead for all he knew. He hated the man and everything that had happened, but it was his family.

“I can’t handle this.”

He scoop up his brother, made sure the diaper was firmly secure, and then deposited him into his crib. “Good night.”

Rutejìmo reached up with both arms. “Sochu hug?”

“Go to sleep,” Desòchu said before heading to his own room.

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