"Olives" by Nathan Leslie

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My brother Duke eats olives all morning.  He sits on the front porch and sucks olive meat from the pits, spits them into an old red and black Nike shoebox.  The swoosh is stained and blistered, and the red is now almost a faded salmon color.  I suppose he brought the shoebox from home.  Now it is filled with olive pits.  Home for Duke is an efficiency apartment overlooking the highway.  He says he likes watching the traffic at night.  He says the rumble of engines helps him sleep.

I unfold a lawn chair and sit out in the yard with my back to Duke.  If I face him I know he will clam up, so this is the only way.  It is a warm day in early April, and the hyacinths and crocuses and pear trees are in bloom.  Little red nubs are on the trees, and the birds twitter in the branches and poke into the grass seed near the fire hydrant.  A steady flow of tourists walk south on Main Street to the antique shops and restaurants.  Duke mutters to himself about this.  It’s Sunday.

“So, you still going to help me with that shed?”  I ask him.  I don’t turn around.  I do slump my shoulders, as if I don’t really care one way or another at his answer, as if to say, “I’m just asking for my own knowledge is all.”

Duke spits into the shoebox and mumbles something about “damn parasites.”  This could mean anything really.  I ask him again.

“Yeah,” he says, loudly, as if he’s trying to shout above the din.  “Fine.  I’ll help you.”

This is a start, I think.  I invited him over with the expressed purpose of getting him out of his head.  Duke makes me feel helpless, but I’m his only brother.  The way I see it, we have to look out for each other.

“You know what I saw in The Pennysaver?” Duke says suddenly.


“What’s that?”

“Somebody’s selling a Winchester .458 Magnum.  Can you believe that shit?”

I have no idea what the right answer to this is, but I tell him it’s ludicrous.   


“I know,” he says.  “What kind of an idiot would sell a Winchester .458?  It’s a perfect fucking gun.”

“Well, maybe it’s somebody that needs the money,” I say.

Then I feel an olive pit thunk the back of my jacket.

“Look at me,” Duke yells.  I turn around, afraid of what I’ll see.

Duke is wearing his ratty fatigues, and his black mud stomping boots.  His face is thick and stubbled leathery and yellowed and his cap is pulled down over his eyes.  Duke  clenches and unclenches his jaw.  His mouth looks sour.  He stands up and throws another pit at me.

“Nobody can need money that bad, ya hear?”

“Okay,” I say.  “Okay.”

“I’d rather rob a damn bank with the thing than part with it.  That’s shit, man.”

“Okay,” I say again.  “I heard you the first time, Duke.”

I can feel the people on the sidewalk staring, leaning and whispering to themselves as they flow down Main Street.  I don’t want to be intimidated by him.  Duke’s my only brother.

“You should buy it then,” I say.  “Who’s stopping you?”

Duke sits back down on the wicker chair at that.  I gave the right answer.  He sighs and picks another olive out of the slimy jar, and tosses it into his mouth like popcorn.

“That’s what I’m gonna do then,” he says.

In the truck, Duke tells me about this woman that follows him around his neighborhood.  He says she’s evil, witchy.  He hates waiting in the truck, like a dog hates going to the vet.  I wonder if the sensation reminds him of something. 

“She’s deeply in love with me,” he says.  “You know?  She told me she wants to bear my children.  She’s psycho.  Real stalker type.”

As far as I know Duke hasn’t been with a woman in five years.  I certainly haven’t met girlfriends.  When Duke lived down in Kentucky his Army buddy Grover used to get Duke hookers on special occasions, but Grover drove his car off a bridge in 1998.  Fourth of July.  Nobody knows just what happened, but I always knew the guy was cooked.  That’s when Duke moved back up here.

I’m taking Duke to my property on Placid Drive, ten minutes outside of town.  I bought two houses in March, but they need work before I can rent them out.  I thought, what better way to keep Duke sane than give him a project or two?  Give us both some peace of mind.  The house down on Placid needs new tiling, carpeting, and it could use a paint job on the inside.  It needs extensive landscaping in the back.

Duke makes his living off odd jobs, and with my rental properties I could keep him busy for some time.  I’d like to help.



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Per Contra Fiction - Winter 2006