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We made it all the way to town with the dogs. And to be honest, I was absolutely done with him. I just couldn't take it anymore. The whole walk back, he went totally mute. My brother, Paul the Silent. My best friend, dear Hushèd Paul. Cat-Got-the-Tongue-of-Paul. Paul the Unmovable Rock of Quietude.


We had gotten a few rabbits, and were joking all morning. A crystal blue day when we left. The dogs were fast and playful, and vicious when we needed them to be. We talked about the kids. His little boy, the odd one, seems finally to be coming on out of the shell. And the daughter -- Melvina -- gave some kid a black eye when he tried to grab her skirt at a barn dance. Paul was proud of Melvina, to be sure. He told me that the boy's father came around the house -- looking for the one who gave his son the black eye. And at this, Paul started laughing so hard he doubled over and fell to coughing. And spat in the snow. And then he stood again and told me about the shadow that passed over the man's face he learned it was Melvina.

And Paul added that the man better fuck straight off unless he wanted to get in on the action too. We both fell laughing pretty damn hard at that. I offered him a pull from the leather flask, but he shook his head no and blew into his hands, looking out onto the icy pond where we were sitting.

Then he went quiet.

Now, hours upon hours later, I couldn't get a word out of the guy with a crowbar. Even after twenty-five years of knowing him, living in the same house for much of it, beating each other half to death in the wheat fields in the summer.

it still gets to me.

Because I know it's only when he's decided to pull a curtain of judgment around himself. He clams up until finally, after hours (sometimes days), I relent and shout some variation, "I give up, unmerciful Brother Paul. What is it that I have done to deserve this vow of silence? Where have I erred this time, keeper of the family flame?"

And then the words begin to drip out until they become a torrent. He sighs deeply first, looking up at the trees, gathering all the air he needs into his lungs and then issuing it back to me in hot speech. The worst part: he's always right. I've always done something ridiculous, or insensitive, or just inconsiderate. Either the drinking is bad again, or I've been slacking off at the office in a way that gets the whole village talking about my afternoon naps, or I've been spending a little too much time with Wanda.

But one can only take so much sanctimony. I didn't want any of it this time. So I grabbed him by the arm, right as we were coming down the hill. Right when the smell of woodsmoke started creeping up.

I said, "Okay. Fine. I get it. I saw Wanda three times last week and skipped work on Tuesday. I know it reflects poorly on you and the family. I know."

Silent bastard didn't say anything. He just kept looking at the sky. This man whom I loved and adored could be such a freaking pain.

"Look, man, we got these rabbits. We had a great morning. I don't know what I did. Honest to God. But I'd love to just get back to where it's warm, skin these things, and have your missus cook us some stew."

He looked at me and I knew to stop.

"I'm sick," he said. Paul the silently suffering. The coughing. The spitting in the snow. "Shit man. I'm sick and I don't think they'll fix it this time."