I didn’t know she was sick, he says.
Waves crawl into shore, eating dry sand. We are sprawled across two beach chairs, a tatty yellow umbrella over us. The sun shines through rips across the fabric, the bright beams flood my thighs. It doesn’t matter, the sun has taken host of my skin plenty of hours this summer already. The damage is done. Is she okay, I ask.
She’s alive, he says. Have you ever received a subpoena?
I shake my head.
Anyway, I packed up my things and fled, he says.
Not fled fled, I say.
No, he says. His gaze is focused on the horizon, though he is unfocused—naturally, his mind is elsewhere. The cap he wears throws dark shapes across his face, making him appear even grimmer. He looks unhappy, angry.
How old was she, I ask.
I guess she was eight, he says. She looked older.
Mom is going to kill me, he then says.
Until today, my brother worked at a luxury mall in Tampa. From a kiosk, he sold small devices used to treat pain by sending electrical impulses to the affected area. He says it is like a TENS unit, or a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation unit, but isn’t a TENS. The kind he was hawking wasn’t FDA approved, but had been cheaply manufactured in China and bought in bulk by his employer, a small Israeli man who married a cousin of ours for a green card. In exchange, our cousin received twenty-thousand dollars from him over the course of two years. A small photo album containing evidence of their relationship sits in her living room, photos of the two at Chilli’s or Benihana’s or TGI Friday’s span the pages. As a witness to their city hall wedding, I am featured in at least one of the photos.
The gig was commission-only and my brother isn’t a good salesman. He was having a slow day, he says, and stopped a younger woman who was walking past the kiosk.
To practice my demo of the device, he says.
She was shy, he says, but assented. He placed the two adhesive ends to the device onto her shoulder, and turned it onto the lowest setting.
I didn’t know she had a pacemaker, he says.
Her mother came rushing forward after hearing my brother’s scream, cutting through an ever-increasing crowd. The young girl was on the floor. She was conscious, but an ambulance was called anyway.
As he tells the story, I realize I am rubbing granules of sand against my chest, my fingers pushing over where my heart thumps. Was this what the device felt like? Rough, the motion of dozens of pins and pricks, my skin now a dig site as it surrenders to the sand, to the electrical impulse.
He looks at me now, the first time since he began sharing, and studies the circular motion of my fingers, then turns away. I think I see him shake his head, then his body, as if overcome by a wave of disgust, nausea. I feel goosebumps grow across my arms, and see the same happening to my brother. The fabric above us whistles as the cool wind throttles forward.
You are not going to jail, I tell him.
I am being sued, he says. I think.
She can’t sue you, I say. You have no assets.
My net worth is negative fifty-thousand dollars, he says. Three regrettable years in the Berkshires.
We know lawyers, I say.
Not even four years, he continues. And green card lawyers we met in the mall don’t count.
He exhales, and I exhale, and the birds above us screech, and the waves crawl into shore, and the lifeguard ahead of us snores, and the wind shakes the umbrella once more.
Do you have one on you, I ask.
The device? In my car, sure, he says.
Can I try it, I ask.
He looks at me, and I say, Don’t worry. I don’t have a pacemaker. My brother laughs, then I laugh, and for a moment we both feel certain he will be okay.