“Can you just leave that alone for a minute?”
Eli’s knocking the wooden wing of a broken Spitfire his grandpa gave him against the car door, trying to jam it back into the plane’s body.
“It’s snapped right off; it’s not gonna just stick back on like that. Can you put it down? Please? You’re driving me crazy.”
Eli drops the broken plane bits into his lap. He looks out the window for a minute, rests his head against the glass, exhales loudly, then starts blowing raspberries on the dashboard.
“For Christ’s sake, Eli!”
Eli’s brother pulls the car roughly to the curb and yanks the handbrake. It makes a violent, stuttered groaning sound that Eli hates.
That’s another sound Eli hates. He wishes he was back at his grandpa’s house. Only good sounds live there. Like Spitfire engines, and belly-blown raspberries, and his grandpa’s gritty laughter, as rough and rocky as the untarred road that leads to his house.
The curb where Eli’s brother has now parked the car is smooth. Smooth and sticky. Fresh tar.
Eli’s brother rests his head on the backs of his hands, which are still locked around the wheel. He lets out an exhausted sigh and lets it hang in the small, air-conditioned space between his thoughts and Eli’s. He doesn’t move.
Eli can see his back rising and falling a little and tries to imagine his own lungs underneath it all. He imagines lungs punctured by Spitfire artillery. He imagines his grandpa’s lungs, heavy with tar and tumours.
Staring, Eli waits for his brother to move. He doesn’t. Eli opens the car door and steps out onto the sticky, tar-slicked gravel. He leans down and presses his hand against the wet ground, but it doesn’t depress and leave an imprint like his brother showed him with wet cement. Eli crouches down and examines the granules of tar-choked gravel at his fingertips. He scrapes at it with his fingernails and pulls up globs that ooze underneath. The tar is thick like molasses and Eli’s hands are covered in it when he clambers back into the car.
Eli crawls as near to his brother as he can get, trying not to get tar on the dashboard. Eli wraps his arms around his brother’s torso and presses his hands into his chest, leaning his small body against his brother’s back.
For a moment Eli’s brother doesn’t move, and neither does Eli. Slowly, Eli’s brother lifts his head off the steering wheel and takes Eli’s hands in his own. Then he feels the stickiness.
Eli’s brother looks from the open car door and the mangled strip of gravel to the broken Spitfire pieces on the passenger seat, and lifts Eli’s hands off his chest. The small black handprints on his shirt rise and fall with every breath.
Eli blows a gentle raspberry against his brother’s neck.
“We’ll buy some superglue on the way home,” Eli’s brother says, and then he starts to cry.