The White Button

(Published in Other Voices)

My brother was a teenager in the fifties. Boys had buttons on their flies then. My brother was hard on his clothes. His buttons were always coming off. Our mother had to sew them back on for him. She must have been hard up for a button that matched, or in a hurry, or simply didn’t think it would matter. He was standing by the dining room table when I saw it. My brother always stood with his hands folded over his fly, but someone must have handed him a plate or something. I thought for a horrible moment that his thing was showing. He was the only male in our house. Our dad had left long ago and then, as if that wasn’t enough, he’d killed himself. Me and my sisters and our mother, we were a female club. My brother stood shame-faced, head bent, a slight smirk on his face, looking under his eyelashes and that one droopy eyelid. They’d had to pull him out with forceps and they’d damaged that eye. His mottled hands with those long fingers and white-flecked, calcium-deficient nails were cradled over his white-buttoned fly. I imagined his flesh to be damp and cold. We never touched him. It seems to me now that our mother made a girl of him with that single white button. A set would have been better. It would have lined up the eye, given some dimension to his predicament. Fourteen years old in the 1950’s, a fatherless boy in a houseful of females. Perhaps our mother wanted him to be one of us so she gave him a white button. I give her the benefit of my doubt now that he’s dead.