Naked by a Five-Dollar Bill by Kanak Kapur

“Everything from here on out is a rat race—” I write on my grad school application, in the words of my late brother. He isn’t really dead, but his career may be. It’s so far gone that he talks of settling down and having children. Just a year ago, he told me that he could only consider the prospect of marriage when dead.

The invitations went out last Saturday. I reckon it’s also time to buy the casket.

He also told me that my first love would be money. Money, then attention. “Too late,” I said. “I’m already in love with my feigned ignorance.”

“Stop trying to be cryptic,” he replied.

When I wrote my first poem, he was the first person I showed it to.

“Your metaphors will kill you,” he responded. “It’s all about the numbers. You talk about living in New York City and cry like that’s what it means to live — but you don’t have the slightest clue. People like me run the world. We’re bankers. Lawyers. Stock brokers. You can’t live in the city unless you’re one of us. Stop wasting your time on memories.”

He flinches when he adds the tip. His wife wears a five-carat wedding ring.

When a handsome boy broke my heart at twenty-two, I told my brother between deep breaths and a can of beer.

“Did you cry enough tonight? Do you feel like you’re a passionate person now that you spent the whole day screaming?” he asks. I know there’s also an answer prepared: “All I see is a girl who wasted eight hours of the day and can’t go to work tomorrow because she has a cold now.”

He stood ten feet from me with his wedding ring on.

What he should’ve asked was, “Did you love like you were on death row? How hard did your nails cling to his skin when he was at the door frame? Were you reminded of how you looked at seventeen when you realized you were finally alone again? How thoroughly did you bleed when the world took it out of you?”

“I bled myself mad.”
“Put that on your grad school application,” he would never say.

No one ever told him that struggling was an option. No one taught him that when the money’s all gone, all he’ll have is his passion. Good thing the money won’t be leaving, then. Don’t they say your first love stays with you forever?

“So that’s it, is it? You can’t work for what’s hard to achieve because struggling isn’t an option for you? God forbid you have to feel something other than comfortable, right?”

He smiles. His bank balance is seven figures.

“You think my job isn’t hard?” he asks. “Not everything that gives you stability is easy to achieve. You think just because we studied math, we’re dead inside? Stop trying to be such a fucking artist and tell me how you’re going to pay rent next month.”

He has a point. But I don’t flinch when I tip.

Kanak Kapur
kanak1Kanak Kapur is a student currently living in Los Angeles. Her work has previously appeared in Cuckoo Quarterly.