My Autistic Brother Reluctantly Finds a Job
Cale covered his ears as the sound of hammering filled the one-car garage. He sighed loudly enough for me to hear him over the noise. I saw his lips move but heard no words. “What?”
“I said, why does he have to do that?”
“He’s building some things for the nursery,” I yelled.
The drill drowned out my voice, and I motioned for Cale to join me in the house. We sat on the couch and opened the blinds so we could see into the backyard. He winced at the high-pitched buzzing of power tools. “I thought the crib wasn’t coming until next month,” he said.
“That’s true, but he’s not making the crib right now,” I explained, “There were some other furniture pieces we bought on sale, like the dresser and end table. He’s just doing some work on them, fixing them up and making them ours.”
“Does he have to do it here?” The hammering started again, and my brother covered his ears with his hands.
I reached up and tried to pull his hands back down. “It’s not that loud inside the house, bud. You’re okay not to cover your ears.” He ripped his hands away from mine and kept them glued to his head. I shrugged. “Where else is he going to work? I told him he couldn’t bring all those tools in the house. Especially since I’m painting the nursery today.” I pushed myself off the couch with a hand and looked down at my clothes. Stained t-shirt and ripped, baggy jeans. I reached out a hand to help my brother off the sofa. He shook his head, gaze fixed on the door to the garage. With a slight groan, I leaned over until my mouth nearly touched his hands. He flinched away, and I straightened, yelling into his covered ears, “I have to drop you off at work soon. Did you finish all that training they sent you last week?”
He nodded. “Yep.”
“Good, good.” I wiped my hands on my pants and started toward the garage. “Can you help me carry the paint cans?” He shook his head again. “I’ll bring them in here then. You can carry them from the living room to the nursery.” He nodded.
I strode into the garage, trying to make my steps loud as possible. When I put my arms around my husband, he jumped, making me glad he wasn’t using a saw. The front of my body stuck to his with sweat, and I tried not to breathe in the smell of body odor and wood stain. “How’s it going, honey?”
He smiled. A trail of sweat dripped down his face, and he wiped it with the back of his hand. “Good! I think I’ve got everything sanded down now. I just have to change out the handles and do some staining.”
“Speaking of painting,” I ventured, even though I know he said staining, “we’re supposed to put the paint up in the nursery today. Cale’s going to work soon, so I’m going to need your help.”
He frowned. “I thought you wanted me to finish this.”
“You can do both, right? The end table and dresser won’t take all day. Then we can paint.”
“Honey, I’m tired. I’ve been up since early this morning just buying the supplies you wanted. Can I just have the rest of the day as a break?”
I put a hand on my belly and took a deep breath. “Well, I’m going to paint that room, even if no one else helps me. It has to get done today, so we can put the furniture back. Plus, I need the garage for my car. It’s supposed to storm this weekend.”
He spun back to his work. “Fine.”
I patted his shoulder and went back inside the house. Surely, he was not really upset. We were both tired. After a little time, I would come back, and he would be upbeat as always.
“Cale! Ready to go?”
My brother emerged from his room tugging at the front pockets of a dark green nurse’s shirt. “Why do I have to wear this ridiculous outfit?”
“They’re called scrubs, and all nurses wear them.” I ushered him into the car and climbed behind the wheel.
“I’m not a nurse.” He tripped over his new shoes into the passenger seat and huffed.
“Maybe not right now, but you are working at a doctor’s office. You took the training, remember?” He nodded once and sucked his lips into his mouth. “So you can help out at the office, doing paperwork and maybe giving people shots.”
He shook his head until I thought it might fall off. “I’m not giving people shots,” he growled.
We pulled into the doctor’s office parking lot, and I drove up to the curb. “Do your best, Cale. I’ll be here to pick you up after your shift.”
Cale nodded and exited the car, walking straight into the building.
A young man his age met him at the door. He was dressed in blue scrubs like one would find at the hospital, and his name tag said “Robert”. “Welcome. You must be the new guy. I’m Robert, the training nurse. You’re Cale, right?”
Cale nodded. “Yep.” His hands spun in lazy circles at his sides.
Robert consulted a clipboard and asked, “Did you pass everything in the online training?” The newcomer nodded again. “Great! Eventually, we will have you giving shots but for now –” He ignored Cale’s vehement head shaking and continued, “Let me give you a tour of the facility.”
They strode through the halls, and Robert pointed out the numbered exam rooms. Everything smelled of heavy hand sanitizer, the plain alcohol kind. At the back of the building, they passed a lounge with vending machines. “Even doctors and nurses need breaks, you know?” Robert chuckled as they rounded back to the front of the nurse’s station. “Well, that’s about it. You’ll just tag along with me today, and I’ll show you how to fill out the paperwork for the doctor.” He handed Cale a cold black clipboard with some printed forms. Cale stared at them. “They’re not as complicated as they look,” Robert reassured, ”Now, shall we get going?”
Without waiting for an answer, Robert opened the door to the waiting room and called for the first patient, one Samuel Johns.
Cale peered around him. This was the one room not covered in the extensive tour. He scanned the area and stumbled backwards. He turned toward Robert, who was grinning. He was still in his scrubs, but now there was a bandaged machete slung around his waist. “Ready for this?” Cale shook his head. “Nonsense, you’re equipped!” Cale’s eyes glanced down and noticed his scrubs were more weathered than he realized. The ends were fraying, and the front was stained a dull brown. He felt a weight on his back and reached behind him to find a gun resting over a backpack.
He shook his head and stumbled back again as Samuel Johns shuffled toward him. The man’s face looked like it was melting. He stank of rotten flesh, and one of his arms had fallen off. The whites of his eyes were visible in his sunken sockets. Hair drifted from his scalp in bunches; some piled on his shoulders. The skin on his arms was peeling back to reveal blood bubbling under the surface.
Cale shifted his gaze to another person, only to find they were in a similar state. Everywhere he looked, zombies filled the room. He felt a tug on his sleeve and heard a familiar voice, “It’s alright, big bro. We can do this!” His younger sister stood beside him in battle fatigues. Her face was splattered with blood, and she smelled like she had never showered in her life. Despite this, her hair swung in two immaculate pigtails on top of her head. He resisted the urge to pinch his nose shut, but she laughed and held up her fists. “We can do this!”
She plunged into the zombie-filled room, fists swinging. No guns, no knives, no grenades – she had no weapons except her own hands. When Cale opened his mouth, his praise turned into a warning shout. “Behind you!”
The girl whipped around, but her feet tangled under her. She collapsed to the floor just as a rotting corpse reached her body. Tears flooded her eyes, but she sniffed them back. “Brother, avenge me.” Her hoarse whisper rose into the air as the toothless mouth bit down on her first pigtail.
Cale stepped toward her, but Robert grabbed his arm. The more experienced battle-nurse backed up a few steps, keeping his eyes on Mr. Johns. “We have a job to do,” he stated, releasing Cale’s hand.
When it seemed the zombie would reach out and grab him, Robert made a break for it, Cale following close behind. “This room.” Their breathing was heavy as the men slid behind a door. Samuel Johns shuffled in, groaning, and Robert held up his machete. With one slash, he sliced off the man’s remaining rotten arm. He motioned for Cale to step back and swung again, severing the head. Blood oozed from the wound, and Cale squeezed his eyes closed as the head rolled to his feet.
When he opened his eyes, Samuel Johns the human being was sitting placidly on the patient table. Robert was wrapping bandages around the rash on his arms. “Could you hand me one of those gauze pads, Cale? Thanks.”
Cale opened the cabinet and shifted things until he found a fuzzy pad. Robert stuck the fluff to the side of the man’s blotchy face with some tape. “There you are, sir,” he exclaimed, “Good as new. Take that medicine the doctor gave you last time, and you should be all set. Don’t forget to schedule a follow-up with the receptionist on your way out.”
“Thank you, Nurse.” Samuel smiled slightly and shuffled back into the waiting room.
Cale’s heart was pounding. Even if the man wasn’t a zombie, that was still terrifying. He had no idea skin could turn that shade of red. It was still blistered and looked like it was bubbling.
Robert clapped his hands together and gestured to Cale’s clipboard. “Let’s see if you can get the patient information this time. I’ll be here if you run into any trouble.”
The newbie swallowed and nodded once. He did not venture into the waiting area, instead opting to station himself near the scale. There were too many people out there, crowding and waiting to see him. The thought made him quake.
When Robert returned with a young girl, Cale exhaled. She was no more than twelve; this was not bad. “What’s your height?”
“Five feet, three inches,” she responded with a slight sniffle.
He wrote her information on the chart and gestured to the scale. “Step on the scale please.” She did so, and he recorded the numbers on the digital readout. Average weight, it seemed. Nothing frightening about this girl, after all. He inhaled to breathe a sigh of relief, but the air stuck in his lungs.
The girl’s head had spun around to look at him, though her body was facing the opposite direction. He uttered a little yipe and backed away slowly. Robert touched his shoulder and tilted his head toward the room furthest in the back. Cale nodded and took off as fast as his legs could go. The girl chased them, her head lolling from side to side. He wondered if it would fall into the floor. Hair frizzed out from her face. Her legs were strong, and she almost caught the men before they made it to the exam room.
Robert ducked behind the door. When the girl stepped into the room, he grabbed her from behind and refused to let go. “Shoot her!”
Cale shook his head, mumbling, “Thou shalt not kill.” Although he wasn’t sure if that applied to zombies or just living, breathing human beings.
“Fine. Then give me the gun.” Robert wrestled with the girl some more and held out his hand. “Give it to me!”
Cale fumbled with the strap and managed to slip it over his head. He held it out to Robert who released the girl in order to get a better vantage point. Cale turned his head away and heard the girl squeal.
“There now,” Robert’s voice calmed her, “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“Not too bad.”
Cale opened his eyes. The little girl was sitting on the table, rubbing her arm. Robert had given her a few shots near the shoulder. Cale was too squeamish to watch, so he looked away as soon as the syringe was out of its case. He did remember one thing from his training, though. His hands swept the counter near the sink until he found a large jar and plucked something from inside.
Elizabet sat on her porch with a phone clutched in her hand. Her finger flicked through picture after picture of adorable rescue dogs and puppies. The puppies were being patted by backscratchers in several pictures. Others showed drones delivering food to curious mutts in their cages. She had never seen dog adoption advertised quite like this.
“Maybe I just need a little companion to keep me occupied?” She squealed over a picture of a four-month old husky. “So cute!”
A notification filled the screen and blocked her view of the puppy. ButterflySlayz237 was going live. “Oh, she’s playing more Creds today. Cale likes that game a lot.” She shook her head, disappointed in thinking about him again. It had been an endless cycle for a couple months now, and none of her extreme measures had helped.
The only thing that kept her mind off him was that date a few weeks ago. Her lips twitched into a bittersweet smile. Antoine was sweet, and she had enjoyed their lunch. “It just wasn’t fair of me. To date him while I keep thinking of Cale.” He had been very nice about the whole ordeal. They were friends on PostTime! now, at her request. This way, she could see all the lovely pictures of his son and his hat designs and know they were still doing well.
Elizabet swiped ButterflySlayz’s notification away and pressed the number for the pet shop. It rang for a few minutes. Finally, a perky voice answered, slightly out of breath. She recognized that voice. “Hi, Brandy. Do you still have the husky? You do? I’d like to come see him! Yes. Yes, thirty minutes. Okay, bye!” She picked herself up, grabbed her wallet and keys, and stepped out the door without a second thought.
“You aced the training, so you know how to do this.” Robert pushed a gun into Cale’s hands while he leaned against the shaking door. “Your sister would want you to do this.”
Cale closed his eyes and thought of the zombie gnawing on his sidekick’s pigtails. He shook his head and shoved the gun back toward him. “I just can’t.”
Robert actually meant Christa, his very real older sister, would want him to do his job to the best of his ability. She sounded very tired on the phone when asking about the online training. He had assured her everything would be fine, but now he was less certain.
The door opened, shoving Robert into the room and admitting three zombies, one male and two females. One of the females was smaller than the others and tripped slightly as she shuffled forward. She held tight to the older female’s hand. The male’s hair was sticking up like he had slept on it, and his mouth was full of bloody foam. He clung to the other side of the older female. Cale wondered how her rotting arms supported the weight of two other bodies.
“Come in, Mr. Brown.” Robert smiled at the family and gestured to two chairs against the wall. “Your wife and daughter can sit over there while we get your medicine all situated.” He held out an arm to Cale. “This is Cale. I’m training him today, and he will be giving you your shot, if you consent to that. Don’t worry, he has had all the necessary training and will do a wonderful job.” Cale continued to shake his head, and Robert tugged on his sleeve, whispering, “Let’s talk in the hallway.” He turned to the family and added, “I’ll be right back, folks.”
Once in the hallway, Cale held up his hands and started moving his fingers like they were puppets. Robert remembered Christa mentioning he did this when he was nervous. “Hey, Cale, it’s alright. It’s just a simple shot.” He held up a large syringe. “We aren’t killing anyone. Mr. Brown comes in here every month for the same medicine. He’s very nice, and the medicine is easy to give.” He thumped the syringe with a finger, and the clear liquid swirled.
Cale muttered to himself, “That doesn’t look like medicine.”
“Well, most medicines look different. Some look the same, but that’s why we have labels.” Robert held up the clear glass vial and frowned. “Wait a second.” He took a pair of glasses from his pocket and perched them on his nose. “That’s not right.” His eyes grew wide, and he blew air through his closed mouth, causing his lips to vibrate.
He marched to the nurse’s station and demanded, “Who put out this medicine for Braxton Brown?”
“I’m not sure.” The nurse on duty shuffled through a few papers. “Is something wrong with it? Mr. Brown gets the same shot every month.”
“It’s not the right medicine. This could’ve killed him!” Robert unclenched his fists. “The newbie just saved this man’s life.” He turned but did not see Cale anywhere. “Where did he go, anyway?”
Cale was more quiet than usual on the ride home. When I asked how his day as a nurse went, he just spun his wrists and said, “I’m never going back there again.” His non-slip shoes and socks were on the floor of my car, and he slid into the flip flops I left in the front seat for him.
“That bad, huh? Want to talk about it?”
And that was that. No one said anything until we arrived home. The garage door opened, revealing a dresser and end table sitting in the center of the concrete floor. I huffed and turned off the car in the middle of the driveway. Cale leaped out of his seat and thumped into the house.
I saw him disappear into the bathroom for a long, loooong shower before I threw open the door leading to the living room. Nathan was lying on the couch, fast asleep. His clothes were stained, and he reeked. “Hey.” I rubbed his shoulder and gently shook.
He stared at me with bleary eyes. “Hiya, beautiful. How did Cale’s day at work go?”
“Don’t ask,” I growled and put my weight against the far wall.
His grin flattened. “What’s wrong?”
“The furniture is still in the garage, and the nursery is only half painted. I’m starving, and we have no groceries. And Cale still refuses to go to work more than one day.”
Nathan sat up and held up his hands. “Whoa, that’s a lot to unpack. I got done staining the furniture, but I forgot it needs to be set for a while before we move it. I’ll help you paint tomorrow, but today I am completely beat. There’s sandwich stuff in the fridge, but we have some money if you want to order take-out. And your brother–” He paused and chuckled. “Well, he’s your brother. We kind of expected this.” He lay back down. “Just give him some time.”
“We’ve given him enough time. Come with me.” I dragged him off the couch. “You and I need to have a talk with him.”