You were so brave last Monday. But I remember when we were little, you were afraid at night. Every night you’d sneak across the hall into my room. Tiptoe up to the bed and climb in next to me. You’d try not to wake me up, and I always pretended to be asleep. I liked you there next to me in the dark, your hand on top of mine. You were gone in the morning, so Dad and Mammy never knew. In the fifth grade you abruptly stopped coming. I remember the night. Nine thirty and you weren’t there. Ten, ten thirty, eleven. I walked across the hall to see where you were. Lying on your back, snoring gently. That night I cried myself to sleep. Quietly, the tears sinking into the light yellow sheets.
Strange that you were afraid to sleep but you loved being outside at night. Loved the stars that dotted the blackness. The moon, whether large and orangey or small and pure snow. I remember sitting out with you on the hill behind our house late at night, breathing the air that had a certain edge to it. I could barely follow your finger pointing up into the heavens. Cassiopeia, you’d say, pointing. Where? There, the W-shaped one above that tree. You’d get frustrated when I couldn’t see them like you could. So irritated, in fact, that you would often stomp up and declare you weren’t speaking to me, a threat with little confidence or truth. Orion, Cygnus, Polaris, the Big Dipper, Summer Triangle—Deneb, Vega, Altair… billions! And you promised them all to our love, this bond between us that anyone would notice, even in the midst of our harshest arguments.
I haven’t spoken since it happened. No one really noticed at first. Not through the terror of watching the flames slowly consume the back hall near the gym. Ambulances with lights flashing, and the fireman bringing your limp body out. I don’t blame them. I rode next to you in the ambulance; watched a ginger haired lady stick a tube down your throat. You weren’t breathing much, unconscious. I wished with all my heart that some of the warmth in my hand would go into your silvery blue fingertips. That somehow, miraculously, you’d wake up. That I would somehow have a final chance to look into your eyes and say goodbye before the inevitable happened.
Dad and Mammy arrived in the hospital in a frenzied condition. Dad attacked the nurse at the ER reception with the aggression he always uses to express his anger. I was curled up in the bed a nurse had said I could rest on. A tight ball on a white hospital bed under a white hospital sheet. A smell of medicine and cleaner. I wanted to vanish from the surface of the earth.
Mammy’s usually tight brown bun was loose and disheveled, her mascara carried by the tears streaming down her face. She waddled over to me, holding her arms out as if to hug me. I looked away sharply, and she thought the better of it and sat down on the bed next to me, staring straight ahead. She stayed that way until the doctor came out of the room across the hall, half an hour later. Beckoned to my parents to enter an adjoining room. Dad went over quickly, but Mammy took her time. I think they both knew what had happened. Dad, reappearing, looked as if he would explode. Explode and burst the waiting room into a million pieces like the furnace at school. But he swallowed it in. Mammy shuffled over to me. She looked uncomfortable, as if I didn’t already know what had happened. Uh, honey, uh, would you like to see your brother? I continued inspect the flowerpot hanging above me. Each red petal looked perfect and velvety until you looked closer. Then you noticed the dried-out spots and the holes. That’s what life is like. Mammy continued, startling me out of my dream. They’re going to do an autopsy later…. I thought you’d want to see him while…. well, while he’s still…you know…himself. I gazed straight back into her eyes, and simply shook my head no. Do you understand that David? I just couldn’t see you again—your innocence, your bravery. Not on the same day. Today, I would give my life to see your face, dead or alive.
The car ride home was silent. I watched the gray world roll by. The road was lined with that morning’s snow changed to slush. The same early March snow that you and I walked to school in. The window felt cold against my cheek as it bounced up and down with the road. Dinner that night would be pizza, although none of us would eat it. It just sat there on the table, getting colder and colder until Mammy threw it out. I went to sleep around seven, to stop all these thoughts from tormenting me. That’s most of what I’ve done for the past five days. Slept. I’ve eaten a little but not much. Mammy is afraid I’m starving myself to death. She brings food to my room each meal. I just don’t know what to do without you. I have no real desire to live, or to die. There are no lines left to the play, no plot.
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