I learn that my brother is mortal

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Fiction-prose-short story- CW: Suicidal thoughts/themes/imagery

Submitted: June 20, 2017

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Submitted: June 20, 2017

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I learn that my brother is mortal.

 

For the first decade of my life, I believe my younger brother to be immortal. I had never given my own life much thought beyond admiring the wobbly, blue-green lines jumping underneath my translucent skin, putting a small hand in front of my mouth to feel the moisture of my breath signal back, tucking my chin toward my chest to feel the vibrations of my heart rattle my teeth.

 

Within the first year of his life my brother lost our father, suffered no less than four seizures, and lay motionless as I let the cat press her paws into his chest, dig her nails into his skin, lick her way into his ear canal. No one could survive any of that but a king, a god, my three-year-old self thought as my mother ripped the cat from my brother’s fighting body. Though I could not see it, the fight was there. My brother would be fighting for his life for a long time.

 

When I am ten we learn about the Greek myths, and I defiantly renounce their mythical status and treat them each as unique histories. It is Zeus’s pulsing electricity that sizzles a fingertip in a socket, it is Dionysus’s harvest that turns my mother’s lips purple, it is Aphrodite’s warm embrace that takes the chill out of long nights next to my brother, it is cunning Pandora that pries open the top of my journal and takes a peek, understanding my secrets better than I do.

 

I cannot figure out Achilles until after the accident, however. Achilles is weakness, Achilles is failure, I think. Achilles could not power a house or chase the purples and oranges out of the sky into a dark night, Achilles could not fill the lakes and streams and rivers with foaming white waters. He is not just flawed; he is incompetent, I decide smugly as I slam my book of Greek myths on the table.

 

I tell my brother about Achilles, about how his ultra strength gets him nowhere, and ultimately leads to his demise. About how he brings nothing to the table, gives nothing to the earth, nothing to the gods. About how he believed to be all-powerful on his own, and needed no one else in his life. About how wrong he was, about how he stupidly led himself to his own self-destruction.

 

My brother listens patiently, lying on my bed, tangled in my comforter, with his feet hanging from either side. He scratches and digs at his wrists like always when he’s concentrating hard, his fingertips acting as ladles for thick, white flakes of skin, sometimes diving so deep that the elasticity of skin snaps and sends rivulets of blood into the grooves of his finger pads.

 

A bad habit, is all my mother has to say to my brother’s incessant scratching. He’ll grow out of it, she says as she bandages the right wrist and checks the scaly scabs that have created lattices on his left, as if she is doing no more than preventing a child from biting his nails. My brother is only eight, after all, he lives in a world of lightness, my mother must think.

 

It only took one strike at the heel to take down Achilles. It only takes one strike of a chord to create a vibration, a melodic hum, a warbling note. It only takes one strike of twanging artery underneath a vein to collapse a circulatory empire, to undo the neatly laid out highways of beating, twisting capillaries like dominos, to begin to drain a full heart and send the blood into reverse, to send it rushing through a gap in the dam. One time too low, Achilles thought, clutching below his ankle. One note too sour, the guitar vibrated in protest. One scratch too deep, and my brother becomes tiny and powerless.

 

My brother has to wear bandages to school all the time, and see the school therapist twice a week. His teacher tells the students beforehand not to ask any questions, because my brother tells me his classmates become silent as my brother reenters the classroom, looking anywhere but at his arms. My mother cooks, my mother cleans, my mother goes to work. My mother checks my homework, my mother changes my brother’s bandages. My mother doesn’t say a word about the accident; refuses to ever let words like on purpose or self-harm seep from her bitten lips. A child plagued by foolishness and nothing more. Children are immune to darkness, after all.

 

Your brother made a mistake, my mother insists, putting me back to bed when I can’t sleep. A bad habit turned into a mistake, she coos. I’m sure he didn’t even know what he was doing. Didn’t even understand the consequences.

 

She cannot will herself to put death on her tongue, to flirt with something that flickers through the apartment at all times. I know my brother is more than familiar with the concept of death, as he asks for the fuzzy, pixelated images I have of dad. My brother is intrigued that something can living and breathing one moment can alter in a moment. He understands that the crude drawing of hangman is not just some man happily swinging from a tree; he asks me why the man is so sad as he guesses another incorrect letter. I don’t have an answer for him, but I can see how my brother sits propped on his elbows in the dark of our bedroom that he needs one. To choose death over life.

 

How graceful it must be, to walk from one life into the next in one swift motion. To not even have to say goodbye to everyone, if time doesn’t permit. To simply feel the need to change courses, to change directions, to flip a switch off and turn on a new light. In my happiest moments, I believe that my brother was simply filling out the quick sketches I made for him of our father, the same way he connected the dots in his coloring book and filled in the shapes with thick strokes. He just wanted to see our father for himself, to flip the switch, to turn on the light. In my saddest moments, I fear that my brother believed this life simply could not contain him; that as hard as the shapes tried to stay in their form, their colors wiggled out.

 

I get my period the night after my brother’s accident. My back hurts and I go to my mother for Tylenol, and she looks wide-eyed at the stain slowly spreading between my legs and onto my lavender leggings. But you’re only ten, my mother says, as though that will somehow stop the flow, as though that will end all blood. She helps me change my clothes and sticks a bulky pad in my underwear, so thick I have to walk bow-legged back to our room. A pad for me, fresh bandages for my brother. A period is strange, I think to myself, as I feel warm blood eek out in fragments, between long pauses. It does not escape in a hurry like normal blood, nor can it be patched up like a normal wound. It is free flowing blood, switching on and off on its own accord. For a moment, I wonder if my brother just wanted to see if his own blood could come out and go back in all by itself, without all the gauze and scabs and broken veins.

 

My brother and I sit in silence that night, bleeding quietly together. 


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