So it was today. Today they had been talking about for months around the living room table. Talking to each other, not to me. It was a cold day, the kind of morning air that makes you want to set off on an adventure, to go to a magical land, full of heroes and villains, right and wrong. If there could be such a place... I took a deep breath outside the door, my breath almost visible. There was no human motion in sight, but the world was alive with a thousand tiny gusts of wind, insects and leaves.
And this was the day.
My brother, like the world, was prepared for something. Something great? Something big, at least, something important. I read a book once where someone talked about the greatness of God. This was a different kind of greatness, I think. I went inside and closed the door.
If anyone had come by during the night, there would be no question as to what was happening here. I remembered the family gathering around that table, years ago. Now, there, It sat. How long had we had that table? As far back as I can remember, in another house, with all of us there. Last night, some other family had left It there – some family who spoke different words than mine ever did.
There were three things on the table, technically, and technically is the way these things are spoken of. No sun shone on these things, they were like subatomic particles, to be known only by their effects.
What first struck the eye were the red cylinders. It was clear that they, at least, belonged somewhere. Not here, but in some dark and dirty place, where they were far from human flesh. A quiet place. It was quiet here.
The roll of duct tape, however, was real. I had fetched it for them myself, from a drawer. I suddenly felt like it should be put away; it had a place where it should be. If it could want, it must want to be there now. I had held it before, but my hands couldn’t now. It was no longer a common household item, it was something of a superhuman nature, like the wind outside, something only a god or a demon could hold in his hand.
The third item was too strange. Nothing I could know had built such a thing, for such a purpose. A box, two wires, a button. This was not a device of the most vengeful gods or of the bloodiest demons. At least the others things I could be repelled by.
No, the table we had gathered around as children could never hold these things.
I wanted to cry, not because of It, not because this was not my home, not because we had all been taken from there, but because this place was so like the one I grew up in. The strangeness I could endure, but not the familiarity.
A sound came from upstairs, of someone waking. I knew that was the sound of his door opening, his feet on the stairs, but it didn’t stir in me any feeling or thought I could understand. Regardless, it was him, now, in this room we had grown up in. Parts of that I could grasp.
"I made breakfast," I said. This was true. I could smell the food, remember the sounds of it cooking, all these were real.
He rubbed his face and went into the kitchen. The way he walked out of the room overwhelmed me, and I sat on the couch. Sounds of eating came through the doorway, but I could not hear them. I couldn’t see him come back out, and up the stairs again. I tried to feel, but there was nothing in me that knew how. No, that’s not true. There was, but I was sure I could not feel what that part would feel now.
Now, he was back. This time he looked at me. I didn’t move, not even a twitch to meet his eyes. I couldn’t feel my flesh being torn asunder. No. The stillness was like the wind, not something for people. It would pass, like the wind.
At last, he looked at the clock. He held up his hands and looked at them, then put them down and took a breath. I looked at the clock. The hands were crawling closer to that point that I knew, on some intellectual level, was important. A Great Time, in some sense. This was not a Great Time. I wished the clock would go away, and that time would never come. The clock, of course, didn’t stop.
He picked up the roll of duct tape and tossed it to me. Just like that, no lightning or thunder. No chorus.
"Help me with this," he said, picking up the red paper cylinders. Why had he bothered to eat breakfast?
I could feel the roll of tape in my hands. Suddenly, it wasn’t an opera anymore. "What about your mother?"
"You know that’s not what I mean." He did know, too. She would grieve, perhaps celebrate, and then it would be the future. The future was his concern, not mine. "I can’t take care of her." For that matter, why did I make breakfast? I hadn’t eaten any, and he didn’t need it. There was no one else in the house. Was it so I could be free? A choice I could make?
"It has to be this way." He held four sticks up to his side. "Come on." Was he sorry?
I unrolled the tape. I don’t know who was more afraid, or more sorry. Remorse laughed at me, as if I didn’t know what it was.
I stood up at last, and summoned all my will. "Let me do it." I finally said it. For some reason I couldn’t put my foot down, demand it. I couldn’t say I wanted to. "Let me" was the extent of my will.
Of course. Was this like a ritual, something everyone went through? No one shouted about this in the streets, waving pictures of the brothers left behind.
I met his eyes after that. There was nothing, now, to mourn. We were no longer brothers. Only one of us was still among the living, and he wouldn’t be for long.
I wrapped a circle of duct tape around his corpse. They say a circle has no end. I felt like this moment was a circle, even after it ended. It couldn’t have been time that I had passed through, so it must be something else.
My hands were shaking. Were these my hands? My hands had embraced him, had struck him in anger, had been there for us in all kinds of life. The table, the clock, the hands – I couldn’t believe any of these things would take part in this. Would the hands that now bound him to It one day carry my children? What would these hands do to the innocent?
I had found what I could not allow myself to feel. I hid my tears, but that could hardly matter now. There was no one to see them.
A timeless minute later, it was done. All of the pieces were together, chemicals, wires and blood. The blood was real, as it was mine. The sun was shining brighter through the window than when I had woken. At least nothing in the room was red – I had not lived in blood. I was not consoled.
He went up the stairs again. He must dress in thick clothing, of course, to hide his death within. I walked to the foot of the stairs. I would have to live in this place, after all. I had a right to look up the stairs. He stopped at the top of the stairs and saw me. Together, our eyes turned to the garment he wore: our father’s. Like the table, it had been something my brother and I had once shared. His eyes turned to mine again, and he went back. I moved away from the stair, and he came out again moments later, wearing a different garment.
Just as the table was not the table of my family, the man that returned was not one of the men that live in the world. There is no man like that in operas or in stories, only in facts. No man like that was my brother.
He walked to the door and put on his shoes. The shoes, again, seemed strange. Wherever my eyes turned, I was confronted with a fresh strangeness. The first casualty, I think, was this house. He straightened again, and looked at me.
"My things are in my room. I understand if you have to sell some."
He paused very briefly.
"Take care of your mother. I’m sorry I can’t explain this to her myself. You understand."
With that, he turned, opened the door, walked out, and closed the door with a click. It must have been getting warmer, with the sun shining so brightly.
After a very long time, I went to the door, opened it, and stepped out. Ordinary people walked down the street, going about their ordinary business. The wind just blew things around, and voices were to be heard everywhere. I stood, not in some fantastical land, but in the street I had grown up on, in front of the house I had lived in all my life, amongst the people I had always known.
When the horror of it all struck me, I could not say a word, for there was no one to speak to. I went back inside.
Perhaps it would be poetic, I thought, to die out among such life. I can see someone writing some epic ballad, where my brother went forth and struck a great blow for freedom. There would be passion, drama, conflict. The plotters, risking all for their cause, the evil oppressors characterised as bumbling, inept or lazy. There must be comic relief in a tragedy. Still, when people die, there are causes and achievements that make it all worthwhile.
Only the free could write such poems, I could not.