"The echoes of the door shutting after my brother sound with the finality of nails..."
| Got some good reviews to my item "Partings" , so here's what I have so far of the continuation. Ratings and reviews would be greatly appreciated!
The echoes of the door shutting after my brother sound with the finality of nails driven into a coffin lid. I squeeze my eyes shut, still my breathing, hold myself absolutely motionless, willing even my very heartbeats to cease so I can devote the whole of my being to listening. His footsteps, the confident gait that I had known all my life, begin to fade away. And still I wait. I wait until I feel lightheaded from holding my breath, until there is not the remotest possibility of even the faintest footfall reaching the upstairs window where I stand.
I do not want to believe that he has gone, although I know this to be so. I want to keep forever this last memory of him, of our conversation in this cold, dark room, where the only light comes from the vanishing sunset peeking through the naked glass of the window frame and where I had not had to bear the sight of his beloved face during this last meeting.
A slight movement in the street catches my attention, and I stagger back from the window in a panic. It's my brother who, having reached the ground floor of the abandoned mansion, had just pushed open the front door. I cannot stand the thought of seeing him now, bathed in the blood red glow from the last rays of the dying day, but it's a hopeless conceit. My inner eye does not require the aid of vision to conjure his face. A lifetime of memories sears the image deep into my mind. I can see him emerge from the door. First comes his unkempt brown hair, followed by his shoulders. Those shoulders had always appeared to me to be as strong as the shoulders of Atlas, though my brother is by no means a large man. No, it's the way he stands, right hand in his pocket, left foot slightly forward so he rests his weight on his right leg. That pose so familiar it hurts, and the cool composure with which he faces every challenge. Once outside, he stands blinking a moment to let his eyes adjust after the darkness inside the house. Then - how clearly I picture it! - he turns toward the window where we had just spoken for the last time, his face beautiful and sad, full of love and understanding and no sign of the contempt that should have been in their place. Perhaps he hopes to catch a final glimpse of me, a shadowy memory to warm his thoughts in the cold night hours that await him. I imagine that mournful hope flicker and die in his eyes, the disappointed shrug, the hands thrust into coat pockets, the squaring of the shoulders, and the resolute lift of the head as he marches down the street.
That idea of letting him down, of denying his last wish, leaves me sick and nauseated. I want to run, to fly down the stairs and out the door, to catch him and look into his eyes and tell him all the things that I had failed to say when the opportunity had come. Instead, I find myself unable to budge. My heart constricts painfully. My breaths come shallow and quick, as though an iron band is compressing my chest; I cannot get the air to my lungs fast enough. A feeling of helplessness engulfs me; I am letting the most important person in my life walk away forever.
I finally force my legs to move, out of the room and down the hall. I stumble and barely catch myself on the stairs. Each step is agony. I can hear ghostly laughter from every corner, shouts and the clacking of wooden swords. As boys, we had ignored the warnings about the old house, had explored its every nook and cranny, chased each other through the corridors, hidden under staircases and in coat closets. We had dubbed it our "Headquarters" and named each room - Fort, Dungeon, Wizard's Lab... His note had asked me to meet him in the Strategy Room, and though it has been many years since we moved away from the neighborhood and our favorite playground, it had immediately summoned a picture of those warm summer afternoons when we had planned our adventures amid the broken furniture and scattered rubbish.
I wrench open the front door with a gasp of sheer relief, tormented by recollections of our happy youth. I look around wildly, with the thought that perhaps I can catch sight of a familiar back before it vanished, but it's too late. The sun has set and the streets are dark, the few streetlights that still work giving off a feeble and half-hearted glow. He is gone, and I do not even know which direction he has taken.
"Stop torturing yourself... You're no coward..."
The taste of bile fills my mouth. What a monumental lie. I am a coward, have always been. As small children, he had had to coax me into every game, had lain awake nights to tell me stories because I could not stand the empty dark. At school, where the teachers gave up calling on me because I never answered, he had faced down the bullies that tried to take my lunch, earning bloody noses and black eyes for his troubles. And whenever the specter of uncertainty haunted me, when my own weak and reluctant soul would have retreated from adversity in horror, he had spoken words of courage, trust, and determination. I am a coward, and he must know it as well as I, and still he lied, trying to protect me from that self-knowledge. Too bad I already know.
A bitter laugh rises, but sticks in my throat and comes out as a choked moan instead. I lean against a streetlamp as sob after sob shake me, leaving my throat torn and sore, and still I cannot stop. How long I lingered, lost to guilt and grief, I do not know. When finally I regain control, night had settled firmly over the city and the air had turned chilly. I wipe the cold sweat from my brow, feeling tired and drained to a hollow husk. The few strangers that are still out hurry by without a glance; the sight of a person crying in the street is no longer something that deserves comment.
The bell that signals curfew rings. A distant and unaffected part of my mind prods my body into motion. I am too weary to think, too heartsore to feel. I let my feet carry me along, to where I neither know nor care. I only know I will never return to this house again.