A Brother’s Grief

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Author Note: This is a rewrite off a previous Short I did called “The Attic” for a class.  It wasn’t literary enough, so I redid it, and here is that version.

He was writing a letter.  A simple letter, in context that is.  Whatever it’s purpose he wanted to get it right.  He kept deleting each sentence after he wrote it three or four times.  It had to be just right. Even after all the deletions he knew he would go back and add and remove elements until he could find no fault with it.  It was a work in progress and had been for almost a week now. The lack of light in his office didn’t bother him. He preferred the low light of the computer screen.  It made him feel isolated and alone. Just the way he preferred to be when writing something this important.

The time had passed and he could care less how late it actually was.  No one else was in the house, or so he thought. A knock at his office door proved him wrong.  He looked up as the door cracked open. He saw his brother, Richard, standing there. “I’ve been trying to call you for almost two days Brian.  I got worried, the front door wasn’t even locked.”

“I’m sorry.  I’ve just been thinking a lot lately.”

“I know.  It’s been a year since the event…..” Richard said in a low voice as he looked down to the floor.

“It has.  I just wanted to be left alone and have time to think.”

“What are you writing there?”

Brian closed his laptop, “Nothing.  Just some thoughts. It helps me to cope with everything that has happened.”  He stood up from his deck and walked over to his brother. He put his hand on his back in a friendly manner.  “Let’s go downstairs and get some coffee.”

The two of them left the dark room, Brian closed the door on the way out.  They walked down the stairs, passing a multitude of pictures hanging on the walls.  The pictures revealed what appeared to be happier times for Brian. There was one with him and a woman on a beach.  The background wasn’t important, the smiles on their faces were. They were the kind of smiles that told you they didn’t care where they were as long as it was with each other.

Richard had stopped to look at this particular one.  “That was right after you two were married? Wasn’t it?”

Brian nodded a yes.

“It was on that trip that you said she probably got pregnant with Justin, if I remember right.”

Brian was quiet for a moment before answering, “That was the way that we figured it.  Almost nine months to the day when she gave birth.”

Now it was Richard’s turn to be quiet.  Brian started back down the stairs then his brother spoke, “Fucking cancer.”  Brian just kept going. Richard started after him.

They ended up in the kitchen.  Richard sat at the breakfast bar while his brother went to his fancy coffee machine and started to work the knobs.  Brian knew what the other man liked, a coffee so dark and think that the spoon could stand up in it, but with flavor.  What flavor he didn’t seem to care as long as he could chew it and call it a meal. So, he worked the dials and added various things to try and get as close to his brother’s preferences without clogging his coffee maker.

“You know we’re here for you.  You don’t have to spend days like today on your own.  I actually wanted to invite you to go with us this weekend to the beach.  I rented a nice little cottage on the lake. My kids would love to see you.”

“Thanks for the offer, but I was going to visit their graves,” Brian said.

“You can.  Hell I will drive you there so you can take all the time you want.  But after we meet the rest at the cottage. You don’t have to go through this alone.”

“I think I have to.”

“Why?  What are you trying to prove?  We all loved them. I get they were your family, they were mine too.  Don’t act like you are the only one suffering here,” Richard said, adding a little volume to his voice.

“Is it that easy?  You still have a wife and kids.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if they both died together.  I have one leave me and just as I am coming to terms with it I lose the other.  I wish it was simple, but it’s a pattern. It’s hard to move on from something when you always think what’s next.  Are you going to die on me now?”

“This isn’t about you.  You have always been a bit selfish, but this is taking it to a new level.”

“Selfish?  My wife and child are dead, how is my mourning being selfish?”

“Because you do it alone.  Quit acting like it only affects you.  I know her parents have reached out to you and you ignored them, you don’t think they want to comfort and grieve with you?  But shit, you won’t even talk to me and I thought we were close.”

Brian finished his meddling with his high end machine and put a cup of something hot in front of Richard.  He looked down into it and smiled. This seemed to cut the tension in the room. “It should be thick enough.  If it was anymore I’d have to give you a fork and knife to eat it.”

Both men laughed.  “I don’t mean to ride you so much little brother, but I have to try and look out for you.  It’s just us now, and I know it’s hard, but let me at least try to take your mind off of it for a while.”

Brian sipped his cup of coffee while leaning against the counter then he pulled it away from his lips.  “Don’t think I don’t appreciate what you’re trying to do. And I wish it was that easy. I’ve tried to lessen the lingering thoughts.  Hell I even saw that shrink for a while, it didn’t seem to help much.”

“I’m not talking about mental professionals, just a weekend away trying to have some fun.  We can have some drinks, play bad party games, maybe even swim and get some fishing in. Just get away from the house.  I mean Christ, Mary passed in your bedroom and Justin in the attic. It just seems to me that maybe you should even think about selling and moving.”

“I know it sounds weird and even morbid, but them having both died here also means they are kind of part of the place now.  I don’t know if I could make myself get rid of it. As bad as I might seem to you, I think I would be worse if I left the place that reminds me of them the most.  It’s kind of cathartic in a way.”

Richard was mid sip when Brian finished his sentence.  “I get that, more like I understand your point, but just don’t see it helping you in the long run.  You might have to sink lower before you can truly get over it.”

“I can’t lose what little I have of them left.”

“No one is asking you to.  They’ll always be in your heart.  You are only 34, you have so much more life to live.  Take the time you need to heal, but then you have to move on.  If not for you, then for me.”

“You still have your family.”

“You’re part of my family too.  We have the apartment in the basement, you’re more than welcome to stay for a while, or a few years.  I say just move in and see how you feel in a month or so. Just take a break from here and then we can go from there.”

Brain took another sip.  “Tell you what, if you want to take me to the cemetery then I’ll go with you this weekend and we can talk about the other stuff then.  Maybe if I get out for a while I can see things differently.”

Richard smiled, “That sounds like a plan.  How about you go pack some things and we can take off.”

Brian set his cup down and smiled at his brother.  He went to the stairs and started going up. Richard smiled at him and drank more of the sludge in the cup.  He looked around while he waited. That was when he noticed a stack of papers on the counter. Nothing too weird, just bills and what not, but towards the bottom was an odd looking thing.  He reached out for it. It might be a while before Brian was ready so he decided to read whatever it was.

It was actually a group of things stapled together.  A receipt, form, and approval for a gun permit. Richard set his cup down.  It was dated the week before. The background check was seven days, today was the ninth.  Brian never had an interest in firearms before. Richard started to think. Would his brother be that depressed?  He didn’t want to wait to find out.

He got up and ran up the stairs.  He went to the main bedroom first.  No one was there. Next to what used to be Justin’s, his nephews room, that was empty as well.  Finally he went to the office. The computer was open. He went to it and read what Brian had been working on when he arrived.  It was a suicide note. Now he started to get frantic.

All the rooms on the second floor were empty, except the linen room, which also had the access point to the attic.  Richard went into the small space and saw the pull down ladder had been extended. He flew up it like it was nothing.  When he got up into the attic he let out a small sigh. Brian was sitting there looking at the spot where they had found Justin a year ago.  The small boy had managed to get up into the space and fell. He hit his head and by the time they found him, he had lost too much blood.

The police said he must have been knocked out when he fell and he slowly faded away.  No one knew for sure. Brian thought he had wandered up to find his mother’s old things.  He had been asking about her the morning he died. He was only 4 when she passed and 6 when he did.  He was a smaller boy, but the rope that hung from the attic stairs was low enough that he could grab it, he would have had to use all with strength to get them down though.

It really didn’t matter the physics of it.  Brian blamed himself for not checking on his son.  He was busy in his office and just assumed the boy was in his room playing like he always did.  He had promised the child they would go up and look at his mom’s things later that day, but he must have grown impatient and went up on his own.

Now, a year later, Brian was sitting above the spot where his son was found.  The dried blood was still there. He didn’t have the urge to have it cleaned up.  It was something real. I t was a part of the boy he loved. The one thing that he still had from the wife he loved and lost.  Now he was gone too and the blood on the floor of the attic was all that remained. Purging that from the world seemed, at least to Brian, washing away the last physical remnants of something he held so dear.

Richard moved slowly towards his brother.  The attic was dark except for a lone lightbulb that hung almost in the center, near where Brian was.  It swayed just a little, only gaining momentum when the pull string was engaged. The arch it was in now told Richard that Brian must have come almost directly up here only stopping to open his computer for all to read once his task was complete.

“I thought I could do it,” Brian said with tears in his eyes, “Just come up here, pull the trigger and be done with it.”

Richard was close enough now to see a pistol in his brother’s lap as he sat on the floor, his gaze directed at the dried patterns of dark red that the wooden floor had feasted on.  “You didn’t though, and you don’t have to either.”

“There is nothing else to do.”

“There is always something else, you just can’t see it yet,” Richard replied.

“I’m tired of feeling lost and sad all of the time.  I want to feel better. No one wants to wallow in this kind of hell, but what else can I do to get free?”

“Be strong, it isn’t easy to get over something like this.”

“I just can’t cope,” Brian reached down and grabbed the handle of the gun.

“You are strong, stronger than me.  You’ve made it this far. I don’t think I ever could.”

Brian’s hand stayed on the grip, but he didn’t raise it, instead he turned his head towards Richard.  “You were always the strong one.”

“Physically maybe, you were the runt after all.”

This comment illicited a kind of giggle snort from Brian who was in the middle of crying.  “You always did whoop my ass.”

“I was the oldest, I think it’s written somewhere that I have to from time to time.”  Another snort from Brian. “But you were always stronger emotionally. Remember when mom passed, then dad?  You had to make all the arrangements because I was a wreck. You comforted me. That’s the strength I mean.”

“It was different.  We knew the day would come when they would.  Not that it was any less sad, but they had a full life, they had a chance to live.  My Mary and Justin never did.” He started to cry again, this time lifting the gun.

Richard had been moving closer the whole time they were talking.  Brian didn’t seem to notice. He was now so close he could see the pattern on the handle.  It was nothing fancy, a basic model of a 9mm. He sat down next to his brother. He seemed a little startled when the thud came with the larger man hitting the floor.  It also coincided with the placement of the gun under his chin.

“Now you have to think about this,” Richard started, “If you do this it will be right in front of me.  How do you think I’ll take it?”

Brain’s face went from crying to contemplation.  “Not very well.”

“That’s an understatement.  You know how hard I took Mary’s, and I knew that was coming.  Watching my brother decorate his ceiling with his brains is not something I think I’d be able to handle to well.”

Another giggle came from Brian.  Richard always had a way to make him smile.  He offbeat comments, especially at inappropriate times always made him smile.  It was a practice he had honed while growing up, usually as a tactic to try and keep his younger brother from ratting him out after beating on him.  It worked more than a few times. It was one of those bonds that siblings developed when they grew to depend on each other.

“You never could take bad news that well,” Brian said.  The gun didn’t move from its position though.

“To be honest, if you do this, I might not be able to hack it and might even use that on myself right after.”

Now Brian put the gun on his lap and looked directly into his brother’s eyes.  “Why the fuck would you say something like that?” The tension from earlier in the kitchen returned with a vengeance.

“Why?  Really?  I’ve lost two parents, a sister-in-law, and a nephew in the last five years.  I’ve basically lost you as well, but there’s still hope there. If you truly go, then what?  Am I supposed to just go home and live out my days all happy and carefree?”

“You have your family still.”

“And what good would I be to them in a state of loss all the time?  This isn’t about what I have, it’s about what I’d lose.”

“Who’s being selfish now?” Brian posed the question with a slight grin.

“Fuck you.  It’s not selfish to not want to lose a brother.  Just put it down and let’s take that trip. You might feel better.”

“And if I don’t you’ll have me committed.”

“No I won’t,” Richard threw back at him immediately.

“Really?  A suicidal man you would just let go back home?”

“It wouldn’t be my first choice, but I couldn’t go to a mental hospital to see you.”

“Why not?”

“What would the neighbors think?” a large grin was on Richard’s face as he spoke the words.

Brian couldn’t take it anymore, he placed the gun on his lap and just started to laugh.  Richard thought about grabbing the gun, but decided against it. Too many things could go wrong if he did, so he just laughed along with his brother.  “If you keep making my laugh like this in the state I’m in, I’d be more likely to shoot you.”

“Do you even know how to use that thing?”

“In theory yes.”

“How about you just give it to me, we go pack some of your clothes and then see where life takes us the next few days?”

Brain sat there for a while.  Both of them, quietly. The time passed, and neither of them really caring about how long it actually was.  Finally something happened. The lone lightbulb decided it would be a good time to end its own life and it went out.  Now the two men were sitting in the dark.

Brian was the one that broke the silence.  “I think I would like that.”

Richard felt a poke in his side.  It was the butt of the pistol. He took it, took out the magazine and cleared the chamber.  “You might not have had to do that,” he said.

“What?” came a confused reply.

“We might both kill ourselves trying to get out of your attic.”

Both men laughed as they tried to make their way to the stairs.

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