Rated PG; gun violence, mature subject matter
That's the first word that came to mind. The first thing that rolled off my tongue when it happened.
I apologize, dear reader. You just opened a book when this slip of paper fell out. Tell me, why are you reading Joop Ter Heul? Is it for a school project? Do you just like comedic, old Dutch books? Did you pick this up by accident? Fun fact, this book was a favourite of Anne Frank.
Of course, you could always put this slip of paper back for the next person to find. But I have a feeling you’ll want to stay.
When I was younger, I’d bicker with my brother constantly. Back and forth as long as the sun rode the sky, and occasionally while the moon was on shift. It’s easy to start fights when someone is lying in a bed ten feet from you. His blonde ponytail would get sweaty after he shouted at me. I’d cover my ears before screaming an insult in retaliation. Ma’am would groan when she heard our squeaky voices snapping. Give it a break, she’d moan. She’d bite her cheek and lean back in her chair. I think she wanted the taste of blood to distract her from her bickering children.
We never got along. In school, at home, at the arcade. My friend Lily-Ann would stomp her foot in frustration upon seeing us riding our bikes together. “I just wanted a peaceful afternoon, where the only shouting was video game characters dying.” She told me once.
I laughed, but it rubbed me the wrong way. It wasn’t my fault we were always arguing. It was my brother who couldn’t keep his facts straight.
Reader, I have a confession. After I went to college, I didn’t talk to him for 8 years. They were the quietest years of my life, granted, but also the loneliest. No one told me I was chewing too loud, snoring, blasting music from my earphones. I couldn’t correct him when he told people about our favourite tv shows or our most prized comics. Solitude grew on my bones like a fungus. It still hasn’t died.
I saw my brother somehow. I don’t remember the circumstances. I was pale and sad, he was jumpy. We smiled and hugged--but a tension lingered. A poison polluting our relationship. We made plans to meet again. Soon, we promised. We’d even visit Ma’am. We left after exchanging pleasantries phone numbers.
If I could go back in time--walk back down the trail, if you will--I wouldn’t let him go so easily. My shoes would scrape the slippery ground as I struggled to get to him. Was it slippery? Yeah, I think so. The storm was so harsh I couldn’t go to work the day prior.
I’d make it to my brother, grab his shoulders, and scream in his face, asking him a question I’ll never know the answer to. Now, the question falls on deaf ears. The wind has carried it far, but no one has heard it yet.
We went to Ma’am’s place, our childhood home, soon after. She smiled at us getting along so well. “Like siblings.” she remarked, stirring the dinner pot and grinning.
Like strangers I thought. We were still stiff with each other. It had been so long. We’d soon be back in our old routine.
During dinner, I admit I baited him, slurping my soup loudly and smacking my lips as I chomped down on the rolls. He didn’t bite. He simply made small talk. He also told me there was a bit of broth on my cheek, but that was more of a nice gesture than an insult.
As we walked to the subway together, we didn’t say anything important. I did my best to keep my voice from hissing. Why did I want him mad? Why was a reaction so important to me? The whole time, I kept looking at his arms--waiting for them to pulse with anger or start bleeding.
I wished him goodbye and hopped in my ride before the doors slid closed. It’s always been a secret fear of mine that they’ll snap my arm clean off. As I saw his distorted hand waving, I realized I hadn’t asked him the thing I wanted. I brushed it off. It’s not like that was the last time I could ask him. Reader, it turns out it was.
He called a few weeks later, asking if I wanted to go to a bar with his friends. He was reaching out to me. Making an effort I never planned on. Being a better sibling. That set something off in me. A long dead fire suddenly had strong kindling.
I mumbled “No thanks.” and ended the call before he could ask why.
I walked to my room. My socked feet shuffled on the carpet next to my bed. I Leaned down under my mattress. It had lulled me to sleep on many nights. The softness brought all my tears to an abrupt halt. My arms would clutch my pillow so I didn’t shake. More often than not, I’d find scratch marks on my arms from my nails. Blood dampened the blue sheets as well as sweat. I eventually had to trim my fingernails often so I didn’t run out of bandages.
I stared at my comforter. There were red streaks no amount of washing could get out. I ripped it off. It fell limply to the floor. I pulled everything off my bed. The sheets, the pillows. The fitted sheet was a bit difficult, but I managed. The bare mattress had a fault in it’s pristine white. Sloppy sewing with yellow yarn was plopped in the middle like a stain. I pulled the swiss army knife from my pocket and started my attack.
Dear reader, I wish I could tell you I didn’t rip apart my bed to find something. I wish I had just walked out of my apartment. Gone for a walk to get a coffee. But I need to be honest here.
I found my prize, in between cotton, nestled like a baby bird. A ziploc bag was the only thing standing between us. I struggled to break the seal before cradling my beautiful, illegal object. I could finally be free.
I’m ill, reader. No, I don’t have a cough or a runny nose. No, the cure isn’t bed rest and fluids.
That day, I pressed the thing against my chest and walked to the bar. I smiled at bypassers. Nodded and whistled like it was a usual day while sweat was pouring from me like a fountain. I could hear the object’s cry to be used. Not yet, I crooned. Be patient.
I found my brother sitting with friends. His face lit up and he waved me over. I stiffly walked, finally freeing the object from its hiding place. My brother’s eyes widened. He would answer the question, or else. Of course, I didn’t get my answer before one of his friends screamed. I aimed the object at them and fired.
That was the tipping point. That was the thing that set off the chaos. That was what happened when I ran. I didn’t want to leave my brother. Not after what he’d done for me. And I needed to know his answer to the question.
I laughed dryly, my eyes glossed over with tears. I guess I’m a murderer now. My brother pushed me out that backdoor, away from the horrified screams of everyone in the establishment. “Run.” he whispered.
When I didn’t budge, he pushed me outside and slammed the door. The pavement hurt my hands. The clouds in the sky were blocking the moon. I could smell cigarette smoke. I remember everything so clearly.
I kept replaying the dead look on the person’s face as the bullet pierced flesh. As the head fell back, making a bump on the floor. The person had a drink in hand, and it came with them, spilling on the blank eyes and thin lips. The red liquid reminded me of blood. There was already an abundance of that on the chest.
I stumbled to a library. I didn’t fully know where I was going, but it had good memories. I went straight to the place where I knew I’d find my favourite book. The one you’re holding. This note was scrawled in the bathroom--on the back of some posters found on the bulletin board--then stapled with a stapler I snatched from the reception desk.
They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I counter you know exactly what you have, just not what it’s worth. That was my brother. We have a troubled relationship, but I love you, brother.
As for you reader, tell my brother he's everything to me. Make sure Ma'am knows she was the best mother she could be. Make sure my brother, and whatever children or spouses he has in the future, can take all my money and clothes. My apartment will go to Ma'am if she wants it.
Go tell the police the shooting on Carlson and Doris on Friday, September 21st at Love n’ kids bar was committed by me. Tell them that they’ll never find the culprit, so weighed down by the question they never asked their brother.
And tell them the reason why they’ll never find a trace of me is because by the time you’re reading this, I’ll already be hanging from a tree.