My older brother Dalton had a set of rules I needed to follow so that he could live in peace.
I was not to give him forks and knives. The only utensil he could use was a spoon, but it had to be a wooden one. He couldn’t handle metal objects. I was not to cook any dishes involving meat while he was around. He would throw up if he saw even a tiny piece of meat.
I was not to leave him alone. I was not to turn the light off. Dalton would scream if his surroundings suddenly became dark. I was not to make loud noises. I would have to give him a warning before I spoke to him. I would have to hold his hand when he went to bed. If he woke up from a nightmare, I would have to read something or play the piano for him to be able to go back to sleep.
Ever since he returned from the war, Dalton had changed. Our lives had changed. And I had a duty to protect my brother in order to prevent the worsening of his mental state.
I was sixteen, but I was already beginning to feel a bit old. Dalton was twenty-one, but he never really acted like an adult. The two of us sat across from each other at the dining table in the center of the entirely wooden living room, silently eating our breakfast. We both had a loaf of bread and a bowl of corn soup in front of us, and we ate very slowly like a pair of cattle.
“Dalton, is the soup too hot?” I asked my brother, who was a relatively tall man with platinum blonde hair. I was a freckled boy with messy brown hair who always wore round glasses. Dalton looked nothing like me. It was an obvious fact because we weren’t real siblings, but it still made me a little sad.
Dalton shook his head without looking up at me, fidgeting with one of the buttons on his white collared shirt. I unbuttoned the top of my own shirt because the weather was hot, and I stared at Dalton’s face as I continued to eat. He looked soulless every single day; he never smiled, and he had lost the light that used to sparkle in his eyes. I let out a sigh before taking a bite out of my bread. Nothing was the same anymore, and I had to bear with it. I had to take care of the current Dalton to the best of my ability.
Dalton had nothing that could be considered his pastime except reading. He sat on the mahogany-colored armchair in the corner of our bedroom, reading The Catcher in the Rye from where he left off last time. I sat on one of the two beds in the room, looking back and forth from Dalton to my piano. Luckily, the space was large enough to fit everything inside, since it was originally supposed to be a storage. We made it our bedroom after I realized that I needed to stay right by my brother’s side.
“Dalton,” I said, sliding off the bed and landing on the wooden floor with a creak. “What part are you reading right now?”
There was no response. The sound of Dalton slowly flipping the page was the only thing I could hear. I sighed again and walked over to my desk to sit down and write in my journal. I was currently in the middle of writing a story in which a boy encounters a sacred creature while traveling through the stormy seas. The sacred creature was supposed to teach him a lesson, but I still hadn’t decided what lesson it should teach. So I simply wrote what came up in my mind and edited along the way. As I did so, I remembered the time I made a very important promise to my brother.
“Louis, this is really good! How did you write this in a week?”
“You know, you should be a writer when you grow up. You can be like Salinger.”
“Salinger? Is that the one you’re always reading?”
“Am I that good?”
“Of course. Trust me, you’ll beat all of the other famous writers out there.”
“You think so?”
“…All right, then. I’ll practice more. And someday, I’ll write you an even better book than Salinger’s.”
“Really? Now that’s exciting.”
“Wait for me. I promise I’ll be the best writer in the world and fill up your bookshelf with my stories.”
The sweet memory made me smile, and I realized that my pen strokes had become faster. I was still willing to keep my promise, which was why I hadn’t given up on writing despite my lack of ideas. However, I wasn’t exactly sure if my brother remembered. Maybe his mind was preoccupied with his nightmares and there was no space for anything related to me. Maybe the shock from the war had made him a completely different person. Maybe some of his memories were gone. I honestly didn’t know.
My pen strokes slowed down again.
That afternoon, I decided that it might be nice to have lunch in our yard once in a while. We exited our cottage-like house and sat at the small, round table in the middle of the surrounding grassy area. We lived in the countryside, so when we looked around, there was nothing but grass, trees, a dirt road, and a few houses.
I took a bite out of my triangular egg sandwich and stared up at the clear blue sky, watching the clouds drift through the heavens.
“Good thing the weather’s nice today.” I said to Dalton, who was expressionlessly eating his own sandwich. He stayed silent as always. I didn’t expect a response, but I couldn’t help feeling a little lonely. I sipped some tea from my cup and took another bite out of my sandwich, suppressing the overwhelming darkness within my heart.
Then, I suddenly heard the crash of thunder from a distance, and Dalton jolted in surprise at the noise. I turned my head towards the direction of the sound and saw a cluster of gray clouds approaching us.
“Dalton, we have to go!” I said, quickly standing up with my plate and cup in my hands.
Dalton also picked up his plate and cup, and we ran back to our house to retreat from the storm. Considering how he acted on his own without my help, Dalton must’ve been very scared. He wrapped himself in his blanket and sat on his bed for a while, sometimes jolting and letting out a small shriek when there was a lightning crash. I sat right next to him, rubbing his back and telling him that it was going to be okay.
To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure if I was even helping. My brother never seemed to get better. I wanted to support him, but I didn’t know the right way to do so. I was simply doing what the psychiatrist living in a nearby town told me to. I wished someone would at least tell me what my brother was thinking.
The sky was dark, but our bedroom wasn’t. I had lit up four candles so that Dalton wouldn’t be afraid. Speaking of Dalton, he was already asleep in his bed, and he was holding my hand tightly while I was sitting on my own bed, taking some time to proofread what I had been writing in my journal these past two weeks or so. I found many words and sentences to edit; I even ripped out a whole page.
I stopped reading for a second to look at Dalton. He was sound asleep for now, but I had a feeling he was going to wake up from a nightmare again. He had faint bags underneath his eyes, and his expression made it seem like he was anxious in his sleep. I was worried. I wanted to ease my brother’s pain a little. However, there was nothing much I could do, even though it was evident that my utmost effort wasn’t enough.
Just when I was thinking of taking off my glasses and lying down, I suddenly heard the shattering of glass. It most likely came from the living room. I had to go see what was going on. I gently let go of Dalton’s hand so as not to awaken him and quietly walked out of my room, picking up a baseball bat that was leaning by the door. I tiptoed over to the living room and hid behind a shelf to take a peek. A man in black was taking a step into our house through the broken window with a crowbar in his hand. He must be one of those burglars I had read about in the newspaper a few days ago. I had to do something.
The man currently had his back turned to me, so I held my breath and took silent steps towards him, lifting up my baseball bat. He still hadn’t noticed me. I was doing well. Now was the chance. I took a gulp, braced myself, and charged at the man, who turned around right before I swung my bat at his head. He shouted in pain and lost his balance, but he didn’t black out. I guessed that my strike was too weak to make him unconscious. The man soon got back on his feet with an enraged look and pointed his crowbar at me. I lifted up my bat again to defend myself, though I wasn’t sure if I was capable enough to do so. As soon as the man lifted his crowbar even an inch, I was going to attack. I had to make it work this time.
I took a few steps back as the man took a few steps forward, and he leaned slightly forward and lifted up his crowbar as if he were going to strike. Instinctively, I swung my bat. I made the wrong choice. The man dodged my attack, grabbed my bat with his free hand, and pulled it out of my hands to throw it out the window. It was over. I had lost my only weapon. I was done for.
The man took a step towards me and prepared to swing his crowbar, and I closed my eyes and tried to guard my head with my hands. However, the crowbar never reached me. A familiar figure charged at the man from the side and knocked him down to the floor with a thud.
“Dalton!” I said in a surprised tone after opening my eyes.
My brother, who had closed his right eye so that he wouldn’t have to see the crowbar which had fallen to the floor, wrestled with the man in black for a few seconds before getting pushed away. Dalton hit his back against a nearby wall decorated with a rectangular box labeled, “Father’s Pride.” The impact caused the box to topple over, and the lid fell open to reveal a gray bayonet rifle with scratches all over and a brown leather strap.
Dalton screamed in horror and backed away as soon as he saw the rifle, and in the rear, the man in black was picking up his crowbar to attack. I quickly ran forward and grabbed the man from behind in order to prevent his progression towards my brother, but the man struck the side of my torso with his crowbar, which caused me to fall to my knees in pain. This was the perfect opportunity for the man to smack me in the head. Now I was really doomed. I looked at Dalton once more before closing my eyes. I felt very guilty for making him see the most cursed object in our house before my death. A real weapon. The tool he was forced to use during the war to kill people. I was such an idiot. I couldn’t even complete my single task, my sole reason for living: to let my brother enjoy a peaceful life. I couldn’t die without accomplishing this mission. I didn’t want to. No matter how difficult my position as Dalton’s caretaker might have been, I wanted to continue living by his side.
Then, a loud bang suddenly resonated throughout my surroundings. I jolted in response to the sound, and I slowly opened my eyes to see a crimson stain on the man’s chest growing larger and larger. The man collapsed to the floor, and I saw my brother with our father’s rifle in his hands.
“Dalton…” I said with wide eyes, frozen on the spot due to the shocking scene.
Dalton’s shaky hands soon let go of the rifle, and he sat down with his knees tucked close to his chest, his face buried in his hands. He started crying and screaming, which prompted me to snap out of it and rush towards him.
I crouched down beside him and rubbed his back, telling him, “It’s okay, Dalton. It’s okay. You didn’t do anything wrong. You saved my life.”
At that moment, I was feeling a mix of two emotions. First, I was worried that Dalton’s condition might worsen because of the trauma he had just experienced. I wasn’t really concerned about my own struggles that would follow; I simply wished Dalton wouldn’t have to go back to square one. The other emotion was somewhat hard to describe. The word with the closest definition would be…renewal. My persception of my brother changed. He had been thinking about me this whole time. Our bond was still alive. I couldn’t help smiling a little out of relief.
Three days later, I finally figured out the lesson the sacred creature should teach the boy in my story: never give up on your loved ones.