My brother’s ankle grew like a balloon. He dragged it around and bumped into things.
‘What’s happening to me?’ he said.
He said it always and threw his hands down, having kicked over a train set.
‘I blame you,’ he said. ‘You’re a bad brother.’
Once I blindfolded him and he caught his ankle on a carpet nail. It leaked but it wouldn’t get any smaller. I pressed on it for him. This put him to sleep.
In the town center, they made my brother coffins almost everyday. He was infamous, my brother. I’d pass by the coffin maker, whose eyes were like stones.
‘Tap. Tap. Tap,’ he’d say. ‘I’ll make your brother a fine coffin.’ He was creaky, even for as old as he was. ‘I’m ready for him, any day now. Tap. Tap. Tap.’
My brother was not well liked because of his role in the city as a policy maker.
The mail piled up at our door. There were so many rules in place, I couldn’t explain enough to them. They were sending so many questions. I could not replace my brother. My work is not my brother’s and I dreamt I was being eaten by snow.
My brother stayed up all night playing the saw. This, I didn’t mind. He was swollen and this kept him up at night. He was spectral, my brother. He wandered the house like an orphan. This kept me awake. What had I done? Deprived of sleep, I lost my ability of distinction. Reality became fantasy and this affected my letters of policy, consequently too, public life and my brother’s reputation.
The townspeople stopped leaving their homes, preferring deep privacy.
One night I came downstairs to see my brother guzzling bowls full of beer. He was in the cellar. I heard him clinking around down there, in a nightmare, he drank until his tumor outgrew him. He begged like a prisoner. I held his head up right to feed him the beer.
When his face was at its palest and his mouth dripped like a snake’s, he whispered things unholy in my ear.
‘Mother’s inside,’ he’d say.
‘What?’ I’d say.
’Listen,’ he’d say. ‘It’s unbelievable.’
‘You left me in here to rot,’ she said.
‘Mother?’ I said.
Something shifted inside the ankle. ‘I’m not a mother to you, but a festering wound.’
In a nightmare, my brother tended to my fever. Then he strangled me. He cited the tumor as his motivation.
In another nightmare, the whole town came to see my brother. They abandoned their cars. They came in, pulling pieces from the ankle. They asked him how he was doing and was recovering, then returned home with handfuls of my brother.
In his own version of this nightmare, my brother, always the diplomat, attempted placating mothers while they screamed at him and beat him because he was holding and devouring their children.
I passed by the coffin maker on the way to the mail. He said, ‘I’ve made many coffins now for your brother. I’ve made so many, I’ve begun resizing the dead bodies that come in. I make them like your brother. So they can fit inside his coffin. I can make no other kind of coffin. I only make coffins for your brother. I’ve made hundreds. Would you like to see?’
He took me into his house.
‘I can’t get your brother off my mind. I see him and my hands move on their own. I’ll take you in here. You should see.’
He took me into his work room, which was full of coffins for my brother, then into his basement, which was also full of coffins for my brother. ‘They are so hard to make. You brother is strange man.’
‘You know his name?’
‘Yes, it’s your name too. Your name, like his, is in my mouth. I can’t get his name out of my mouth. I do not drink the milk. He drinks the milk. I do not take the shit but he takes the shit. I’m afraid that if your brother dies, I will cease to exist. Help me. Please. Please,’ he said. He came close to me.
‘I cannot help you,’ I said.
He came yet closer to me. He swiped at me. This man was very small, the coffin-maker. He said my name, my brother’s name. He repeated it. He could say nothing else. He reached at me as if there was nothing else to hold onto.
‘I will not help you,’ I said. ‘I refuse.’
And so I did, and so rightfully so. I would not help this man, as this man was a lunatic of policy, and nothing could be done.
Ben Crowley is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is happy to get back to writing and owes a kidney to Deep Overstock (by DHL right now, friends 😉 ) for getting his butt back in gear. Ben used to sort books for the Amazon warehouse, in our beautiful backcountry of western Pittsburgh. Now he drives a truck, but he’s still selling books at whatever diner, truckstop or seedy hotel he finds himself in.