March 10, 2010


Disclaimer: this is a short story and a work of fiction not based on real events.
I wrote this during the summer of 2009.


I will never forget the summer my brother died. Through the intervening decades and the innumerable vicissitudes of a long life, that summer smolders in my memory not as the adjunct to that one, solitary moment of ultimate finality but rather as a single moment spanning a period of the greatest joy, the most mind numbing ennui and culminating in the profoundest grief imaginable. In my mind, the memory of that summer has been contracting into a single point and all that I felt, all that I experienced is contracted into that single lump, forever just beneath surface of my life. My brother’s death is inseparable from our lives that summer as it is inseparable from the leaves matted on the ground, from the wooded hills, from the lake or from the wind moving among the trees.

The lake where my brother died is no more than thirty steps from where I write this account now. Its waters are as frigid and silent as they ever were. Remorseless, the waves tell no tales and promise no forgiveness. My family use to live about a half mile down the valley from here and the two of us had to hike to get to this spot. The trek was worth the effort because there were rock overhangs, caves, broad limbed oaks for climbing and all manner of diversion for boys of that age. On this evening, the first time I have returned since that summer, the landscape looks identical. I can hear my wife breathing next to me as I write this.

She lies there, the gentle rise and fall of her chest betraying signs of life, as if she were deep in thought as she sleeps. Does the memory of this place penetrate her slumber to furrow her brow or is it only my mind that bends its perceptions of the world around that moribund fulcrum of grief?

Emma, the most beautiful girl in school, was too shy to be popular and too intelligent to pay any attention to me. She had eyes only for my brother, who was a year younger than myself and a natural at all sports that involved individual victory, that is to say all sports in which he could prove his unquestioned superiority over me. It was only after my brother’s death that Emma spoke to me and to my great surprise we began dating later that year. She had long dark hair, hips that swung from a petite waist and delicate fingers that were usually seen grasping a book, her narrow, almond eyes moving over its pages for hours on end as she pursed her thin lips in concentration.

She looked then much as she does now, lying here next to me. She told me that she didn’t think it was a good idea for us to come here, that pitching a tent so close to the spot where my brother had lost his life so many years ago would only rend apart long healed psychological wounds. What she cannot understand, however, is that the nothing has healed for me. The final splash in the water, the wind threw the trees, the half-light of the evening cresting the hill, are all as real to me everyday as they were then. Every word I have ever uttered has been a lie and the wind threw these trees whispers the only truth. Every instant has been another scab on this unhealing wound and now I have finally come to tear off the rotted flesh of the accumulated years and expose it to the world.

I told her I loved her. She also told me that she loved me. She is innocent, but it is easy for me to imagine that she knows now and that she knew even then what I am. It is surely paranoid delusion to imagine that she knew the truth behind my words, for how could she know? Telling lies, I begin to suspect them from others. If I can lie to my wife, is it inconceivable that she could lie to me when she pretends to believe my lies? If my lies were so transparent, they would hardly be lies and I would be laid bare and she would be the monster for not fleeing from me. No, she is innocent and I am a liar.

I walk to the waters edge. I stand on the outcropping of rock on which I stood with my brother that summer. I look into the water. A frog leaps and the ripples issue outwards in every expanding wavelets that slowly die on the rocks at the shore. Except the waves from that summer never die and then continue to emanate out not from the lake but from me. In the lies I continue to tell. My wife begins to wakes and I lie to her again. I ask her to come see the sunrise over the lake and as I do I reach into my pack and pull out the revolver. The metal is cool and heavy in mind hands and the weight reminds me of its seriousness. I don’t let Emma see the weapon as I tuck it into my belt and pull my jacket over the handle.
She stretches. She yawns. She comes to stand next to me on the ledge overhanging the lake. We both seem to focus on a point off in the distance rather than the memory directly below us. I know it is down there though.

“This is where my brother shot himself. He was standing here, leaning over the water, and when he died and his body went limp, he fell forward into the water. If you look over the edge of this rock, you can see that it is one of the deepest parts of the lake here. See where the water is the darkest?” I ask her, pointing just over the edge of the rock outcropping. She leans over to look and I pull the revolver from under my jacket. I had loaded only two bullets.

“Yeah, I see it; it’s very dark,” she says, her attention still focused on the water. I have the pistol out now and I am ready. I bring it higher—there is no need to aim at this distance—and I ready myself for the truth. I am now behind her, if only by a little, and I can see the back of her head as she peered into the deepness.

I step to the edge of the abyss from which there can be no redemption and I hurled death into the lake. I am a liar, the little splash said just before the pistol sank out of sight. Emma jumps back, startled.

“Was that a gun?” she said with a start, coming back from the edge to look at me.

“Yeah, it was the pistol my brother used to kill himself. I thought throwing it into the lake would be a way of finding closure for his death. I have always blamed myself for his suicide, in some way, you know.”

“Oh, I see. But you know it wasn’t your fault. Well, you startled me. I am going to go get the fire going and make some coffee.” My wife goes to tend the fire and I stayed. Now I gaze into the deepness and I see myself reflected in the water, my visage dark and wavering. But now I am steady. I have sunk the truth beneath that mirror surface and all that remains is the lie.

“Let’s just go home, Em. I wanted to come here to forget and I think it would be best if we just left now, before I have a chance to dwell on it,” I lied to her again. “And I know what you said is true, and this helped me realize it. It wasn’t my fault,”—my final lie.

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