Sunday, January 30, 2011
Memoir : chapter 1
The sound of cicadas is the sound of in between. You feel the brevity of what seems ongoing, of what you know is a recital of time. And the cicadas sang louder than usual that day, punctuating and tickling the air, floating a ballad up and around, like the laughter of the boys. These were the soaring waves of summer, the heights of being recklessly happy. Adolescent years are pitched with the softest and hardest of times, as in voices changing, going up, going down, so do moments, these seconds in time.
They heard the jeep pull up. Brice, the youngest, sat in thin pajamas occasionally looking at that guava juice on the nightstand. His parents would be returning from the lake in about an hour and it’s hard to stay in bed when you’re sick and you’re at the summerhouse. It must’ve been the mountain air but this was a place to frolic, not sit still. The house smelled of wisteria and sweet wood, warmed from the sun beaming on the floors and the rooms were small except for the downstairs parlor where everyone liked to be, if you had to be inside at all. A horn sounded and Axel’s feet made a drum roll down the painted steps, through the parlor and straight out the front door. “Zoukie!” he yelled out, “Let’s go!”
Christian followed through the lazy door. It had a specific noise and swung behind him with an invitation to return inside. He had a calm stride and was tall for his age- lanky as his rifle in hand. Christian and Axel were two years and six inches apart- brothers and best friends. Up in the mountains of Furcy, there was something majestic in the sinking green, something so lush and open, like being forgiven, or an unconditional love. The verdure was a contrast from the suburbs of Port au Prince where they normally lived, tucked in the nameless hills next door to the Lacombe girls. Back home, not far away, the houses were colorful and flanked with fruit trees and huge poinsettia bushes. Cheerful neighborhoods were holding hands. Here, there was the absence of bustle, of nonsense, of noise. It was beautifully quiet.
Raised in colonial etiquette, in strict white class, they were on the shy side of the well behaved. They tried to be cool like the boys downtown, the ones that hung out at the soda shop, but their starched white shorts gave them away. Christian’s hair was slicked back and kept in check, almost recluse like him, and matched his just-laced boots and tall dark socks. By contrast, Axel was much like his father: reddish blond with blue eyes, freckled and wide smiled. The breeze smelled like rain and it was a perfect summer morning: June 1951, and not at all humid like it normally was. Their father used to say “the air is so thick you could eat it with a spoon”. They knew exactly where to hunt pheasant- at the edge of the woods by Monsieur Lévesque’s farm where they were the day before. Yesterday didn’t bring much luck but it seemed the gods were smiling on them today. It was just their way of being positive when there’s nothing else to do anyway.
Maurice was so proud of his jeep he couldn’t wait to drive it, even if it was just around the corner. Driver’s licenses didn’t matter much, as long as you could drive, that was enough. He made another honk, probably just to hear it again. He’d known the Naudé brothers since just about forever. Stepping out to help load their gear, he was as excited to hit the dirt roads as he was to go hunting. They were getting an early start to be back by “5 o’clock sharp”. Madame Naudé had a thing with being on time, in fact she had a thing with all things.
Running in circles around the jeep, Axel clapped his hands on his lap. He was fascinated by the American cowboy stories he’d heard of, and loved to imitate the gallop of the heroes in his imagination. “Howdy, partner!” Axel made a funny drawl. He looked back at Christian, with the admiration of any other day. His knees were skinny, his shorts fit right. He adjusted his imaginary cowboy hat and whipped by Maurice leaning on his jeep.
“C’mon we don’t have all day”, Maurice laughed. You couldn’t help but laugh at Axel.
A goofy smile holds anyone captive. His hair was sloppy and his knuckles were unusually red. He never saw himself as others did, as most eleven year olds wouldn’t. Brice got up from his bed and watched from the window- too young to know what jealousy meant but he sure knew what it felt like.
“Hold on a sec. I want to make sure I’ve got my….” Christian said. He was quirky and shy. Undeniably graceful. He placed his shotgun on the hood of the jeep to check his bag.
That moment changed the rest of his life.
And comprehension leapt off the world. Axel dropped, as if still playing, as if faking. There was no God watching over them. A silence filled his shirt. In countless holes he slipped, with no room for this red, no place for this sight. Through more holes than years he had, whispers shot out. That mortal gurgle, that gush of goodbye. In the chords of that moment, Christian also dropped, holding his brother, his love, his pain. How much could a soul carry? There is a panic that can resemble no other panic. He would never remember his words, behind that lump in his throat, that wretched tremble in his spine. He fainted inside. And disappeared into the inches between now and never. He scavenged for time to stretch those seconds, those significant seconds, those miserable, unfair seconds. Such a delicate and fragile soul holding another delicate and fragile soul: Axel was waiting in his brother’s arms.
He thought of the past weekend, and looked at the blond hairs on Axel’s neck. He looked at his faint eyebrows and the light of his eyelashes curled over his closed eyes. So fine they were. The unjust silence, the absence, the horror that could never be spoken. He was so afraid. And he would remain in that heaviness forever. He thought of their mother, who made Axel change his shirt last Sunday because it wasn’t clean enough, not pressed enough. They were on their way to Aunt Ella's house. Why couldn’t they be right there, right now, yawning in boredom, waiting for something homemade at Aunt Ella’s? Why couldn’t they be there right now? The dirt was wet with Axel’s life. In a delicate breath, he settled like a baby leaf. His little fingers grabbed nothing. And he wilted into the desert of Christian’s arms.
There wasn’t room for forgiveness. There wasn’t even room for a miracle. In the faintest, slimmest moment, he cradled Axel. He couldn’t catch his brother and put him back. Next to a tiny soul floating out of a tiny body, Christian felt the gravity he would weigh in for the rest of his life: he was prisoner, the executioner, and the jury. In slow motion, the only thought he could have was to lie right there next to him in that pile of hurt, to hold his own head to death, and to let it take him to the hot sun of hell. There was no negotiating as he watched his brother’s blood like it was his own blood. It was a naked pain, and there would be no tomorrow. In a sense, they were both dead.
He holds his breath on the exhale not to stir any further emotions. He tries to remain composed- even alone. Distant trains, distant thoughts bring him nowhere and he locks his hand to his cheek, leaning to the vultures of his mind. Red nightmares twirl inside. And he keeps getting caught in the dirt because that blood, that blood, is his own blood, and those hooks of terror, those fangs, those things, are spread everywhere in the dirtiest dirt the slipping dirt and he can't move in shame, in attack, in punishing fear. Cicadas will sing and distract and he’ll get lost a while, he’ll fix his broken brother, the bits of flesh that have crumbled to the earth, his precious bits, oh my God- those bits, but really it won’t matter when they’re both dead anyway. His curls are secret and secure. And no prayer could comfort his arrest. Not the holiest absolution could free him. No point to follow through, no point to follow through, no point. No more can he leave this moment than can he leave his mind, in hell, in guilt and he’ll warp the slightest invitation of anything like love, and keep it far away. Then drop. Drop. This second. This second he takes guard. This second he turns into a statue. Two eyes fix on him, dancing. He feels blind, looking. In it alone, he feels a rhythm of truth. There is no other way but to accept it: death on top of life, life on top of death. Brace the fact. And the Upstairs Neighbors might ask you to tone it down, but you’re only getting nearer and nearer and nearer. Louder and louder and louder. The angels bang like the cicada’s song, in a last surge of wide-open eyes, and they bring the final truth: this second will last forever.