My Brother and his Brother
My Brother and his Brother
There are five hundred and two days between the last day of your life and the first day of mine. Still, you have always been present, more or less.
My first true image of you was the school photograph that used to stand on top of the television in the living room. You are a thirteen-year-old boy who looks like my mother. Your hair is rather long, well groomed and dark. Just like Mother's. You don't smile in the picture. You don't look at me. Instead, your eyes are focused on something far beyond the camera and the schoolmates. I am an almost three-year-old boy standing in front of the television set looking up at your picture. The balcony door by my side is open. Flakes of snow find their way into the warmth. They whirl around your picture before they reach the floor and melt.
"Who's that?" I ask my parents.
"It's your brother," Mother replies, closing the balcony door. "It's your brother Paul."
"He died before you were born," Father explains.
But I'm cold and much too small to understand.
I am looking at your picture. Sometimes, if I'm sad, it seems you are sad too. When I'm happy, I believe I can see a secret smile on your lips.
I was standing there looking at the picture of you. I couldn't comprehend that you were my brother and that you were dead. It was a thought much too abstract for me. My family meant Mother, Father, and myself. You were still just a thought. Or, maybe, a wish.
When I grew older-this must have been when I started to school-I began to ask my parents about you. I wanted to know who you were, what you had done, with whom you had played. For you must have played, Paul, you were just a child when you died.
"Paul was so nice," Mother told me. And she was using the voice she'd use when she told me stories. "He was so clever. He liked painting and drawing. Everybody liked him. The teachers at school, the schoolmates, the kids on the street. They all liked him. And they were all so sad when he died, so very sad."
"Did all his classmates come to the funeral?" I asked.
"No. Not all. Just some of his closest friends. They'd had some ceremony at school already-I believe it was the day before the funeral-but the church was still full."
"Why did he die?"
"You know why," she said slowly. "I've told you a hundred times."
"But still," I begged. "I want you to tell me just once more. I want to hear it."
"He was hit by the train and died instantly. It was all very sudden."
"No," I said. "Not like that. Tell me like you used to tell me."
"Paul liked to go to the forest. He loved watching the animals and the flowers and trees. He was always hoping he'd meet some wild creature-"
"Did he ever meet fox cubs?" I interrupted.
Mother smiled. "Yes, one morning when he was up very early. Stefan and I had just waked up when Paul got home. He was laughing and yelling when he came through the door. 'Wake up! Wake up!' he yelled and entered our bedroom. He sat down on the side of the bed and began telling us about the fox cubs."
"How old was he then?"
"Eleven or twelve, I guess. And he told us about his walk in the forest. He had sat down on some old fallen tree-trunk when suddenly he heard a whining sound. At first he got scared, he told us, but he was so curious. So Paul climbed up on a big rock so that he could see better, and so that he would be safe, I guess. And right there, just below the big rock, he saw the three little fox cubs playing outside their burrow."
"That must have made him happy, didn't it?"
"Yes," said Mother