My sister came out onto the porch. Pastel patches of laundry peeked through the rigid squares in the side of the basket she carried in her strong slender arms. The gentle breeze blew wayward strands of chestnut hair away from her face and plastered them against her perspiring neck. She pressed her free hand against the small of her back and stretched.
‘Better check on him. His blankets off again….’
An odd request. I glanced back through the screen door and could just make out the blurred white figure of our brother lying on his downstairs cot. Ever since his second amputation there had been a cot in the front hall for him to rest on. I don’t know who put it there for him and family policy dictated that I should not ask. It probably just materialized. Things like that happened at our house; things were constantly appearing and disappearing without any explanation. One summer morning I got up and the television set was gone. When I asked my mother where it was she asked me if I had washed my hands. I never did find out what happened to the TV and it wasn’t replaced for almost a year. That’s how things were at our house: never a direct question, never a direct statement and never, ever a direct statement of need.
If my mother was pressed she would have explained that the cot in the hall was there because my brother preferred not to bother going upstairs to rest. So much easier to just rest on the main floor, closer to the bathroom. An outsider may have stated more obviously that my brother couldn’t go upstairs, he had no legs. And we didn’t talk about the fact that he was blind. No, he just loved music. He had no time for reading or TV – nope too involved in his music. We were not allowed to discuss the fact that he was dying.
The screen door creaked as I entered the front hall. The dark wood trim made the bright sunlight streaming through the window seem even brighter in contrast. I looked at him lying peacefully on his cot.
With the realization that he was dead came an almost overwhelming relief. There was no need to lie anymore. He was gone – no longer suffering and pretending things were fine. I looked at him sadly and in my mind’s eye set him free. He sat up on the cot and shrugged off deaths sleep. He stood, no longer some sexless torso, but now a young man standing on two strong limbs, breathing deeply of ghost’s air, stretching like a waking cat. With an angry glance at me, he stepped purposefully out onto the sunny porch. Down the steps, across the lawn, his stride gaining momentum until he ran, fairly flying down the sun dappled street. Within seconds he had faded from sight.
The muffled thump of the screen door startled me back to reality as my sister joined me in the hall. ‘Haven’t you covered him up yet?’ she shrilled ‘he’s going to get cold!’ I looked into her panicked brown eyes and then looked away. ‘I can’t’ I replied ‘he’s not here’.