She spilled the news on me before I even had the chance to react. And what would you even say to that, anyways? I'm sorry? Geez, that sucks? How's it feel to be an only child now? No. Never. You don't say that kind of stuff. You will never be able to find the words to say until it happens to you, too. God forbid.
And she just kind of stared at me. That look was piercing, haunting. It froze my tendons and turned my thoughts to dust. I was a nothing, I was worse than the dirt under her shoes. Because I couldn't solve anything. Because I couldn't make it better. Because I was just as helpless as she was, and she hated me for it.
The feeling wasn't a red, or a black. It wasn't any colour I could really name, but it wasn't a gray either. It was a block of things, a puzzle, the outline of a crumpled soda can. Edges poking inside to spill the remains out through the tiny pinpricks, the fractures in the metal. I could go on and on into metaphors but she – I don't have words to describe her eyes. But I don't have to. You know that look. You've seen it before on the vapid TV dramas, poorly copied to the point where it makes you giggle, even though you know you shouldn't. This is no laughing matter. You know that. So why can't you stop? Your fingers are tapping on the sides of your chair at light speed, your jaw is aching and your gut is squeezing together from the straining feeling, from the effort of not splitting your skin. That kind of laughter. And it makes you embarrassed, so bloody embarrassed. But you can't stop, you won't ever stop, because if you do-
I don't dream about dying. I'm not that kind of person who sleeps too little and has nightmares about falling from high places and sinking in quicksand. No, I have the dreams about clowns, about edgy little people with shifting names and changing faces. Twice, I've dreamt about leaving the country and once, being trapped in a room full of spiders. There are always some kind of six-legged, twelve-legged, freakishly scuttling bugs about. They say hello from the wooden floors, or the ceilings if there are carpets. That one time when I was trapped, there was a nest of them behind the furnace in the boiler room. The stairs all fell in and the door locked behind me. Freud says if there's a big black one, it's supposed to represent your mother, but then Freud always said everything relates back to killing your father and marrying your mother, so I think Freud was full of it. Freud was a nutcase.
Do you ever dream about your parents? Inappropriate dreams that make you wake up in a sweat and spend the next three hours retching until your tongue feels like it's going to fall off? Or do you dream of sharks and corpses and dead things? God forbid you should have nice dreams like that woman from that old TV show. She made herself a husband and a family, all in her head. Then they put her in a coma so that she could be with them forever. Is that stupid? I can't tell these days. Everything sounds like a great idea.
Did it sound like a great idea to her brother, too? Too many drugs, too much alcohol. Was that more important than his family? Did he aspire to Debbie Parks famedom, drowning in cherry jello? Did he even notice when his world ended?
She said she knew the moment he was gone, knew that instant, that very instant that something was wrong. I searched for the only words I could find, from someone else who knew better. That was my default. I haven't trusted my own opinions in years. "Life," I said, "is just a series of having everything break apart when someone dies, and then finally getting used to it never being the same… Only to have things break apart again and again when everybody else around you bites it."
This is what happened. I know that now. She dried her tears and nodded at me; pulled me close so that I could hold her. This is what happens when your brother gets wasted and falls asleep in the road.