A Brother’s Gift

Response to November 4th prompt:

Go to where you stream your music.
Hit shuffle!
Write a short work inspired by that song. Is it a
sad and dramatic song? Write about a break-up
or mourning a death. Does it make you want to
dance? Write about a night out at a club! Have
fun with it and get in touch with your emotions.

Rachel Sharer, Marketing Editor

by britt harston, VM reader

They shuffle awkwardly amongst themselves, parting like an unwelcoming, rigid black sea. Their eyes, judging or pitying my loss, eyeing the bottle in my hand, its drips licking at the carpet at my feet. My $200 shoes will be ruined, but what of it? Putting the cold, callous glass to my lips, I swig big and long, as if he would appear at the bottom of the bottle.  

But he does not.  

The stairs are an endeavor I regret halfway up, their jagged edges, rocks in my mind, slicing at my ankles and calves like the metaphorical blades battering my heart. A tease, truly. If only they would take me out. To join him. It would be easier. Easier than climbing this infuriating mountain of a house. A useless house.  

But they do not.  

My hand wraps around the handle of his bedroom door, an arduous task. The alcohol isn’t enough to stop the tugging in my chest and the stinging in my eyes. If not to open this door, he lay sprawled on his bed, guitar hugged to his chest, angels singing through his lips.  

But he is not.  

I open the door to a dark room, empty and hollow of emotion and sentiment. The nostalgic air has left, following his body as I had before watched it, not even thirty minutes ago, lowered into a wooden casket. Throwing the empty bottle at a wall, I scream, “BROTHER!” An animalist howling, deeper than my throat, pulling from every fiber deep in my chest, blood, bones, and soul. The whiskey rust settled harder after such irritation. Choke me, I beg it.  

But it refuses.  

It is not enough. To see the memories on these walls, posters, and pictures of old girlfriends. The papers on his desk, college letters, bills, and guitar pics littered amongst every possible surface. Cups, soda cans, and empty snack bags. He had left a mess of his room. Slobby. Selfish. Careless. Immature. I wanted it all to light fire and burn into ash, cease to exist.  

But it stayed motionless and whole.  

My fist crumples up a past-due bill, and I throw it down on the floor. Feeling a sense of satisfaction, I kick over the old wooden desk chair. Then a lamp. Then a side table. I grab viciously at the posters and pictures on the walls, a barbaric liturgy, advancing on anything within reach, destruction, and yells of rage, the only resonating message I can hear, until the strum of his guitar strings hum away the adrenaline. Had he played?  

But he had not.  

My thumb slides across the strings again, their vibration purring memories into the forefront. He’s whistling at the kitchen table, drawing circles and lines along the staff on a page. He’s punching me in the arm, laughing with me as I drive him to his friend’s house. He’s chasing the dog behind my bicycle as we race along the boardwalk. He’s yelling as we argue the semantics of the card game I was trying to cheat at. He’s crying in the backyard as I walk to comfort him from a breakup.  

But he is dead.  

I drop to my knees, grasping hard around the guitar, hugging it to my chest. The creaks and groans of its body are far from persuasive to make me release. My jaw hurts as I grind my teeth, my tears soaking the worn wood, his grease spots still reflecting in the light from where his fingers pressed most often along its neck.  

But he will never play again.  

The bedroom door groans slowly as it is being opened. “Get out!” I shout hysterically, and it closes quickly. I wipe the tears on my jacket, but the material is slick and useless. I stand and rush in, ripping it from my body, its glossy black fabric crumpling in the corner. I rip off the tie and white shirt, splitting seams in my hurried process, then kick the shoes next to everything on the floor.  

But he would have never worn this trash.  

Rapid heaving breaths oscillate my chest, panting out the last of the sobs. I wipe and wipe. I keep wiping my eyes, my nose, and my mouth. It’s never-ending—a flood of liquid lava devouring the last of my sanity. Ripping the top sheet off his bed, I finish wiping off my disgusting face and fall back onto his bed, its angry squeaks proclaiming displeasure at the weight of my body.  

But he had been so much smaller.  

It should have been me. He had far too much potential, yet I lay here, alive and breathing. A waste of space, never having belonged anywhere. He had, though. He had belonged. He had thrived and created and planned for more. His ceiling was littered with tiny plastic stars. We had put them up as children, and now they twinkled in the sunset light from the window. Winking at me, mocking my pain and failures in life, reveling in my self-loathing. A celestial inside joke of injustice and irony.  

But he still belonged, just not among the living.  

As I stared, the stars blurred together, swirling into a mystical frolic of light. I could imagine it. The car. The driver, sucking in another joint. The stars transformed, lining up to create constellations of curves, the bent-up hood of my brother’s car, the shattered windows, and missing handles from doors so bent in, they couldn’t be seen. The stars didn’t form a body inside of the Chevy.  

But he had been in the car.  

Then they morph. Swirling around to create eyes, a chin, tousled hair, and long fingers wrapped around a guitar, the other hand reaching toward me. I reach up to him. The stars dance and twirl, prancing off the ceiling and stringing around my hand, wrist, and arms. A smokey, gleaming, astronomical haze. They tickle, and I smile. I am the stars now. I look down, and a constellation of my own forms as I clasp his hand in mine.  

I am with him now.  

Britt Harston is a reader for Violet Margin. They are an English major with a minor in psychology, expecting to graduate in 2024. In their spare time they enjoy advanced rollerskating.


By violetmargin

The literary journal of the University of Illinois at Springfield.

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