“Brother's Keeper” by Richard Denoncourt
--page 3

        My father looked back at me with a face more taut than usual. His mustache hung like an executioner’s hood over the thin, angry lips that would decide our fate.
        My brother got up from the couch we were both sitting on.
        Let me take care of this, he said, looking down at me.
        This better be good, said my father.
        It’s time, said my brother. I’m ready to be a man.
        Silently, I mouthed the words, It’s been an honor, soldier.
        My father asked me to leave the room. Hours later, when they came back into the kitchen, my brother winked at me. My father told my mother he had some arrangements to make with the school, and then he headed straight for the phone.
        Go upstairs, he told me.
        I looked at my brother. He nodded and gave a weak smile.
        My brother didn’t get to go to college, but I eventually did—and I excelled. I did it in his honor. He made a sacrifice so I could live life the way I was supposed to live it, and in return I did the best I could to make him proud.
        Whenever I come home for the holidays, my parents embrace me with the same untainted warmth I’d received as a child. It was as if the car fire had never happened—for me, at least. I ache to see my brother, to shake his hand and look him in the eye, but it’s against the rules. And who am I to challenge them? After all, my brother was the one who made them in this case.
        I know he is still there, in the vents. He will always be there. But he will never be alone. Every summer I come home instead of taking intern positions like all my friends. Every night, I talk to him through the grate in the corner of my room. It’s not much, but I guess it could be worse. They could have locked him in the basement where we wouldn’t be able to talk at all.
        Sometimes, I consider leaving for good and forgetting about my family’s terrible secret altogether. But I know I’d never be able to live with myself if I did that.
        So I get down on my stomach and whisper timidly into those abysmal vents. Nowadays, I talk about my wife and my newborn son, whom I named after my brother. I tell him stories as if he were a child. He always asks for more in that high-pitched, child’s voice of his. Once I looked through the grate as a shaft of moonlight passed along the wall. I saw his face, and I wish I hadn’t. Those small, inhuman eyes, blind from all the tunnel-dark years—and that round and hairless face!
        The time between my visits grows longer and longer as the years go by. But I hope he knows I still think of him, just as I know he will always be there, listening in the dark.

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