March 16, 2013 § 14 Comments
Happy to share our second-place winner in the Mystery and Memory Contest, from Mary Collins
In the Looney Tunes cartoons of the seventies, Wile E. Coyote runs out of road and hurtles headlong over cliffs, legs pedaling hilariously in mid-air. Sylvester the cat, flattened by a steamroller, peels himself off the road, shakes himself out, and gets back to pursuing Tweetie Pie.
How we laugh.
I am eleven when I almost kill my brother. It is summer vacation and, bored, we make a game of bounding from one end of our long hallway to the half-glazed front door at the other in fewer than ten leaps. Daniel is a year older than I, his wiry legs longer. I am stationed beside the door counting aloud his scissoring strides when a magnificent vision comes to me: If I open the door he’ll continue, Wile E-style, out into the air beyond it, his frayed t-shirt flapping outside his shorts, all the better to fly.
How we’ll laugh.
On the count of eight, I swing open the door, letting in a rush of light and space and noise, extending our playground into infinity. My eyes fix on Daniel’s, eager to see his delight. His rapt determination morphs into confusion, then terror, as, on the count of nine, too late for him to slow down, the door not yet fully open, his swinging fist meets the glass at its center. The frosted pane bursts outward, shards flying into the heedless traffic roaring past our door. His arm pumps involuntarily in and then out of the jagged hole, and he crashes to a halt against the doorframe. Shocked witless, we cannot speak.
Daniel, still standing, lifts his arm, holding out its slender underside. In silence we watch the barest scrape move upward from his wrist as if etched by an invisible hand. His blood runs ink-blue beneath his uncut skin.
The glass saved Daniel from the trucks; dumb luck saved him from the glass.
What were you thinking? my mother cried, not unreasonably. I knew the answer of course, but mortification kept me from ever giving voice to it.
Now, decades later, as I picture my brother and me in mute contemplation of his wrist, I cannot help but see on his pale inner arm the wormlike trails of boxcutter scars and stitch-marks. In his thirties he three times slit his tender wrists. Each time—in the nick of time—he was found, revived, saved. He was hearing voices by then, loony tunes of his own. As fast as he’d run, they’d catch up with him. One night outside his home he ran headlong under a bus.
Whether Daniel left us by accident or design was never clear. But the memory of our leaping game returns to me now freighted with the mystery of all that it portended. My childish spark of imagination might so easily have killed him all those years ago. Yet I can’t help but wonder now at all it might have spared him, too.
Mary Collins has twice been the recipient of a scholarship from the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony in Provincetown. She grew up in England and now lives on Cape Cod with her husband and son. She is working on a series of linked memoir pieces about the enduring impact, for good or ill, of the stories we hear as children. This is her first submission to a journal.