“The goal is simple but difficult to comprehend.”
Older Brother said it in carefully measured tones and his eyes widened to emphasize the weight of his words.
I had begun to suspect that the goal transcended any words that he or I could utter, that it was hiding right in the corner that we refused to look at, that it scampered in the shadows that our conversations left behind them with every verbal turn.
But I wanted to hear what he had to say. Right then, it was my goal to listen to him and to take in his words even if their effect within me was not what he had intended. The timbre of his voice was as crucial as the rhythm of the syllables that rubbed against each other like tiny silver stones.
“We must find a way to rise above the circumstances that surround us, to banish the forces that seek to cage us in. We must disrupt years of mechanized conditioning and find a way out, a way out of the prison, a way out of the cage.”
I nodded and sincerely agreed. It was never what we said but what we didn’t say that left me with a gap in the pit of my stomach. There was something that we had been avoiding, and we had been avoiding it for years, together. We had shared years of looking elsewhere, years of carefully tracing our steps around a gap in our understanding that pulsed and breathed like an angry stingray.
I couldn’t point to it because I was avoiding it as much as he was. And even if I did point, it would only shift quickly into a different corner and our conversation would continue and soon I would once again feel it pulsing at my back. I could only sometimes call attention to it but even the call itself would soon be swallowed in the vortex of our endless stream of words.
I remembered all of this in the darkness, even if it seemed to mean little if anything to me now, even if it was all incomprehensible to the one that now walked alone in the Old House, trying to ascertain where things were and what meaning they now implied with their existence.
At first, I could only see the outline of everything, like thin lines drawn on black paper to suggest a wall or a desk or a painting. I didn’t reach out to touch anything because I didn’t want to find out that there was nothing there for me to touch.
I was standing over the second stairway, looking all around me and wondering how I came to be here. Was I remembering Older Brother while I walked through the Old House in the darkness or was I thinking of the Old House while Older Brother talked to me about leaving the past behind?
Here was the past itself, in clear and distinct shapes and heavy massive volumes. Here was the long white wall that ended in gray river rocks, spread out in random patterns over an ocean of sand, subtly vibrant with implied whispers of endless suffering, of a place where old soldiers went to die, where they vanished forever after a long life of battle and hardship. Here was the oval shaped dinner table which was also an ancient city full of criminals, here were the dark wooden stairs which were also an old port full of ships and soldiers.
I turned around and I could see the long open windows that surrounded the corner of the upper living room, and I could see the dim lights of a city that pulsed with an angry desperation that reached through the glass like a giant invisible hand covered in rough hair.
I looked up towards the long and final corridor. There was a light in Father’s bedroom. I couldn’t stop myself from believing that it was him, that he was up there and awake and that he was bound to notice that something or someone was wandering out here in the darkness. But it was only a light, a dim yellow light in the middle of black emptiness.
I moved slowly through the open space that surrounded me. I looked up towards the slanted wooden ceiling and the Old House overwhelmed me like an ancient temple. For me there was nothing, there could never be anything, more ancient than the Old House.
The Old House was the place where everything began and it would have to be the place where everything ended. As I looked up, I could sense the walls and the roof rise up above me, or maybe I was just shrinking as I fixed my attention on the apex of the wooden pyramid. The more I looked, the larger the Old House became, the more it spread out in all directions.
I pulled away from that vision and stepped into Grandmother’s room. It was a small white barren room just to the left of the last set of stairs. There was no one there. Nothing but shiny white bricks and open windows. I looked towards the house next door and I thought I saw a light there, but it could have been nothing, a firefly, a match, maybe even just the reflection of the light that was still shining in Father’s room, calling to me without spoken words.
I was by then convinced that Father was there, behind the closed door at the end of the final hallway. I had to make certain that he didn’t see me. I had to make sure that he never became aware that I had come here in the darkest hours after midnight and that I had wandered through his house like an intruder without any apparent purpose, moving little things that should have remained still. I had to be careful to leave him undisturbed and to eventually find a way back and out that didn’t leave any trace of my presence.
“We must find a way to break the chains that have held us. We have to work on this. It won’t be easy. Nothing that truly matters can be easy. “
Older Brother said it and his eyes were as wide as before. As always, I listened and agreed, for there was nothing that I could disagree with in what he had spoken, there was no impulse within me to disagree at all. The words flowed out of him and into me like water and water easily changed shape to fit a new container, leaving behind any previous form it might have held.
I spoke for the first and only time to him that day and I said:
“It is only because of the memory of what you once were that it is still good to see you. You once were something truly great, so great that some of it still slips through what you have now become.”
I thought that maybe that was why we would recurrently return to our past, to reexamine our childhood. Maybe it still held on tightly to that which we valued above all things. Maybe that was why I found myself in the Old House now, wandering through the darkness, hiding from the light.
I lifted my eyes towards the slanted roof again and I allowed myself to float upwards. I rose up slowly, feeling the sensation of freedom rise within me as I released my hold on the floor. There, at the very apex of the wooden pyramid, that is where I would find my escape route.
I saw the empty garden in the distance and the long wooden doors with their rattling little glass windows. I heard a lonely car roaming the empty streets outside, moving slowly from corner to corner, maybe looking for something or someone they had lost. I rose towards the apex, feeling sure that I would soon leave this place behind.
Maybe then there would be no Father. Maybe then there would be no Older Brother. I didn’t know what waited for me on the other side of that wooden barrier but I was eager to face it. I had been avoiding it for far too long. The darkness grew deeper around me, heavier and more oppressive. But it couldn’t bother me. It was now a thing of the past.