The same brother sat across the table, his chin resting on the backs of his folded hands, smiling at me. "What's wrong with you?" he said, as the train lurched forward. "Aren't you hot?"
"I'm fine." I tried to smile back at him, but ended up gritting my teeth instead. I'd always been able to tell my brother everything. He knew about most of my delusions, my weird dreams and the way I couldn't make the dreams end when I woke up in the morning. But how was I supposed to tell him that only a few hours ago, I had watched myself kill him?
"You're hallucinating again, aren't you?" My brother continued to smile. "I can tell by the way your eyes keep darting around."
I fidgeted with my place setting to avoid looking at him.
"Look. You don't have to hide shit from me. I know you." He laughed. "I know you so well. Remember the time I caught you playing with Suzanne's dolls? I didn't tell a soul, did I? Maybe I teased you about it, but what kind of brother would I be if I didn't? I promise, I'll only tease you a little this time around."
"This is different."
"Different from what?"
"Different from anything I've dreamed about before."
"C'mon. How bad can it be?"
"But it isn't real, right?" He nodded at the server who had just set a glass of iced water in front of him. "So it can't possibly be as bad as you think. It's just a dream. If you don't start thinking of your dreams as dreams, you'll go crazy."
"I think I already have," I mumbled.
My brother wasn't listening. His eyes followed our server all down the aisle. "She's cute," he said. "Don't you think?"
"I hadn't noticed." I craned my head around to watch the woman work. She was the kind of blonde you see cast in movies as a top lawyer or doctor, far too young to be believable in the role, but you accept her anyway because she's pleasant to watch on screen. A man approached her and whispered in her ear. I can only assume he was her supervisor. "I don't think she likes me," I said, as she glanced my way.
"What makes you say that?" My brother swirled the ice in his glass.
"She didn't bring me any water."
"You didn't ask for any."
"Neither did you."
He laughed. "It doesn't mean she doesn't like you. It just means she likes me more. Should I ask her to bring you a glass?"
I shook my head. "I'm not thirsty. I just noticed was all. I don't know why you're watching girls anyway, and I don't know why you're riding home with me, when your bride of three hours is waiting by herself."
"She can handle it. She's a big girl. You just looked a little sick at the wedding, and I know how you can get sometimes." He leaned across the table and poked my arm. "My brother comes first. Jenny understands that. She was worried about you, too, you know."
"Really?" "Anyway, just because I'm married doesn't mean my eyes have been gouged out of my head." When the blonde stood over our table again, my brother announced, "You order. I'm not hungry after everything I ate at my wedding reception." There, he conveyed with a wink, she's all yours.
I ordered the lamb, doubting I'd eat any of it. I still felt sick inside. Perspiration glued my clothes to my skin, and my heavy coat didn't help the situation.
"Why don't you take that off?" my brother said. "You're starting to look sick, and no girl I know goes for that in a guy."
"I can't," I mumbled, unable to look at him.
"I think my shirt is stained."
"So?" He pulled at my sleeve, teasing me. "Dad spilled half a glass of wine on his, but it didn't stop him from dancing with every one of the bride's maids."
"This isn't wine."
"Well, what is it then?"
I cleared my throat, but my voice still cracked when I said, "It's blood."
The train lurched and the lights flickered, punctuating my answer more dramatically than I would have liked. I thought I saw my brother make a horrible face just before the darkness hid him from me, but when the soft, overhead glow stuttered back to life, he was smiling as though he had never done anything but smile.
"And?" He shrugged.
I bowed my head and rearranged my silverware. My brother waited. Was he aware that he tortured me with his questions? I couldn't tell. He merely smiled and smiled, like he used to do when he teased me about my nightmares. "My dreams have gotten more violent," I said. "They're scaring me."
"Violent like the one with the squirrels?" He nudged me from across the table. "Remember the squirrels?"
I nodded. Of course, I remembered the squirrels. How could I forget them? One night, I dreamed that while walking through a park on a warm day, I had to sidestep the carcasses of scores of dead squirrels. Oddly, it wasn't frightening, just inconvenient. I remembered trying not to let them ruin the beauty of the day. I remembered waking up and believing the incident with the squirrels had happened only yesterday, rather than in one of my dreams. But I didn't remember telling my brother about it. I didn't remember mentioning the squirrels to anyone.
I shook my head to rid it of the images my faulty memories brought to mind. "This is worse than the squirrels," I muttered, wondering if perhaps I had been keeping a journal and forgotten about it.
"Nonsense." My brother waved his hand around as though he were battling a sudden onslaught of imaginary flies. "Look, why don't you just take your coat off? You'll see. No one will even notice. Then, you can relax and talk straight to me. I gotta know you're clear-headed before I leave you alone, okay?"
I couldn't argue with him. He was right, after all. I sucked in a deep breath of stuffy air and held it while I unbuttoned my coat. The stains still colored my shirtsleeves, but they were browner than before, almost black. I swallowed hard and forced myself to look at my brother. He hadn't stopped grinning.
"See? Nothing's there," he said.
"I can see it."
"I can't, and I'm the one both of us should trust more." He chuckled and nodded a quick thank you to the server, who had brought the dinner I ordered.
"Something's wrong." I began rocking in my seat, but caught myself and stopped. "She won't even look at me."
"She doesn't like you," my brother said, more pleasantly than I would have liked. "She likes me. All women prefer married men. There's a statistic about it somewhere, I swear."
"They've always preferred you," I muttered. I half hoped he wouldn't hear, but only half.
My brother stood in the sun, always, while I waited in his shadow. I lived through him. His friends were my only companions. His hobbies became my hobbies. His loves, my obsessions. My heart rejoiced the day he fell for Jenny—a new girl for me to adore. She noticed me. She confided in me. I started to believe she loved me. Maybe she did, but she married my brother. I wouldn't have had it any other way, really. I wanted her to be happy. Except…
"I convinced myself I was in love with Jenny for a long time," I began. "Maybe you noticed."
My brother raised his eyebrows at that, but didn't say a word.
"It was easier that way because that's normal, isn't it? But I don't think I was ever in love with her." I needed to keep my hands busy. So I began to cut my meat into bites the way our mother did for us when we were children. "I need you too much. I've just got to face that. I don't think I even exist anymore. I don't know who I am without you."
When I finished cutting the meat, I spread my hands out flat on the table and stared at them. They were clean. I thought I remembered washing blood from them. I thought I remembered a lot of things.
"So," my brother said, "is that what this is all about?"
"I think so." I picked up my fork and began moving the food around my plate without ever actually eating it. "I… I killed you in my dream. I killed you just before your wedding. I've never had a dream like that, you know? And now I feel like it's a memory. I feel like your blood is on my shirt, like you're lying there in your dressing room just as I left you. I wonder what Jenny will do when she finds you. That's how real it is to me."
"Does it help you to talk to me about it?"
I nodded, not daring to look at him. "I think some part of me is trying to tell me I need to distance myself from you. I've got to know who I am without you."
"So you kill me?" He laughed, but I couldn't. "Oh, come on. You know I'm only teasing. Listen, that's what dreams do. They distort things until you can't even recognize them anymore. You're just unfortunate in that you can't tell your dreams from your memories, so your head's full of nonsense and symbols. You feel guilty for shit no one else has to feel guilty for. Look at me." He reached across the table and laid his hand over the blood on my sleeve. I struggled to keep from moving it. "I'm right here. I'm not dead. You haven't killed anyone. Now finish your dinner."
It did feel better to have spoken to him, though I wasn't sure anything had been resolved. No matter. We would finish our conversation later. I ate what I could of the meal I'd ordered. Though it tasted delicious, I couldn't enjoy it somehow. The feeling that something was still horribly wrong wouldn't leave me. The stains on my shirt hadn't vanished when I realized they were only delusions. Usually, my delusions ceased tormenting me when I saw them for what they were. Still my brother lay slumped against the window just across the table, asleep but alive. I listened to the clacking of the train as it slid along its tracks. It rattled in my ear like an overbearing clock.
I've never felt so alone as I did while my brother slept on that train. The server came back to clear our table. Without even looking at me, she informed me we would be arriving at our destination in about ten minutes. I considered complaining about the service, but decided it wasn't worth the effort. More than anything, I just wanted to go home. I wanted to get the hell out of my clothes, throw them away even. Maybe I would catch an old romance on TV. My brother hated old romances. Yeah. That could be a good first step toward developing my independent self.
I thought more about finding myself while I stared out the window at the drizzle and grey. This would be my breakthrough, my emergence in the world. I pressed my forehead against the glass and watched it blur from my breath. Beautiful. After a few minutes of relieving my headache with the chill of the glass, I noticed a newspaper wedged between my bench and the wall. Someone had left it. I spread it flat on my table. It was an old paper, but I had nothing better to read.
I should never have opened it. I know that now. But what difference would it have made had I left it there? Ten minutes: that's what I lost when I opened that paper.
Avoid Grace Park this week, it read. Authorities have determined the time has come to take action. Grace Park has suffered from what some would call a "squirrel infestation" for some time, but this year citizens finally demanded a solution. "We want to make sure people are aware of why we're doing this," said Randy Crawford of Animal Control. "The squirrels may be cute, but they're an invasive species. They contribute to the spread of disease, and they're disrupting other wildlife in the park. We've had numerous complaints that they're even becoming aggressive with children who bring food into the park." Crawford would not comment about the nature of the extermination, but it seems some kind of poison will be involved. "Grace Park will be a safer place for children, pets, and other wildlife when we're finished. There will still be a few squirrels, but we'll implement a fine for picnickers who feed them, and we'll keep a closer eye on their population." Authorities will close the park this week for extermination and cleanup. They advise families to keep away from the area, as it probably won't be a pleasant sight for children.
"My God." I closed the paper and reopened it, just to make sure. "My God." My body trembled as the train slowed. I leapt from my seat. "Get up! Wake up!" I shook my brother by the shoulders. "Oh, please wake up! I can't do this alone! It's real. They're all real!" My brother's body slumped lower the more I shook him. Then I saw that his window hadn't fogged. "He's not breathing." I screamed, but no one listened. I shook my brother harder. "Wake up! Please, wake up! I can't see what's happening. What's happening? Oh God, you're bleeding. Why are you bleeding?"
I barely heard the train grinding to a halt. My stop, but it didn't matter. My brother's blood crawled between my fingers like trails of tiny ants, bright red in the threads of my shirt. I cried. I shook him. I begged for someone to help him. But they knew he wasn't there. He never had been.
Every window reflected my brother's face as they pulled me from that train. All he ever did was smile. Few things slipped past the barrier of that smile.
Outside, the server cried. Someone consoled her. I heard her mutter, "They said he was unarmed. They said to keep him calm. So I did." She burst into fresh tears as I passed her. It embarrassed me to see her cry.
And the reporters. "The agonizing story of the man who murdered his brother in cold blood and then bought him a train ticket is finally coming to a close…" The flashes of their cameras made my eyes water. The agonizing story… is coming to a close.
A man in white put a needle in my arm. I begged him to wake me up. "Please."
"I'm sorry, son." His face melted along with the rest of the world. "There's no waking up from this."