What They Were

By Aramayah Ocol

Curling at convergence, the red wallpaper yielded to the heat as silence heavier than fog enveloped the space between the two brothers. The flame of the candle resting on the table flickered as steam rose like holy incense from two cups of coffee. Canaan watched Vincent lean forward over the candle setting his elbows on the table’s edge resting his head atop his hands. In the darkness of Vincent’s shadow, coolness crawled, and Canaan shivered beneath it. 

“Abel used to call that your mark of anointing,” Vincent smiled, slightly cocking his head at the mark above his brother’s left brow. 

Canaan met Vincent’s unflinching gaze. Canaan remembered what he saw behind the shroud that had lifted briefly from Vincent’s eyes; the incarnation of permanence, power, and pain. Yet, Canaan had been the one to depart. He knew Vincent wondered if he’d disappear again; recede back into another dark corner in the city. He rubbed the mark above his brow. 

“Pass the sugar,” Canaan stammered as if his voice, in a state of weary intoxication, staggered out of the hollows of his throat. Vincent slid the bowl of sugar beside Canaan’s cup as Vincent searchingly looked at his brother. Yet, why did he look when he could offer nothing? His failure had ordained him a loiterer. Who was going to tell him to leave? Anger was not pushing him out. Something was terribly wrong. As always Canaan ignored it. Plopping in four cubes, Canaan relentlessly stirred his coffee with a silver spoon. 

“Another sugar cube, perhaps?” Vincent asked, his eyes smiled. 

Canaan faintly laughed brushing his hand over the mark above his brow. Steadfast like the gongs of a church bell summoning the hour, Vincent, the youngest, was the steeple of strength. 

“Milk, Canaan?” 

“No,” Canaan said lowering his eyes. If for a moment too long he allowed his eyes to meet Vincent’s, Canaan knew he’d unfairly pry for solutions he felt unworthy of, and penetrate further into the damage he had created. 

“Mom and dad want you the same way they want Abel, “ Vincent said. “It’s been three years now. Come home.” 

Canaan wanted to obliterate the candle flame flickering between the two of them. Froth still swirled in his cup. He remembered how the stain had seeped through Abel’s shirt into his lap and onto the floor like a disease. 

Canaan dipped his pinky into his scalding coffee. Instantly he pulled out his finger. The tip was red. In every crevice and corner, heat lingered like a heavy smog. 

Vincent reached for Canaan’s finger, “Give it to me.” 

“It’s not burnt.” 

“Mom always knew best how to care for burns. Give me your hand.” 

“Stop it.” 

“That’s what you always used to say. Give it here.” 

“I can handle it myself, Vincent!” Canaan said, jerking his body out of his brother’s reach. Vincent jolted. Canaan twisted the teaspoon deep into the palm of his hand. He was numbering his bones. Vincent rested onto the back of his chair. Canaan could hear Vincent’s exhaling breath and knew Vincent was watching him in agony. 

Leaning forward again, Vincent’s shadow was heavy on Canaan. Disentangling the spoon from Canaan’s fingers, Vincent slipped the spoon beneath his brother’s hand, placing his own hand firmly over. Canaan felt his hand tremble the way his body had overtop Abel’s. Vincent had pushed him off his limp bleeding brother. He had descended the staircase, where at the bottom, the door had been waiting to swallow him away. 

“I wasn’t there when the ambulance came,” Canaan whispered. Vincent was silent. 

Rubbing the mark, Canaan was being consumed by the monsters of his memories: pulsations of jealousy rippled across his body. Tingles commanding his fingers before he had seized Abel in his fists. Abel falling, hitting the crown of his head against a steel pipe intruding in the shadow of Canaan’s room. He had pushed Abel. Pressing his chest against Abel’s head, straining to prevent the life from seeping away, Canaan had wrapped his body around Abel. 

“What if Abel comes back?” Vincent pleaded in loneliness, feeling his brother’s presence slip away. 

“He’s been in a coma for three years, Vincent,” Canaan said. Standing, Canaan neatly tucked the chair back under the table placing the teaspoon into the coffee. The candle flame danced in mockery at Canaan.

Aramayah is a first-year student at St. Mike’s College at U of T. She is planning on doing a major in Slavic Studies due to her interest in great Russian writers like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Her favourite book is Crime & Punishment by Dostoyevsky but The Idiot (also by Dostoyevsky) is a close second.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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