I’d called at the same time you were calling me, and we said the same words to each other. “Where have you been?”
What’s it called when two people dream the same dream? When I dream an apple, and you dream an apple, and we’re both stung by honeybees in the tree with the apples? You’d said when I was a baby and you’d nap beside me on the bed, your long, dark hair wrapped in my fingers, that we shared dreams, that you’d sync your breath with mine and close your eyes and go into my infant world. Sometimes you and I wear the same clothes and sometimes I feel you at the door before you knock.
Over the phone that day, I imagined the oak tree outside your bedroom window with clumps of leaves on one side and skeleton branches on the other. Lightning had touched it more than once, and still new growth kept coming—thin and waxy green. Your voice on the other end sounded agitated because I didn’t already know what had transpired there. You were in another town 300 miles away, a town with fewer mountains than where I lived. Yours was the town where I grew up.
“He wasn’t sick,” you said because that’s what my first guess had been when you gave me the news. It was a hunting rifle—his own—held to his forehead. His hands were cool and pale on the brown carpet, unreal as puppet hands. Someone had left the closet door open, and blood-splattered dry cleaning bags floated in the wood-paneled dark. I would never see this scene of my brother on the bedroom floor, but you would, and after everyone had come and gone I would help you with the carpet steamer, the bottles of cleaning fluid, the smell of rot in the air.
Summer came and I returned home to the town, to you, and to my old bedroom. I took a job serving regional food to interstate travelers, people who didn’t know why I placed a bottle of malt vinegar next to their side of greens, people who purchased audio-books in the gift shop, and maps, and sample-sized packets of Ibuprofen. I ironed white button-down shirts and khaki slacks before work and tried for days not to eat anything but laxatives. I rubbed lemons on my skin and wore my hair in a braid and disappeared into the public restrooms in the gift shop. I’d read Henry James in the break room and sip warm water for lunch. Nothing could make the stones I felt in my stomach disappear.
At the end of the night, I’d come home to you, and help you fold the clothes, load the dishwasher, empty and fill and make new again. I’d stack your old wedding china in the cabinet, saucer on saucer, flower on vine. Some nights you’d be in your bed with a book, and I’d stare out the living room window into the dark lawn, and there in the light from the neighbor’s house I’d see him standing in his trench coat—the boy we cleaned up out of the floor—alive again and with a bag full of school books on his back.
The nights were quiet in your house, which was also my house again by now, though it didn’t feel like mine. I’d turn out the lights on my way to bed and slide the locks. Let the cat in and place my work shoes by the door. The evenings always went slow. I’d sway in the doorway to my room, afraid to sleep.