White pelicans are gregarious. What one does, they all do. Did you know that? No, why would you? I suppose regular people don’t spare much thought for pelicans, white or otherwise. It’s just, my brother used to say that. My brother knew all sorts of things that other brothers don’t. He knew the difference between the king pigeons and...do you know know the difference yourself?
But no, I suppose it doesn’t matter. Look at me, I’m blabbering. I am boring you. And I so don’t want to bore you. See, the reason I thought about white pelicans just now is that you moved. You think I don’t see you, trying to reach for that key, but it’s alright. You’ll never reach it.
My brother used to say we’re a lot like white pelicans, you know. Not we, him and me, I mean we, people. Humanity. We like to think we’re so evolved, so different from other animals, but we’re not. Not really, not at the core.
The reason you reached for that key is because I moved towards it just now. You imitated me, you think that’s what you should do. But if I were you, I’d try to keep away from that kind of thinking, just now. You’re young, you haven’t been here long, so best you don’t take after me. If I rub off on you, it won’t matter that I die tomorrow or in ten years, you’ll never leave. It’s contagious, whatever I got. And you don’t want to get caught up in it, do you?
No, I thought not.
They’ve been hanging up that key for some twenty seven years. Or perhaps twenty nine. Time is of little matter to someone in my position, which is why you must keep counting. You have to remember what’s happening on the outside, who you were on the outside. They put it up there to taunt me.
And I reach for that key each day. I know I won’t reach it, I was never going to reach it, though I talked myself into it more than once. But you, you must forget about that key, make it as if you don’t care, make it as if you don’t even see their damned key. Make them think you’re different.
‘We really think that Jonny doesn't want to move from Nebraska to Main.’
‘Ain’t nobody asking him, is there? I said, is there?’
There is banging on the other side of the wall. They’re expecting a reaction from you, they know you’re hungry. They know the thirst is killing you, or near enough. It’s not. It’s only been two days, it gets much worse, assure you.
Don’t answer, be still. Lie easy, make like you’re sleeping, they won’t bother us in here. Them young ones, they’re all talk. It’s the old guards you ought to look out for. Some of them have been in here as long as I have. And this place, it changes you, it makes you mean, kills something in you. So be quiet and they’ll let us be.
Be quiet ‘round the old ones, too.
My brother could never be quiet. Always chattering away, drove me and my folks crazy, he did. See, my brother would never make it in a place like this.’Cept I see him sometimes, on the other side of the wall, like maybe sometimes, it’s him banging, me in here, too scared to breathe.
Our dad, he was always the more patient one, always listened to what my brother had to say, even when it was nothing important, even when he didn’t know what he was talking about. My brother, he did that a lot, talked without listening to himself.
It gets too much, after a while. It gets so bad you… you get bad thoughts in your head. Like maybe you’d do anything just so that the bloody noise would stop.
‘Quiet in there!’
Tell you what, you have my bread instead, you’ll get a fine pen free when we’re outta here. I’ve got dozens pens back home, never even used them. See, I bought them like crazy when I was about your age, I did. I was going to college then, getting all amped up about it.
Only my brother, he just wouldn’t shut up about it. He hadn’t gone to college, wasn’t the kind o’ kid who’d do well in college, you see. It was alright, my parents didn’t mind, they kept him home, away from everyone. But they couldn’t keep him away from me. And he was always talking, like I told you. My brother could never shut up about things. He was so damn excited, it was almost like it was him going. Except it wasn’t. And I reminded him every night it wasn’t. It was me who made it. Me.
And one night, I didn’t mean to do it, but there he was, standing in my room, talking. About school and how it was there, like he knew anything about college. And I lost it, isn’t that what they say? Lost it? Only I didn’t. I knew exactly what I was doing. I still see it clearly in front of my eyes. I took one of my fine pens and shoved it in his throat. And then, there was blood everywhere and my brother was trying to breathe, but he couldn’t because of all the blood. It was all like a perfect, secret dance, I held him and he let go. Slowly. And then, he died.
My parents never told anyone. My dad, his protector, his savior, he buried my brother in the forest outside town. Told everyone my brother had gone off to an institution. Nobody bothered much, they all knew my brother was strange, so nobody worried.
And then, I went to college. And I kept waiting for someone to come in that first year, wherever I was, and say they’d found the body, with the pen still sticking out of his throat. I could never bring myself to ask my dad if he pulled out that pen.
But no one did. And the more I waited, the more far away it seemed, until I stopped waiting for it to happen altogether. I forgot my brother’s face and my parents never talked about him. I told the girl I married he died while in care. It was sad, but befitting in a way. It was dignified. Better than dying with a pen stuck in your neck, anyway.
And by that point, I’d grown used to his absence, my brother was something from a far away past. It happened to someone else, it seemed.
Can’t run forever, though, can you? Can’t lie forever, either, not when they know you’re lying in the first place. It’s alright, really. I knew I’d end up here, that they’d catch up with me in the end. Weird, though, I thought I’d see my brother more often.
So you see, that’s why I reach for that key. I know I won’t get out and I know I don’t deserve to. I’m old, I’ve been running from my sins for a long time, but you, you’re a kid. You don’t belong here. What could you’ve done that was so bad, anyway?
No, don’t tell me, there’s plenty of time for that later.
Weekend freewrite inspired by @mariannewest's 3 prompts (in bold). Check her out, she is one amazing lady.
Thank you for reading,