Small Dark Slits
Published in Club Plum Literary Magazine
As a little boy, the windows of my room were hung with yellowing Venetian blinds. I’d run my hands up and down to hear them clattering like loose teeth in the silence, stroking them closed to darkness. My brother always came and notched them open again. These cracks are how the light gets in, little bud. When he went to school, I’d sit with the slits of sunlight slashing the floor and watch the dust dance.
In the afternoons, I’d press my heart through the ribs of the fence around our yard, waiting for him to walk up the road. When he turned in the gate, he’d laugh without looking at me, and exclaim, Where in the world could my brother be?
He left for boarding school and I moved my perch indoors, beneath the mail slot, my forehead pressed to its cold lips. I’d whisper each letter open with a bone-handled knife he gave me on my tenth birthday. I opened them whether his return address was on them or not, just in case.
Years later, I used the knife to cut slits in my neck, three on each side, deep enough to let the light in. There was no pain, just the feeling I get when I’m swimming — cool, wet, weightless.
Come on, I’ll teach you. He said, pulling me toward the rocky pool. I let him pull me ankle deep but would go no further. A few small fish wandered by, their eyes bored and bellies puffed. I lay in the shallows and mimicked them, puffing my belly and stretching my eyes wide then thrusting myself under. My brother laughed and laughed and dove deeper, his feet kicking white against the darkness, his feet propelling him down into the black center of that unstable world, where trees stood on their crowns and fish swam in their leaves. Sunlight trapped in air bubbles shone on his skin like scales. I watched his glittering form crouch at the dark bottom to kick off, to come back to the air.
How long did I wait? If I were a fish I could have wandered down and pulled him up, freed his foot that kicked against the hungry gap in the rocks. Instead, I sat and breathed the air through my nose, faster and faster, until the world grew dark and sparkled around the edges. Where in the world could my brother be?
I drag my fingers absently over my neck, a row of marbled tombstones, signs of things buried where no light can reach them.