This happened in our grandfathers' time. The older brother, Sam, met Roxanne first: she was his classmate. The younger brother, Percival, got to know her when his brother brought her home for Sunday dinner after Mass.
Roxanne helped Mrs. Shield dry the dinner dishes, was demure and fair-skinned and light-voiced. Roxanne laughed at Sam's jokes, placed a slice of apple pie on the table in front of him. Sam put his hand on top of hers. She gently pulled it away.
In the fairy tales it's the youngest brother who must venture into the world to prove himself. So it was with them. Percival went to college and studied Latin, while Sam remained home to help with the hardware store. When Percy was leaving for school, Roxanne hugged him to say good-by. He thought she smelled of apples.
When Roxanne was a child, she had gone to a white-haired but smooth-skinned woman who everybody knew had the second sight. The woman told her to avoid marriage, that only pain would result. Roxanne was not eager to marry, so she forgot what the woman predicted.
Sam proposed marriage; a shiver of lightning zigzagged up her spine, and she said yes. The woman with second sight came to their wedding, sat in the last pew, shaking her head. She was Percival's godmother, but she loved Sam the most, ever since she had seen him, as a child, hug his infant brother. The priest had poured the baptismal water on Percival's forehead, and Sam embraced the wailing Percival, and he stopped weeping. The woman went into the woods, and under a star prayed and cast a spell to try to protect them.
At the wedding, Roxanne wore a gold double chain around her neck and a crown of white violets.
Percival came to their wedding and dedicated a poem to them about everlasting happiness; he went back to school but returned for the funerals and weddings of relatives. The last time he just stayed; he did not look for a job in the big city; he clerked in the hardware store.
Roxanne and Sam did not have children, and the lack was a knife to her heart. How does adultery happen? Sam was away at a convention of small business owners in the next state. Roxanne and Percy did not choose adultery: they chose to smile at each other, to be together, to bump accidentally against each other, to comfort each other. Percy chopped some wood for the fireplace and got a splinter in his palm. Roxanne sat beside him on the hearth with a needle searching his skin for the quarter inch of dark splinter. The hot shadows of the flames danced on their unmoving figures. He leaned into her; he smelled the apple fragrance of her hair. She returned his kiss; his mouth tasted like wine.
They walked in the woods with the yellow leaves falling around them. He recited a poem he had written about her beautiful mind. They heard a chittering above and looked up to see two sparrows flit in the sky. In years to come Roxanne would remember the beauty of his body and yearn for him. She thought their bodies fit together like twilight descending on the earth, like the links of a chain.
When Sam discovered the two in bed, he walked to the center of town, to a bar, got drunk, staggered back, and hit Percival on the chin again and again, so the pain gagged him. Percival did not defend himself. Sam left his brother on the floor, blood dribbling from his mouth. Sam spit on Roxanne. He got into the car and drove to the edge of town in the starless night. Tears of rage and sadness welled up in his eyes; the road was slick with rain; his car slid off the highway; the steering wheel pounded his ribs and spine. He did not die, but he was crippled.
The white-haired woman moved out of town. She could not bear the sadness. She was able to transform her own grief into a seagull that she sent over the lake to flutter between earth and sky, water and land. The bird screeched for food, territory, and company in its hungry way, but despite its hunger, it was beautiful as it soared on the air, sailing like a ship or a beating heart with wings. We are creatures of desire.
Roxanne nursed her husband when he came home from the hospital. Percy stayed to run the store and lived at the other end of town and would not visit Roxanne. Percy went to church, wanted to join the monastery at the edge of town but chose to care for his brother and run the store. He had a ragged, star-shaped scar above his lip.
Roxanne thought about joining a cloistered sisterhood, since she was separated from Percy, but she took care of Sam for twenty years until he caught an infection in his lungs and died. She lived alone.
People in the town would ask, Was this love indeed? Was it fated? Was the adultery worth Roxanne's pain? "Oh, yes," she would say. "No," Percy answered.
Percy said to his confessor, "She suffered too much. I should have endured the pain alone." He went into the monastery at the end of his life.
Sam maintained until his dying day that he loved Roxanne.
Roxanne set wild roses on her husband's grave, and violets on Percival's grave, when he died five years later. She did not have children or relatives to put flowers on her grave but, from time to time, flowers appeared. The woman with second sight married, came back to the town of her youth, and grew old there, very old.
About the author:
Cezarija Abartis has published short stories in (among others) Manoa, The Quarterly, Red Cedar Review, Tales of the Unanticipated, Twilight Zone Magazine, and Voices West. "A Tale of Two Brothers" is her first published flash fiction. She LIKES this form and wants to do more in between the novel chapters she's writing.
A collection of her short stories, Nice Girls and Other Stories, was a winner of the Minnesota Voices Award and was published in 2003 by New Rivers Press.
The book is still available (ISBN 0-89823-215-5), as the author has not yet bought up all the copies.
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