As I look over to where his bed used to be, I feel a rush of overwhelming sadness. I could have done better—been a better brother, I mean.
“Sorry, Tommy,” I whisper.
This house has always scared me. There is something about it, besides it being so old—like one of those houses from the old horror films Dad used to let me watch—remote, timber with faded white paint, and far too big to ever feel finished. When the wind blows through, the house voices its displeasure through a series of creaks and crackles that would keep any child from a restful sleep—myself and Tommy included.
Our bedroom—my bedroom—is on the third floor, and as the wind shakes the moonlit trees in the distance and whistles its tune through the rickety frame of the window, I expect him to appear. But still no sign.
I loved him. I hated him.
Tommy was “simple,” you see. I always thought that a strange term to use for someone who made our family’s life anything but straightforward. Turned it upside down, he did. He was nine when he died, four years my junior, but mentally, he was more like a toddler.
It is fair to say Tommy gave us our best and worst times.
We used to do this thing. I can’t remember how it started, but one of us would place our hand against a glass window or door, and Tommy would place his on the other side. We pretended Tommy could transmit his thoughts through the glass; he would think of a number between one and ten, and the other person would try and guess it. Sometimes we did it with words, too. Silly really, but it always put a big goofy smile on his face, and he went off his tits when we guessed right.
Now, though, when I see my brother’s docile face on the other side of the glass, his wide eyes and the awkward smile that isn’t quite right, I need to remind myself to breathe. I know he must be a figment of my imagination, but it doesn’t stop my body prickling with fear when he appears.
My Dad found him lying in a twisted heap of limbs on the concrete path directly below our bedroom window. It was the first time I heard a man scream, and I will never forget that noise or how it made me feel inside. I stuck my head out the bathroom window to see Dad holding Tommy in his arms and bawling like a child. It was as though Tommy’s eyes were looking directly at me. The knot that developed in my stomach is still there. I’m not sure it will ever go away.
From that moment, I knew things would never be the same again. Every day is pretty much identical, and I don’t know how many weeks have passed now, but as predicted, time hasn’t healed.
Mum isn’t Mum anymore—she stays in bed staring at her bedroom window. Perhaps Tommy visits her, too.
The house feels even bigger now without him; even scarier.
It used to be the dirty piles of clothes, the closet, or the shadows that made us both afraid, but now, it’s Tommy that haunts me. I tuck my knees tightly into my chest and wrap my arms around them, anxiously waiting for his face to appear. I breathe quietly but erratically—pulse racing and eyes fixed on the glass.
I begin to count down. Three, two, one.
Suddenly, the whole window rattles in its frame as a hand slams against the glass. A strange garbled shriek leaves my lips as I jolt and bring my knees in even further, locking them tightly with my arms until it begins to hurt.
It has never happened like this before—Tommy’s face usually appears at the window but vanishes before I can blink. It’s his hand, no doubt, covered with scar tissue from when he put his palm down on the blue flame of the oven hob.
I wish for it to go away, but the hand remains, the uncuffed sleeves of his red and black checkered shirt fluttering in the wind, the same one he wore the day he died.
I know this can’t be real, but still, why won’t it go away?
Closing my eyes, I count down again—three, two, one—but the hand is still there. I want to run, but where to? My parent’s room? What would I say?
It would be too much for Mum.
“P-Please go away, Tommy,” I stutter.
I look away and count down—three, two, one—and look back to the glass. The hand floats outside our bedroom window. The sound of my breathing seems unreasonably loud, and I try and control it—in case I miss something—a noise, or—
A gust of wind violently rattles the window, and I sink my head into my knees. I cannot get any smaller. And now, just beyond the sleeves of his shirt, I see a tuft of blonde hair gently wafting in the breeze. It’s too much. I can’t take it.
Why is he still there?
He wants me to go to him. He wants me to—
It seems like an age before I summon the courage to release my legs and drop them over the edge of the bed. I feel the cold wood floor beneath my toes, and it lends a frightening realness to the situation. A bolt of pain shoots up my right thigh as I squeeze some of the flesh, but I’m still here—and so is Tommy. Slowly, I begin to edge towards the window. Each squeak of the floorboards fills me with dread. I know that at some point that this must end—Tommy will disappear, I will be alone once more, and sleep will finally come.
Now I can see his face. It is just as I remember—smiling, always smiling. He looks so excited. Everything he said was spat out with such enthusiasm, like it was the most important thing ever orated.
His face lingers as I draw closer, each step becoming shorter than the last. I’m frightened to exhale. Tommy mimicks me—face turning red as he holds in the air. Finally, I release, watching as Tommy does the same. His breath fogs the glass between us.
Warmth spreads across the front of my pajama bottoms and runs down my legs. The hairs across my body prickle, telling me to run. But I freeze, unable to move in any direction, wrapped in an oppressive fear that squeezes my chest. The house creaks again as the wind rushes through it, weatherboards moaning.
I march towards the window and see his face light up even more, his eyes almost popping out of his head.
I loved him. I hated him.
As soon as my fingers touch the glass, Tommy’s voice fills my head, “I lub you.”
He immediately disappears. I am left watching the cloud of breath fade to nothing, like he was never there. Like he never existed.
Breakfast is always the same, and we mostly eat in silence. Dad tries, but it’s forced. “How is school? Soccer?” But he doesn’t listen to my answers. I feel for him; the lines in his face have deepened, and there is an irreparable sadness in his eyes. It’s almost cruel to think he has so many years left ahead of him.
I even miss the arguments—how it was before Tommy died. There were so many of them, and they always revolved around the same subject—Tommy. The school, the money it cost to send him, the bullies, the amount of care—endless worry and concern that spilled over into slammed doors and broken dishes. I copped a lot of it, and that never seemed fair. All the time, Tommy would be laughing and clapping through the entire episode, fueling the fire.
But Mum loved him, more than she ever loved me. They had a bond, and it was all-consuming. She had nothing left for anyone else, not even Dad.
“How did you sleep, Ed?” Dad asks. He doesn’t call me “son” anymore—I guess that’s for Mum’s benefit.
“Okay, Dad. Yourself?”
He looks across at Mum and nods, smiling a smile that isn’t.
“What’s on at school today?” Always the same order of questions.
“Dad, it’s Saturday.”
He gives no reaction as he gets to his feet and takes the dishes to the sink, but his body stiffens, and I can tell he’s trying not to cry. Mum sips her tea—the cup shaking violently in hand. She can’t even look at me these days. She hates me; I know it. There are multiple cuts on her arms and wrists—in neat parallel lines, all in various stages of healing—that Dad says are accidental, but he must think I’m stupid. Next week she is going to stay somewhere else. Dad didn’t say where, but he said it would be safer. I am not sure what he means by that, but I have an idea.
I can’t remember the last time I saw Mum with brushed hair or in one of the dresses that she sometimes liked to wear. The medication used to help, but she stopped taking them.
Before Tommy died, on the nights the house kept me awake, I often used to eavesdrop on our parents’ conversations from the top of the stairs. Sometimes Tommy would join me—entire hand in his mouth to stem the laughing. I remember hoping they would mention me—just once—but they only spoke about Tommy. After he died, I would sometimes sit in the same spot wishing for a sign that they still loved me, their living son. But Tommy is still number one.
It wasn’t long before Dad talked about selling the house, moving on and restarting, but Mum said she could never leave her boy, told Dad that Tommy was still here and that she would never leave him all alone.
Now they don’t talk at all.
I excuse myself from the breakfast table and run back to our—my room. The window shows a blue sky with a handful of rolling clouds. Treetops gently dance in the distance. I unlock the sash window and open it. The sweet smell of spring fills my nostrils as the warm breeze rushes in.
Ducking under the wooden frame, I swing my legs over the windowsill and look down towards the soft patch of grass beyond the concrete path. I told Tommy that I could probably jump from here and not even break a leg. Tommy fell on his head and split his skull open.
I still think I could make that jump.
That day, I was so over it, stretched to my limit. I was weak, and I let them get to me. All the comments at school, and on the bus—there was no escape. Even at home—the texts, emails, and posts:
“Does he still wear nappies?”
“Is it contagious?”
“Tommy’s so stupid, he gives retards a bad name!”
“It’s in the blood.”
My entire life, I’ve had to endure a relentless barrage of Tommy-related insults. When I came home that day and found him trying to catch butterflies while perched across the window ledge, I snapped.
I just wanted to hurt him, for him to feel some of the pain that he was putting us through. He was always so oblivious to what I went through—what Mum and Dad did for him. I just wanted—I don’t know—I didn’t want him to die, though.
I regretted it instantly, but there was no way back.
When I peered over the edge, I saw his arms and legs arranged at impossible angles, but his eyes looked straight up at me. After he stopped twitching, I ran to the bathroom and waited, anxiously rocking on to the cold tiled floor, my body shuddering uncontrollably. . I stayed there for what seemed like forever until Dad found him.
As I perch on the window ledge, the warm breeze wraps around me, and momentarily I take some comfort from it. But looking down, I see Tommy’s face again—his eyes, dead but knowing—and the familiar knot in my stomach tightens.
“It’s ‘kay, Ed,” his voice comes from behind; loud, but soft. “I still lub you.”
My legs immediately stop swaying, and I freeze. I dare not turn around.
I feel something clamp onto my right shoulder, as though—a hand—but there is nothing there. The ground below looks much further down than before. This time on the left shoulder—another hand—I can feel the fingers pressing into my flesh.
“Come wit me, Ed. Pweeese.”
I curl my fingers around the edge of the windowsill. “No, Tommy. I’m sorry. But I—”
The pressure stops, and I hold my breath. Silence, apart from the blood pumping in my ears. I try and think of something to say, but I have nothing.
Inches from my face, his loud clap suddenly punctures the silence. My ears ring. “You come wit me, Ed!” he screams, so close that I can feel his breath on my right cheek.
More frantic clapping breaks out around me, followed by his familiar blubbering.
“But, it’s so lowenly here—Ed, pweese.”
“Tommy, I’m so sorry. I was just angry—”
“See, Mama!” he bawls. Clap. Clap.
I turn to see Mum standing in the doorway, a look across her face that chills my bones.
“He told me what you did,” she says, walking towards me. “I put my hand to the window, and he told me everything.” The handle of our carving knife sticks out of her dressing gown pocket. “I just wanted to hear it from you.”
“Eddie, he’s so alone. He needs you now, more than ever. It’s only right. After what you did,” she says, wrapping her fingers around the blade of the knife. “My baby needs his big brother.”
Terrified, I look down at the soft grass. Suddenly, it looks like an impossible jump.
Floorboards creak behind me as Mum continues her approach. The clapping starts again, “Fwy, Ed! Fwy!” Tommy screams.
I begin to count down. Three, two, one.