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I was raised in an orphanage. I was a foundling; my brother and I both. I was seven, and my brother four when we arrived, wrapped in rags and holding bread. They took us in. They were kind to us – to all of us. Certainly they preferred some over others – quiet, studious James, until he began to doubt, was amongst their favorites, but they made a point not to let it show, except for perhaps an extra tear when one of their dearly beloved was taken, and for that fact we were all grateful. It was not an ideal life, by any regards, but I am certain some raised in their parents’ loving arms have had worse. My brother was taken from me almost as soon as he arrived – he was a laughing, gurglign child, loving and sweet, a perfect addition to any family, whereas I was the quiet, dark child, and though it grieved me deeply then, I now struggle to recall his name. However, I did not eat for months after he was taken from me, and during my months of mourning, James would sit near me with his books, never speaking, although outstretching a hand occasionally. There were four of us – James, Rom, Maggie, and I – who had arrived together under the same policeman’s bundled up arm, although the only ones who could remember anything were the two eldest. Rom and James at nine, although they chose to never speak to us about it. James would say that it wasn’t anything we should worry about, whenever I asked why, as certainly if it had happened to me, I should care about it, Rom simply said that some things are better off forgotten. By James’ sixteenth year, Maggie had left, along with nearly everyone we knew.
James, by that point, had begun to change in strange, subtle ways. His eyes clouded more frequently, and his texts became more and more obscure. They were the sort of things that I could never bring myself to read, with curling, obscure Gothic print and demons staring out from the cover. The nuns never caught him reading them of course, or they would have beaten him until he was half dead. His friendship with Rom tightened, as Rom explained to him the devil-texts, and I stood by and watched. I never said a word, but I can’t say I ever approved. I’m not a devout Catholic, and even then, I wasn’t a devout anything, but I could see James changing, and I didn’t like it. He began to look at me as if I had never been in his life, and when I spoke to him, he stared at me as if I was just smoke and mirrors. I told my worries to Rom, but Rom just smiled. He told me that James was just growing up. He was always a terrible liar.
We would go to Mass every Sunday. The nuns required it, and I found it reassuring, in an odd, small way. James was disappearing into the mist, and Rom had always dwelt in it. At least, here, we knew we should be in the mist. Rom was enraptured. As soon as we slid into those cold pews, he was transported to a realm I think only he could ever find. As the cold, stifling air made us choke and cough, he was beyond it all – beyond the spittle that Father Brown rained down on us as he yelled, beyond the quiet giggles of the younger ones when he said fornication. He was somewhere else none of us could ever touch. Each glowing word of Heaven or burning curse of damnation only served to take him higher above us, until his eyes filled with his tears and his hands clasped in holy rememberance. Until in confessional he cried out wonderful, absurd sings – witchcraft and lust and wrath and murder – to our stunned parish priest, who could only stare at this possessed lunatic and pray. And every night, he would toss and turn in bed and cry out that it was no use, that no amount of Hail Marys and Our Fathers could absolve or save him from eternal damnation, because he was too far gone. He would fall to his knees in front of me and beg for my forgiveness, his tears splashing on the marble floor, and I would hold his hand and absolve him. And then, as calmly as we possibly could, we would retire to James’ room, and he would smile and play like a child.
Once, when we entered, James was burning the Bible. James twirled around, and then smiled weakly, and then began to cry as the room filled with the stench of burning pages and leather and fear, and cried out that it wasn’t real, that none of it was real, that we were all doomed and damned and there was nothing we could do about it, and Rom just gave him a slow smile. I pulled James to me and explained to him about fairy tales and belief and placebo effects until he’d calmed, and we all just lay in the middle of the floor, arms wrapped around one another, James’ head resting on my stomach, my arms wrappd around him, and Rom above us, just lying and stroking our hair. James looked up at Rom for a moment, and they shared a soft, quiet look. That night, James told me what had happened to us. Where we were. Rom didn’t say a word, he just closed his eyes and let the words wash over him. Sometimes, when James paused, he’d finish for him, his voice as clear and calm as it had always been. When he’d finished, James stood up and ran the ash through his hands. “See?” he asked. “It’s all just ash.”
Rom giggled quietly. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, life to life. He will rise again.”
James chuckled. “And I’ll burn him again.”
We seperated two years later, when Rom and James turned eighteen. Rom left without saying a word or taking a single thing. James promised to come back for me, sometime. To find me. I knew he wouldn’t, but it didn’t bother me. Two years alone with my thoughts… I felt I needed it. I wandered through the empty corridors, still going to James’ bare room every Sunday after Mass, still expecting to feel Rom’s hand intertwine with mine. They didn’t fill his room for months. When they finally did, I stopped going, and just stayed in mine, and read. And waited for time to pass.
In the end, James came. On my last day, James came with a wink and smile, less mist than he’d ever been in his life, with stories about Germany and France, about the gypsy tribes that Rom stayed with, and the brilliant little cafes in France, with people just like him. About Sartre and Kant, and the relativity of time, and the brilliance of the British people and the terrors of seasickness. He grinned, bowing, and promised to show me the world. He said he hadn’t seen Rom in a year, that he’d stayed in Italy. And he smiled, taking my hand, and we left together. And time passed.
We didn’t see Rom again until years later. He hadn’t appeared at our wedding, although he’d left us a scrawled note in the book – saying he’d dropped by, but he had a to run, and that he was living with someone now. That he was alright, and he wished us the best of luck. And if we were ever anywhere, to ask for him and he would appear. But we didn’t ask, and he didn’t appear. Rom’s smirking smile was something I didn’t think I could stand just yet. There were too many memories that we wouldn’t admit to having that he could pull out. But then Mason was born, my beautiful, black haired Mason, and we knew Rom was the godfather. So he came, with a wink and a smirk, dressed in solid black, his hair dyed auburn and his eyes glowing with love and life. He cradled blood covered Mason in his arms and kissed him softly on the forehead, and then kissed me on the forehead as I collapsed into an exhausted sleep. He stood vigil with James over my bedside as they waited for me to wake, taking sips of coffee from Rom’s flask and talking about old travels and new lives. Rom carried Mason home with us, and cradled him as tenderly as I’d ever seen him touch anything. His eyes shone every time he saw Mason, nearly as brightly as James’, and he would stay up with us and tell us about the world, about China and Japan and the United States, and how much fun it all was. He bragged of his apartments in every corner of the globe, of the wild, inventively strange minds of the Japanese – he said I was never, under any circumstances, allowed to take James to Japan, but that he was dying to take Mason. He told us to move, that he could settle us anywhere we wanted – that America was incredible, but perhaps not the best place for a growing boy. He slept on the couch, sometimes falling asleep with Mason curled up in his arms. He would read to him, some nights. Him and James both, from vague, obscure fairy tales that I never approved of. Grimm’s orginal versions, and H.P Lovecraft, and a dabbling of Shakespeare, and whenever I asked them what they were thinking, they just both gave them the same boyhood smiles they’d always had, perfect mirrors of one another, and I gave up.
Some nights, I would descend downstairs to find James and Rom awake, talking intently about things I didn’t want to know about. I knew them, I knew what went on in their minds, and I didn’t want my son to grow up exposed to them. So I sat down at the table and let them talk, and let the darkness and blood and terror gush from their mouths and I would clean up after them, cradling James’ head to my chest and he spurted tales of blood and terror, and I’d wipe his chin from it when he began to dribble. Those nights, Rom stopped talking about the wonders of the world and began to talk about those he’d damned, an by the end of the night, all he could talk about was absolution. He said he’d sinned, and he fell to his knees in front of James and said, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”
And James laughed, pushing him away on the floor and saying there wasn’t anything he could do about it. James would laugh and grab the bottle of Scotch by the neck and drain it, saying it didn’t mean a damn thing. So I would take my two lunatics upstairs to meet Mason again, and let them hold him in their arms until they’d calmed. And one night, Rom left, leaving nothing but a kiss on Mason’s forehead.
He came to visit us the day James died. Mason sat in the corner of the house, unable or unwilling to speak. Rom crouched down next to him, a soft smile on his lips as he kissed Mason on the forehead, and held him as Mason cried. He was nine. I wrapped my arms around Mason as he wept, and held him. For the first night, I opened one of James’ books, and read the stories to him, Rom holding his hand and stroking his forehead, until he slept. He took my hand and took me to our bedroom, and he lay in bed with me, his arms wrapped around me as I told him.
As I told him about the cancer, and the chemo, and how in debt we were, and how broken James had become… how weak he was by the end, his eyelids fluttering, his heart barely beating, and only with help, and how I couldn’t help him, how all I could do was hold him and wait for him to die like I knew he would. About lying to Mason for as long as we could, telling him that everything would be okay when we knew it wouldn’t be, that it couldn’t be, about our stiff embraces as our tears flowed into one another. He held me tightly, and as I could barely speak for tears, he absolved me. Then said into my hair that he’d killed someone he loved. I looked up at him, and I sighed, wrapping my arms around him, and asked him why, and he just gave me a soft, sad smile, and said he didn’t know.
The last time he visited me was the week before he said he would die. Mason gave him a soft smile when he saw him, too cool to run into his arms, although I wasn’t. He pulled Mason to him, giving him a kiss on the forehead, and spent the afternoon with him. Mason dragged him to the mall, and Rom dragged him to the bookstore, telling him stories of his father over the musky smell of books and reading to him from old, obscure texts that Mason loved as much as his father did. He giggled with him over old secrets that I would never know, and took him out to dinner in the middle of nowhere, in an old, abandoned shack that I’d never heard of and Mason could never find again, and Mason told him about his school, and girls, and friends, and drugs, and Rom told him about consequences and responsibility, and that some things couldn’t be undone. And they talked about death. About James’. About Rom’s. And Mason made him a promise that he’ll never speak about.
That night, Rom crawled into my bed and wrapped his arms around me, as I wrapped mine around him. I asked him about the one he loved, and he just began to giggle quietly, and then cry. He turned to me and told me he would die, and I turned to him and asked him why. He just shrugged. Said that was the way it was meant to be. He looked at me for a moment before he fell asleep, and smiled. I asked him why.
“Because I have to die to be forgiven,” he said.
I asked him if he was sure, and he nodded, and told me to take care of Mason – that he was his father’s son, and I wasn’t sure if that was a blessing or a curse. We fell asleep together that night, but in the morning, I woke up alone.
Mason smiled at me over breakfast the next morning, and made me coffee. I smiled at him, and he smiled weakly back, and said that his godfather was a lunatic. I told him his father was worse, and he smiled and pulled me into a hug, and asked me what was going to happen to Rom.
I looked up at him and smiled. “He’s going to die,” I said, and he nodded.