Roland Allnach, 2009
Published in Lullwater Review, Fall 2009
His eyes slid open to the ceiling over his head. It was white; for some reason he remembered having recently painted it, but it seemed a dull gray now. The sound of rain came to his ears. In the trace of its patter he realized his lips were moving, that his voice was mumbling an incoherent train of thoughts. The moment he became aware of his mumbling, however, it stopped.
His head rolled on the pillow to look to his side.
A woman sat in the big, dark leather chair by his window, her face pale in the rainy morning. “Dreaming again?” she repeated.
He stared at her for several moments before he blinked and his memory returned, his subconscious filling the many blanks of his mind with a simultaneous flash that stunned him. He blinked once more before he could sort it into something he could understand, into something that made sense of the world for him. “Good morning Eva,” he rasped to her from his dry throat and struggled to sit up in bed. He closed his eyes at the stiffness in his body as her question finally penetrated.
He nodded once. “Dreaming again,” he whispered.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
He opened his eyes and looked down. Both his forearms were wrapped in bandages. His left hand was covered in tape; an intravenous line trailed away to the stand beside his bed. Under the sheets he knew his left ankle was wrapped…and that drove him to lift his right hand to feel the bandages on his head.
He dropped his hand and looked to Eva. She was his home nurse. She could have passed as his wife’s sister.
His heart began to pound. He remembered the dream; it came upon him in a sudden rush. It was that moment again, that awful moment, relived, dissected in his mind—could it have been different? Could he have done more? I should have heard the car coming—why didn’t I hear it coming sooner? Was it the second bottle of wine we had with dinner? She asked me to stop, but it was good wine, and if I had skipped it, I wouldn’t have insisted we walk after we ate, and if we hadn’t been walking—
He closed his eyes. He saw it all again. Laughing with her as they walked, holding hands. Then a crash, and they turn, too late, too late; the car is already over the curb and hurtling toward them. He yanks on her hand but then he feels it, that terrible, irresistible weight pulling her hand from his—hold on, hold on, hold on!—and it feels as if the weight of the planet itself is pulling at her, and then his fingers slip, and the last feeling, that last awful feeling, of her fingertips sliding across his palm, down his fingers, and then nothing, emptiness, the titan ripping them apart in its destructive rush.
Only it was not a dream, it was a nightmare. Worse, it was not a nightmare; it was reality.
His eyes popped open. He stared down at his left hand, outstretched before him.
Eva glanced at him. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it?”
“No,” he said, and cradling his hand to his chest, turned away in shame. He fought for several moments to calm down. “Where’s my brother? I remember something, somebody, telling me I would see him. Is that right?”
“He’s off to work,” she replied.
“Before you got here?”
She hesitated. “Yes.”
“He couldn’t wait?” He looked to her. “Is there a problem between you two?”
She shook her head once. “We get along,” she said with a shrug. “How do you feel today?”
His eyes slid shut. “How could they send me home like this?” He blew out his breath in frustration. “I don’t belong here.”
“You’re well enough. This was your choice. Do you remember?”
He frowned. He remembered the bright light of the exam room blinding him. It was all he remembered clearly before waking in his bed at home, that blinding whiteness of his room and the overhead exam light. “It was too bright,” he thought aloud. “I don’t want to be where it’s so bright. I don’t want to be in the light at all. I belong in the dark.”
“It’s a natural reaction,” she said with an even, soothing tone. “You can talk about it when you’re ready.”
He grunted. His eyes rolled about his bedroom, taking it in. It was a spacious room; on a clear day, it was full of light from the tall windows to either side of his bed. To his side of the bed there was a dressing area, the leather chair, and the doorway to the bathroom. Across from him, beyond the footboard of his bed, were two doors, his closet on the left, his wife’s on the right. For a reason he could not identify, he stared without blinking at those doors until a rumble of thunder startled him.
Eva’s eyes darted to the window.
“When can I see her—my wife?”
Eva’s eyes rolled towards him. “Are you ready to see her?” She waited before looking to the clouds. “I’m not so sure you are.”
He opened his mouth, but then closed it.
Eva looked to him. “You’re wondering if she would want to see you,” she said, drawing a glare from him before his eyes sank away. “Only you can answer that for yourself.”
He watched her as her eyes returned to her hands. She was knitting something, something small and white. He tipped his chin to her lap, where her hands were busily working. “What is that?”
“A sweater.” Her hands paused, a small grin drawing across her lips. “A baby’s sweater.”
“No,” she said quickly, her eyebrows rising in apparent wonder at that idea. “Someone else I look after. It’s going to be a gift.”
“I thought for now you were my guardian angel,” he said, but felt guilty at once for even that weak attempt at some humor.
She gave him a small smile, but kept her eyes on her knitting. “Well, I have been assigned to you,” she said. “That will change at some point, though, and I have to be ready.” She took a breath before letting it out in a long sigh. “Ah yes, yes indeed, always have to be ready for the change.”
He pursed his lips and looked away. Before he was aware of it he found himself staring at the doors beyond his bed. He hesitated at some imperceptible thought that nagged him, that urged him to get out of bed and open one of those doors, but trepidation from the pain in his ankle stilled him.
He sank back on his pillow with a wheeze and slipped off to sleep.
Some time later he rolled onto his back and opened his eyes to find the gray ceiling above him, telling him that it was still raining even before he heard the patter outside. He rubbed his face before laying his hands on his chest and looking to the big leather chair. He was surprised by what he saw.
His brother sat there, one leg crossed over the other, a cup of tea in his hands as he stared out the window. Sensing a gaze upon him, his eyes rolled toward the bed. “Hello brother,” he greeted.
“Robbie? Are you home early?” He looked about, trying to get a fix on the time.
“Robert,” his brother said and tipped his head. “I’m grown up now, you know. And no, I didn’t get here early. You slept late.”
“Eva went home?”
“Yes. I saw her off.”
He looked to Robert. “You don’t like her, do you?”
Robert set his tea down and stared at him. Thunder rumbled outside. “Eva and I have a certain history,” he began, but held up a hand to stop the obvious assumption. “Acquaintance only. She’s been very kind to me. But we didn’t meet under the best of circumstances, and whenever I see her, I cannot forget those circumstances. I admire her, though; I guess that’s why I’m following in her footsteps—my job, that is. I’m not the accountant like you are, but we both balance the books, so to speak.” Robert took a sip of his tea and looked out the window before looking back to him. “Do you feel comfortable with her? I know the resemblance—”
“I’m fine,” he said and looked away. His gaze fell on the closet doors across from him. In a matter of moments he began to fidget and looked back to his brother. He was struck by the oddness of this, this calm conversation with his brother. Surreal as it felt, it disarmed his reservations to let the burning question within him gain voice. “Where were you all these years?” he nevertheless had to force out. “I never heard from you.”
Robert’s face fell in thought. “I’ve been busy.”
Robert held up a finger. “I’m not little anymore. That’s why it’s Robert, not Robbie. I grew up, here,” he said and looked to the window.
“And we never bumped into each other?”
“We were more distant than you think.”
“But you’d think sooner or later—I mean, we are twins; I always wondered about that connection you hear about between twins, how somehow or other they’re always drawn back to each other, and why it never happened with us. But even without that, you’d think somewhere along the line, somehow, it would have come up because someone would have gotten us confused.” He opened his hands in thought before laying them on his chest. “Which reminds, now that I think about it: how’d you find me?”
Robert’s brow rose. “I was found. They called me. The hospital, that is. You know Mom and Dad, how they are.”
He looked with curiosity at Robert. “They’re both dead; you know that,” he said. “They must have found you by our last name.”
Robert opened his hands. “I suppose. You know they have their ways, people like Eva. They’re quite resourceful.”
“Eva found you?” He shook his head in confusion. “I thought you found her.”
Robert shrugged. “Different sides of the same coin. Does it matter? You’re here, I’m here, and you’re cared for. What else is there?”
“I want her back,” he said simply. “I want my wife back.”
Robert frowned and looked out the window.
“I want my life back,” he said again. “I don’t want to lose another piece of it.” He hesitated as he considered his thoughts, but then they started to spill from him, and as they did, he found himself powerless to stop his confession. “You know, there’s this hole, this blank, from my childhood. I remember us together, Robbie, when we were little, walking to school, holding hands as we walked on Main Street before taking that long hilly path to the school—I remember all that clearly. And then there’s this skip, and I’m still little, but you’re gone. Dad’s gone too, but when he comes by, good God, if it wasn’t the mortuary-like tension, it was the screaming…” He fell silent, his forehead knotting as he began to see a glaring inconsistency that he noticed in new light. “Where were you all those years?”
Robert’s face was blank. “I told you.”
“You know what I mean.”
Robert took a deep breath before letting it out. “I stayed on with Dad. He couldn’t let go of the past. That’s why he and Mom argued like they did. Aimless blame and resentment. But I lived on with him.”
“You know, I did a terrible thing,” he whispered.
Robert’s stared at him.
“I, I forgot you,” he said, laying his hands on his face to hide from Robbie. “I didn’t forget I had a twin, but the emptiness of you not being there, you know I asked Dad a few times if I could visit you, why we couldn’t see each other. He just said it was complicated and then Mom would get into it with him, and they’d have a huge argument. I stopped asking.” He looked back to Robert. “I never should have done that.”
Robert took a long breath before he spoke. “I understand.”
“No. I don’t want to repeat that mistake,” he said with determination, perceiving the source of his confession. “I loved her, I loved her so much, and I don’t think I want to be here without her. I knew it from the first time I saw her, it was like she filled in the blank of some question I didn’t even know I was asking, and now I’ve lost her. All I had to do was hold on, Robbie, that was all I had to do!”
“I know.” Robert shrugged. “You did what you could.”
“It wasn’t enough!” He rubbed his forehead, his emotions knotting within him. “I let go once with you, and now I did it again! I wanted to hold on, that’s all I had to do, one simple thing.” He dropped his hands in his lap and stared at his feet beneath the blanket. Then his eyes rose to fix on the closet doors, holding on them until his heart pounded with the effort it took to look away. What is the fascination there? he thought. Is it more guilt, our lives stored so neatly in two little areas with all this mess outside? What’s happening to me? I’ve been condemned; condemned to a nightmare I can never wake from.
“Forgive me,” Robert said and shifted.
He looked to his brother, surprised. “What?”
“I’m sorry,” Robert had to force out. He shook his head as he rose from the chair. “I shouldn’t have brought you here. Eva was right.”
“What do you mean?”
Robert held up a hand as he left the room. “Get your rest, brother.”
And with that, the door clicked shut.
To read the rest of "Return", go to http://www.rolandallnach.com/return%20story%20page.htm