It was Halloween of 86’ that my brother died.
We lived and grew up in a small town surrounded by fox tail pines and tall mountains. There was an old coal mine that had been shut down for safety reasons when we were young, causing a lot of families to move out of town, but we stuck around. We couldn’t afford to move.
On the night my brother died, we had been drinking at Noah’s house with a bunch of his friends. It was getting late. Noah’s mom was a nurse and wouldn’t be getting home till morning, so we had a place to chill, but some of the guys were getting restless and wanted to go outside. A lot of the people there where my brother’s friends but I knew Noah, his mom and my mom were friends so, he used to hang out with me and my brother a lot when we were little.
I remember looking up to him quite a bit when we were younger; he isn’t that much older than me but there was something about him that I admired. He didn’t talk too much – he was different – unlike most teenagers, you know the ones that try too hard. One of the main things that I hated about people, not just teenagers, was that everyone took themselves way too seriously. Noah wasn’t like that.
When we were younger, he would show up to school some days with a black eye or a busted lip. My brother and I wouldn’t say anything though cos we didn’t want to make things awkward. We knew that it was his dad that beat him – news travels fast in a small town like ours – especially bad news. So when his dad died in the mine one winter, as dark as it may sound, my brother and I were kind of happy about it. Although Noah didn’t admit it, he was happy about it too.
After a long walk, the group decided that they wanted to go and sit in the graveyard; what better place to hang out on Halloween? The air was cold and it was raining a little. There was a subtle mist in the air, which made everything look dreamy and made the streetlights soft and fuzzy. I remember feeling so fresh and light. I don’t know if it was the cold or the drugs, maybe it was a mix of the two, but my face was numb.
The drugs were definitely kicking in because I remember being close to tears over how good I felt. I remember just staring at the streetlights and that happiness turned to sadness. I looked around, and that’s when I realised, on that cold, dark street, I finally understood that I was alone. Even among all those people. Even with my brother by my side, I was alone. And then I did cry, only a little, and I don’t think anyone noticed.
When we reached the graveyard, we all sat in a circle. Noah was sitting to my left with my brother sitting next to him, and to my right was a fat guy who’s heavy breathing made me really uncomfortable.
While we were at the graveyard, we finished the rest of the alcohol, which wasn’t much. Some of the group ended up passing out there among the dead and others threw up behind a tree or a headstone, which I imagine isn’t the most respectful thing you could do. After a while I realised that it was just me, my brother and Noah left. It had stopped raining and the pale, autumnal moon was casting long shadows. The odours of the mould, vegetation and dirt were mixed together in the misty air.
“So…what should we do now?” asked Noah.
My brother wanted to go to the lake, and I was down for whatever. I didn’t really want to go home and now that it was just my brother and Noah, I didn’t feel as alienated as before. So we headed to the lake.
On our way to the lake, we walked passed the yellow house, which was what we called the old library which had closed down when I was younger, it was barely even yellow anymore. All but two of its windows were broken, we took turns throwing rocks at them from across the street, as some kind of game. It took a while but Noah managed to get one and at that a black and white cat bolted out of the building and squeezed under a wooden fence leading into someone’s back yard, my brother got the other, I felt kind of sad that all the windows were broken, but I don’t know why.
We walked across town and got to the tobacco field; the lake was on the other side so we decided to have a race. As I was running, I could see the blurry figures of Noah and my brother running beside me. I heard the sounds of the dry leaves crunching under my feet and the sound of breathing, my breathing, and I could hear the wind rush past my head as I ran and the beating of my heart.
My brother had won the race but only by a little.
We could see the lake from where we were, but would have to walk a bit to get to it passed the fox pines. The moon was bright enough to light the way, but even still, it was pretty dark. Noah tried to climb one of the trees but failed.
We got to the lake, which was frozen over and a soft mist sat over it. During summer breaks we would spend a lot of time swimming there and it used to get pretty crowded before the mine closed and everyone left.
My brother slowly extended his foot out over the ice and gently pressed it down until his whole weight was on it. He walked out and gestured for us to come, so slowly we walked out too, we walked out pretty far, I think we got half way across the lake when Noah asked for the time. I looked at my watch trying read it in the dark.
“4:11, I think,” I said in an uncertain tone.
At that we heard a crackling from under our feet and I remember seeing the fuzzy figure that was my brother, through the mist, just standing there. Everything was slow, the sound of crackling ice and the sound of the wind, the fox pines swaying against the moon, with the white light beaming through.
He was right there, and then he wasn’t.
We left the town a year later and moved to a city. And although my brother was buried there, I never went back. I lost touch with Noah. Looking back and thinking about that night, I realise – I’ve forgotten what he looked like.