It felt funny wearing my brother’s cologne. The fragrances wafted through the moist, trapped air of our old bedroom, the soft smell of the sage coming through the dimly lit room with a small hint of cedarwood and mint. I could tell that the air hadn’t been used in a long time. Years, maybe. I put on my brother’s black suit, the pinstriped jacket with the real-looking white rose lapel, the leather shoes, top hat, everything. It finally fit after years of hanging off my body every time I tried it on. I remember standing on homemade stilts and stuffing the suit with paper towels to try to get into it, much to mother’s consternation. Unable to look at myself in the mirror for too long, I pulled it off and hung each article of clothing with great care, making sure there was not a wrinkle to be found.
I had all the time in the world today. Strolling through the park on the cool, mildly sunny day, I remembered the old diner. They were famous for their hot dogs and had been there since I was a young lad. Passing by, I noticed it was closed, with the windows boarded up with peeling, discoloured wood and the sign removed. I guess everyone finally figured out that the hotdogs are made from the penis of a cow, just like my brother said. He always smiled and chuckled when he explained that, like he was the only one who knew that secret. I’m happy he did. I know I won’t eat the penis of a cow, that’s for sure.
Now walking on the main street, my feet led me to our school. I remembered the seemingly ancient Ms. Johnson, my favorite teacher. My brother said she moved to Alaska and that’s why she got replaced midway through the year. He paused before naming the place. My goldfish Rocky also moved to Alaska, apparently, but he swam there through the toilet in our house. Must be a long way there, but my brother said that Alaska’s mountains and lakes are beautiful, with plenty of fish for Rocky and experiments to do for Ms. Johnson, who taught me science at school. So the trip to Alaska is seemingly worth the trouble. At least that’s what my brother told me.
My brother went to Alaska many, many years ago, when I was only a boy. He left soon after he came home from a special school. He looked different though. Bald and skinny. He let me touch his shiny head, saying that he cut it to look tougher. I always thought he was the toughest and bravest kid on the street, helping me when bigger kids tried to rough me up. They always walked away from me, head down and shoulders slouched, once my brother had a “word with them” (as he would say). He must have been persuasive. I still don’t know about the skinny part though; he loved to lift weights before class. Chuckling to myself, I remembered how upset I was that he could always lift more than me. He was so brawny, I could never fit into that suit of his and when he came home all scraggly I didn’t like that nobody could wear his beautiful suit anymore. The suit hung in that same closet until just this morning, gathering dust in our frowsty, bygone bedroom.
I still remember the conversation that we had in that bedroom one night. “Remember how Ms. Johnson and Rocky went to Alaska?” he asked, looking at me with a strange look in his eyes. I nodded. “Well, I think I’ll be taking a trip there soon.”
“Why,” I asked?
He smiled and leaned back against his pillow. “To see the beautiful lakes and mountains.”
“Can I go with you?”
“One day, a long time from now,” he sighed.
Suddenly exhausted, I found a worn park bench on Glacier Street to sit on. The paint was worn and the wood was chipped with spots of bird droppings, but it was sufficient for my wearied legs as I sat in an awkward position to avoid soiling my pants. I groaned, sore from the movement. I wasn’t the strapping young man I used to be. I picked a white rose in the bush next to me, holding it like a prized possession against my airy chest.
A car suddenly pulled up, a family coming out wearing beautiful black clothing, appropriate for the melancholy occasion. My sweet Linda’s family. My wife had always wanted us to be buried back home where we grew up. I closed my eyes, imagining the beautiful waters and mountains of Alaska. I gave Linda, my sister-in-law, her husband, and their young daughter a soft hug before trudging along to the Glacier St. cemetery.
Floating through the cemetery for the first time, an eerie feeling struck me when I saw my brother’s name. And Ms. Johnson’s. And then my own. A tear rolled down my cheek as I strolled away from the family towards the pond. I closed my eyes as hard as I could, imagining the sparkling, impossibly clear lakes in Alaska with my brother frolicking in the water. When I opened my eyes, though, I swear that I still saw those same picturesque, snowy mountains. Perhaps it was an afterimage, something that I so wanted to be real that it popped in my mind to grant me a new reality, a forgotten hope that only surfaces in the most overwhelming moments as the truth hits like a snowy avalanche.
Ethan Kahana is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan studying bioinformatics. In addition to writing, he enjoys playing the jazz saxophone, golfing, doing research, and spending time with his family and friends.
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