My brother’s hair glows, reddish, in the starlight.
“And then we can use-”
His voice rises, and my mother leans forward. Her shoulders, her neck, her head – they all strain toward him, toward the vision roaring in his eyes. Her long curls mingle with his, red with red. I can’t see her eyes, but I know what they must look like: Softer, perhaps, than my brother’s, but afire, too.
“Are you alright,” my father murmurs from the shadows. I nod, watching the way Cain traces something in the air with sharp, clear gestures, and the way mother nods, her lips pressed together, then parted, forming rapid words.
The words themselves don’t matter. Cain would disagree, and so would father. They think words are the building blocks with which we shape the world. They may be right, but words are also blinders. You see more, sense more, if you let them pass you by.
And what I see is beautiful.
Cain’s arm sweeps into the air, his fingers stretching into the night: Excitement. My mother’s neck tilts backwords, and her lips are pursed: Scepticism. Challenge. Cain’s fingers clench together, and his fist hits his knee once, twice: Agitation. He pauses, and then his shoulders straighten, and his hands take flight again: Resolution.
I don’t need to listen to my mother’s words to catch the moment Cain’s conviction sweeps through her, and his enthusiasm, too. They lean forward again, shades of red mingling in the starlight: Communion.
I lean back into the grass, and allow the serenity of darkened sky to spread within me. From shoulders to back, from legs to toes.
Words don’t matter: You can sense life, and all it’s vibrancy, without them.
“Are you alright,” my father whispers again, and I hear the concern within his hesitation, the worry lurking in the softness of his tone.
Misplaced concern, I think, and sit back up to observe them better, these bright souls with their expansive gestures. I watch them, basking in their joy.
“Why not come with me,” says Cain, fingers agitated. “It will be exciting! We never tried to see what’s beyond that river. It will be new.”
The day shines bright, full of blue skies and green hills and the occasional gust of wind, sharp and fullsome like the hunger in my brother’s eyes.
He tries hard not to show his frustration with me, my brother. He tries to sound appealing, excited. Almost childish in his uncomplicated wanderlust. But I can see the growing restlessness in his blinking, roaming, eyes, and the way his fingers twitch.
“I can’t,” I try to explain once more, my voice slow, my hands open: Earnestness.
“The ewes need me.”
And they do. They are young, the ewes, young and helpless. Their life is merely budding, their will to live – their willingness to nurse their way into existence – a whimsical thing in need of encouragement.
I wish I could show him this young, hesitant will of theirs. I wish I could make him feel the joy of nurturing it, and watching it bloom as their mouths open, hungry for mill, hungry for life. But Cain is a man of words, and I don’t know the words to use now.
And perhaps he’s too alive to understand that some living needs encouragement, I think.
Cain takes a deep breath, then seems to think better of it. He leaves without saying a word, in long and measured strides:
I first said my brother’s name when I was as small and helpless as the ewes. He was speaking, telling me about the adventures we would have one day. There was fierce joy in every motion, in every faraway look, in every smile that creased his cheeks and nose.
Jubilation, my mother would have called it.
Excitement, my father would have said.
Life, I thought. But I said “Cain” instead.
His eyes shone as he laughed, free and happy. “Mother,” he called. “Abel said his first word!”
“Why not come with me,” Cain suggested, his arms laden with the fruits of his labor. “It’s a new road into the heavens. We could walk it together!”
He wants me to sacrifice one of the ewes, my brother. To watch it lose that life which flows within us all. I know he can’t see the horror in my stillness, and I don’t know the words to explain.
But then I notice that there is a certain drag in his word, a touch of resignation.
He already gave up on me: He doesn’t expect me to come. He doesn’t expect me to share his joy.
Worse, there is something gaurded in his voice. My expected refusal, I realize, has the power to hurt him.
And so I clench my fingers, thinking of the ewes, but say “yes, I’ll come with you.”
And the flare of happiness that greets me for one moment, laced with surprise and just a touch of tenderness, is worth the grief.
My brother, I think when the fire from the heavens takes my ewe. My brother is worth it.
I turn to him to share his joy, but the flames in his eyes are not dancing.
They are cold when he observes me from beneath drawn eyebrows. And then he turns away and leaves, strides quickened, his fruits lying un-taken in the dust.
Anger, I think, but the word is inadequate.
This was something else.
“Cain,” I said once, when I was a child. “I don’t know how to speak like you. I don’t know how to find such words.”
“Oh, Abel,” he said then, and hugged me. He must have said more, but the words don’t matter. What I remember is the way his arms were strong around my shoulders, the way his hand was gentle on my face.
Red, I think, looking at my brother’s hands. I see it dripping off them, back onto my chest. The red of life.
The red hands are shaking, shaking, shaking, on my face.
Red, I think, and the colors are fading. My brother’s name is dying on my lips.