From the Fireside We Turn

They never figured out what killed my littlest brother. He was eleven when he sickened and grew pale, a terrible age; old enough to understand, young enough to be resilient, hormonal enough to rage and despair and find no peace.

Every doctor he went to — and he went to many, many, trying to discover what had its teeth sunk invisible into him — had a name for his death, and an idea, but each name and each idea was different, and so I won’t tell you what they all were. All of them were ugly names, or, worse, rather melodic names over something hideous and inescapable.

He tried treatments and therapies and medicines and programs, until he was as drained and feeble from the fight as from the death. Our parents had to bully him into fighting, into trying to survive, when he would as lief sank into torpor and patient suffering.

He laughed more when he was dying, I remember. He had been a taciturn, solemn boy. Death opened his eyes to the ridiculous and the petty, I think, or maybe it was just time. It wasn’t a merry thing, his laughter, but plangent and bitter, more bitter than anyone should be, but it was laughter, and I guess I’m thankful for that much, anyway.

When he died we put up a gravestone for him, unadorned and unmementoed, for what symbols do you put on a child’s grave? Just his name, cut into the rock, and the years of his life, and the words More Than This.