I have a new story online called “Little Brother.” It’s about childhood and darkness and togetherness and escape. It’s one of my favorite short pieces.
It’s had a long life. Though I should say “lives.” It has existed for many years in one form or another. Its longest life was as a chapter of my first novel, which itself had an adventure (agent, submissions, interest, but not enough). I didn’t give up on the chapter. I adapted it to stand alone in these 1,300 words, which encapsulate a lot of overlapping ideas and theories and worlds that tumble around together in my memory of childhood with my sisters. In the story, they’re both older than me. In real life, I’m the oldest. But age is funny. We’re all older and somewhat wiser now, with spouses and children and good and bad jobs. Age doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. I’m so lucky to be close to them now. This story is for them, for us, honoring a piece of the vast, sacred weirdness we went through together.
Here are the first few paragraphs of “Little Brother.”
Deep in the woods in my final cycle of lifetimes the fire is bright. Between naps, I age in and out of the world. Among our kind a year or more can pass in an hour. Sometimes we live a human lifetime and a half in twenty-four hours. As a teenager my voice gets croaky in the morning, then croakier still as an old man by mid-afternoon, and by dawn I have a new voice again pure and wailing as snow floats down through the trees on my pudgy infant face, which will be covered in gray whiskers again by noon.
In one lifetime I remember the darkness of an early morning. I’m about an hour old in my Mom’s arms. I’m nursing under the huge T-shirt she’s wearing. We’re both tired and wet, at home, not at a hospital, looking like we’ve just washed ashore on the raft of my parents’ bed.
Two small people in pajamas who I’ll soon call my sisters are standing in the bedroom doorway looking at me. My parents tell them it’s okay, come in and say hello to your new baby brother. The oldest one, all of seven, yawns and goes back down the hall to her bed. The other one, three, now no longer the youngest, suddenly a middle child, comes over to us. Her upside-down face turns one way then another as she tries to get a good look at me. My parents ask her what she thinks. She waits a second and whispers, “He’s too little.” Her ponytail smells like grass, bugspray, and sweat. Then, because she thinks I haven’t learned how to hear yet, she says very loudly, “Get bigger and we can go play outside, house baby!” I start bawling but pass out because I’m full of milk and tired from being born. So much work just to be loved and yelled at.
Life was sweetness for a year or so. Then our family had to be packed up.
Thanks to Han and Gary at Lunate for publishing this story.