This story is part of our Summer Fiction Month 2020. Click here to view the stories featured this Fiction Month, as well as past fiction pieces.
We were born in darkness and hunger, and that was all we ever knew. My brother said we were like axes lodged in stone, impotent objects frozen in unknown space. Silence overwhelms us. Wind is a silent phantom, ice a silent beast. Sometimes it crackles with anxiety, sometimes it groans with hunger. Sometimes it terrifies me.
I can hear my brother’s feet shuffling on the ice, trying not to wake me. Although I am not asleep, I pretend to be. I am weak. This hunger pains me.
* * *
“We are like leafless trees with feet, we are miracles,” my brother says, and I believe him, what he says trees, what miracles are like. “When the ice first came they used to count the months and make predictions for when it’d warm up again,” he tells me. “When the sun went away, they would take shifts counting seconds so that they wouldn’t lose track of the days. Fifteen minute shifts, then they’d switch. Everyone counts different. Eventually they just stopped counting. I think they’d stopped counting for weeks. That’s when we were born.”
I often ask him how old I am. Sometimes 16, sometimes 20, sometimes 7 years old. Whichever age seems appropriate. I once asked him what a year is.
“Here, a year is—”
Long and hard, and nothing ever changes. If he asks me, I will say that I am infinite years old. That’s because infinity is when everything that changes looks the same. I think someone wrote something like that but I’ll tell him God told me. And he’ll think I’m a little miracle, just like his little trees. So that is what I’ll tell him if he asks.
* * *
I remember being born. I remember how warm it was before I was alive, not waiting, not being. I remember how cold it was to be born, and the hunger ripped out of my navel. Something stayed inside, it never left me.
“Hunger is our mother,” my brother says, “our mother’s mother, our uncle’s and our father’s, too.”
We are like axes lodged in stone, a knife stripped of its edge, a tool stripped of its function, or else waiting to be used, the neutralization of a threat. I remember the first scream ripped through my lungs. My brother said I opened my eyes and screamed and I’ve been screaming ever since. And I asked him, “did you scream, too?” He said he couldn’t remember. But I remember every moment of my life.
Alone and half-asleep, my brother watching over me, my brother somewhere far, returning, my soul sheathed in death and memory, I recount to myself 16, 20, 7, because sometimes memory is just repeating something you’ve heard somewhere before. Maybe from your brother, or maybe just a dream. But sometimes, things happen that you just can’t control. They crack the flat of a membrane, flash like lightning, then tumble the little icefalls, ripping holes, collapsing faster than you can see, and so you say “I remember,” and give yourself a foothold because you didn’t want to fall.
* * *
I remember death sometimes, when I hear it sliding over the ice, slipping through the creases in my skin, flapping its wings, throwing a chill that burns my face, dragging its claws, scraping its feet. I know it is out there, the dragon. My brother’s words tumble endlessly in my mind. We are like axes lodged in stone. I can hear it struggling under its weight, I can feel the warmth of its empty breath, I can feel its heat, the beast. We are naked trees with feet, hammered into the sleeves of this deathless ice. It terrifies me, but I cannot shut it out; the darkness speaks, and I must listen. Something inside me never left, was it a memory? A dream?
In the cold, I feel the warmth of the beast.
“We are ageless,” I hear him say. “We are miracles.”
Chewy Clateman: Age 22, tells stories.