“Do you believe in God?”
“Cos I ain’t never seen him.”
Michael and Marcus sat by themselves, alone but for the soft whisperings of a summer’s breeze.
“Do you believe in heaven?” continued Michael.
“Cos I ain’t never seen that, either.”
Up above them, the sun had begun to wilt in the dreamy ocean of the sky, its light dimming as it slipped beneath the surface. The deep, dark blue was slowly turning to a darkening purple, the brightness giving way to its ethereal cousin.
“Marcus,” said Michael, his voice wary and anxious.
“What?” snapped Marcus.
“Do you believe in hell?”
There followed a sudden and lingering pause. “You bet I do,” was Marcus’ reply, his darkly brown eyes observing those of his brother.
“But when have you ever seen that?”
A mischievous smile played about his lips, as an anaemic glow flickered from behind his eyes. “Why, Michael, we’re there right now.”
The two brothers had sat there all day, alone and with each other. They watched through widened eyes as the sun made its way from east to west, drifting like serene calm through the ocean blue. They had followed its aureate glow as it danced amongst the clouds, often sheltering behind their sullen greyness. And now, as it slipped beyond the housetops and tumbled toward the horizon, their youthful wonderment ebbed away with the light.
“Do you mean, we live in hell?”
Marcus smiled once more, a gentle laugh falling from his lips as he considered the genial innocence of the question. “You don’t live in hell, Mikey. You simply exist.”
Now it was Michael’s turn to pause as he pondered his brother’s response. “But Marcus, ain’t living and existing the same thing?”
The two boys shivered as the soft, meandering breeze began to chill. It grew louder as it rustled the treetops, slanting across the parkway and reddening their faces. Marcus looked to his brother and took him into his arms, pulling his wispy frame close to his. Michael sniffed as he tugged upwards at his coat zip, before resting a trembling hand onto that of Marcus.
“No brother, it ain’t. When you exist, and I mean only exist, its like you can walk, you can talk and you can breathe. But that’s it. It’s like you’re dying, but slowly. You don’t feel any pain, but then you don’t feel nothing. You don’t feel nothing and you ain’t got nothing, either.”
Marcus’ breath had become heavy and leaden, the smile on his lips having twisted to a frown.
Michael arched his head upwards and gazed at his brother. Marcus looked down to him, a fluttering butterfly restful in the palms of the devil himself. One glance from those wide, wishful eyes had melted the ice that held his heart, their sunlit blueness warming his empty shell. He lowered his head towards the floor and rested his lips upon his brother’s cheek, lingering for a second before pulling away.
Michael touched gingerly at the melting lip prints, feeling as they fell away into nothingness “We got each other, Marcus,” he said, timidly.
The scurrying shadows now reached all around them, the only light offered by the distant stillness of the stars.
“No we don’t, Mikey.” A thought pricked at the numbness of his mind, before escaping into the depths of his throat. “Let’s go for a walk.”
Taking Michaels hand, he led him from the bench and over to the lakeside. They were silent for a moment or two, as their weary, stiffened legs ambled towards the sleeping wetness. Shafts of light escaped from its surface, reaching upwards for the trees and the nearby housetops, illuminating the blackness for a passing second.
Michael stepped out in front, crossing his arms as he huddled in the cold. His shoulders hunched behind him, almost giving way as the world rested upon them.
Marcus reached out his hand, gently placing it upon his brother’s shoulder. “I love you, Mikey.”
Michael became almost still, as though warmed by the words as they floated toward him. He clung to them tightly, holding them close to his heart. Then a slender hand released his own and tickled at his shoulder, taking his brothers fingers into his. “I love you too, Marcus,” he said, the words moist and stifled.
Marcus closed his eyes and pictured a youthful smile beaming from his brothers face, giving light to his being as the sun does the dawn. For that tender, single moment he was happy and content, perhaps for the first time. His eyes opened once more, and before his brother could turn to face him, he pushed him softly into the lake.
His fall was short and unbroken, ending with a splash as he tumbled beneath the waters edge. Marcus knelt beside the lake, simply looking down towards his own, fractured reflection.
Even the desperate flailing of arms and muffled screams for help couldn’t disturb his glare, dark and dispassionate as it fixed upon himself. As the seconds went by, the trembling waters once more became still, and the cries from their depths sunk to the earth once more.
Marcus climbed to his feet, turned, and without forethought, headed back from where he came. “I still don’t believe in heaven,” he thought to himself as Michael’s, soft, wavy voice asked the question once more. “But whatever there is, it’s got to be better than this.”