You know how you can love something so thoroughly it becomes the most important thing in the world? That’s how I felt about Benny. He was everything to me.
It was mostly physical, at first. The wrinkles around his eyes. The infectious smile you couldn’t help matching even if you tried. The way his hair curled against his neck. I couldn’t look at him without wanting to be a part of him.
But I came to love him as I grew to know him. No, that’s not right. I realized I loved him, and perhaps always had. The love, it was like it was already there, waiting to bloom. It just needed the right nourishment.
Benny was a kind person, if not always honest. He would do anything to spare someone’s feelings, which meant when he and I argued it was vicious. I wanted truth, no matter who it hurt. He wanted peace.
So it was almost ironic when he went off to war. He, who would keep secrets to preserve even the most tenuous semblance of harmony, went off to face the brutal honesty of the greatest lie of all: that we actually wanted peace. That we loved our fellow men and allowed each other the grace to fail. Failure was impossible. Failure was inevitable.
When the letter arrived, it was so expected it only took a moment for me to realize I was already heartbroken. I had already given up. The smudged ink only affirmed what I already knew. Benny’s love had nourished me for so long his absence was like the slow release of air from a balloon. By the time the letter arrived, I was already deflated.
I looked up from the novel I was only half reading. It was Gothic. Wordy. I didn’t like it.
My sister was standing in the doorway, her face arranged in the mask of pity I had come to hate. I hated it, and I had told her so, but it was inescapable. She could only tiptoe around the void, attempting to spare me pain. She was so like Benny in that way. And I couldn’t really blame her, because she was the only one who knew what Benny truly meant to me.
I sat silently as she entered the room, her skirt fluttering gently around her. It was one of our mother’s dresses. I had been surprised she kept it, let alone wore it, but I couldn’t deny it suited her perfectly. Mirasol seemed to share my surprise, yet wore it almost in defiance of its previous owner. She wore it like armor. But we both harbored an unspoken fear the dress was imbued with some of the malice and bitterness of its predecessor that would somehow affect its heir.
I avoided her eyes as Mirasol sat beside me, the cushion buckling uncomfortably. I shifted my thigh.
“You got another call from Henry.”
I declined to answer. Henry was a friend, once. Mirasol sighed.
“This isn’t productive, Patrick.” She gestured vaguely at the book in my lap, at the half-eaten apple on the plate beside me, its brown core glaring at me as though in accusation.
“I don’t need to be productive,” I replied, keeping my eyes fixed on the carpet. “Mother at least gave us that.”
Mirasol snorted, then looked into her own lap, as though the fabric of the dress reminded her of the significance of our circumstances.
“Benny wouldn’t have wanted this,” she said quietly, and anger made my head pound.
I stood quickly, the book thumping to the floor.
“You have no idea what Benny would have wanted.”
Mirasol stood in anger too, the malice in her skirt murmuring encouragingly.
“You’re wrong, but you’re too frightened to admit it. The truth is, you want to be just like him. Desperate to keep the peace. But the fact is you’re a coward. Why else do you think Benny left and you didn’t? Why else was he willing to go to war if not to get away from you and your disturbed obsession with truth-”
We both stood shocked as silence engulfed the room. I sat down, hard, the cushion relenting reluctantly, painfully. Mirasol turned away, her hand to her mouth.
The truth? Is that what I wanted?
I looked down at the book on the floor, its pages bent awkwardly, its spine towards me. The binding was broken, the title worn. I recognized it with horrifying clarity. It was Mother’s favorite.
I looked at Mirasol, whose eyes glistened above her shaking hand. Her skirt rustled.