I'm not really one for angst, but I just had to try and write something when I read usedusername's fanfiction "Collection". So here it is; I hope you enjoy.
Oh, and I should probably mention that English is not my native language, so there might be mistakes. If you find one, please correct me.
The phone rang.
Malcolm didn't feel much like getting up, so he didn't do anything about it. Besides, it didn't seem all that important to him right now. In the end it would go to voice mail anyway, and he didn't want to talk to anyone.
Hi, this is Dewey. What's up, Malcolm? Just calling to say hi. Please call me back when you hear this.
A short, trivial message, lacking any personality. Something anyone could've said. Even hearing his younger brother's name, who he hadn't talked to for six months, didn't cause any excitement. Malcolm tried remembering what they'd said to each other the last time they met; as far as he could recall, the conversation had gone something along the lines of the message he just received—short, mundane, words that lacked actual meaning. They hadn't talked seriously after... well, after that had happened. They didn't have anything to say to each other. That struck Malcolm as a bit sad, but he didn't dwell on that thought for long; after all, he had more important things to do.
The covers of his bed were warm and he was soon drifting away, tired from the long, eventful day he had had. The campaign was running better than he could've expected, but that just meant it was getting more and more difficult for him; he had tons of paperwork to do, then he had to prepare for his next conference with the board of directors, he had to convince the company he really needed the loan, because he was seriously considering running for president next year; that meant more conferences, presidential debates, campaigns...
His brain really hurt from those thoughts, but not because they were too much for him to handle; oh no, on the contrary—he had it all planned, and he was pretty sure he was going to win, too. It wasn't that. It was the fact that he had to think about all of this, when there were many more things he could think about; but then again, he didn't want to face those thoughts as well. With a half-smile he remembered a small room, a person, whose name might've been Reese, or it might not have been—and what he had said: "Are you going to do that a lot?" To his perplexed "What?", he had answered, "The brain thing. You keep doing that brain thing."; and then, a few years later, he had asked that person, "How do you manage to stay so calm all the time?" And with a goofy smile he had said, "I just turn my brain off."
That was a long time ago, when he still thought that all there was to life was just drinking, girlfriends, and more drinking. Come to think of it, he hadn't been more complicated or profound than Reese; he could just add a few numbers faster than him. After all these years he had grown up; or rather, forgot what it was like to be young.
That person was long gone from his life, though; so had his younger brothers, Dewey and Jamie, and so had his mother and... well, the other guy. The one with the funny hair and whining voice and the thing he did when he was happy or angry. And the way he furrowed his eyebrows or narrowed his eyes when he was thinking hard, or his smi—
But he really needed that loan, so he hoped he could convince the board of directors he was going to win the elections, because he already had a plan, and he hoped they were going to find it as reasonable as he did, sure it was a bit risky, but what is life without risk, and anyway he is sure that he can win this thing, and...
He'd just done what he usually did when he found himself sinking back into memories of the past. He drowned them in a downpour of other thoughts and concerns about the present. That usually worked most of the time, but today he was not the engineer of his train of thought. Soon he forgot all about his problems at work and his mind drifted away once more into the past, despite his attempts to stop this from happening.
Another conversation, another room, another person. Probably another life, too.
It was just after that. This time it was the kitchen. But this was not the kitchen of his childhood, this was a sad, gloomy room, covered with dust. Most of the furniture was gone: the big wooden table which had survived so much, given that he and his brothers had lived in the same house with it; the chairs, the bookshelf and the cupboards. His parents didn't need that any more because none of the kids lived in their house now. They'd usually eat in their room, using a tray that Reese had given them for their mother's 60th birthday—'for when you're old and senile' he had said (and it had turned out to be a very useful gift).
It was at that moment that his younger brother Dewey entered the room, carrying that same tray with a pile of dirty plates on top of it. He was still wearing his black suit from the fu—the thing they'd went to.
"Is mom alright?" Malcolm asked, not so much out of concern, but because he couldn't stand the awkward silence.
"Yeah," Dewey said after a short pause. He went to the sink, dropped the dishes in there and started washing them. For a while the clatter of cutlery and bowls was the only sound in the kitchen.
Malcolm stood there with his back to his brother, looking absent-mindedly through the window out into the yard. The sky was covered with grey clouds and although it was only half past six, it was already getting dark.
He felt guilty. He didn't know how people could just go on with their lives after something like that, and part of him still couldn't fully comprehend what had happened. He thought: isn't that ironic? I'm still wondering what's for dinner.
This is the hardest part of it all, he thought. It's not going to the fu—the thing, it's not seeing him in a wooden casket, it's having to go home again after that and go on with your life. Part of him still insisted he should be doing something more meaningful than just stare out of the window and slowly gnaw on a hastily fixed sandwich. But another part, especially the part below the neck, still wanted to know what was for dinner.
Then Dewey said something, interrupting his internal dialogue.
Dewey coughed and cleared his throat, and Malcolm knew—this was one of those things that you only pluck up the courage to say once. It was probably for the best that he hadn't heard it.
But Dewey insisted—after opening and closing his mouth several times, he said at last, "I just said he was wrong." Then he smiled nervously.
"Who was wrong?" asked Malcolm, although he already knew the answer to that question—his perfect memory hadn't failed him even then.
"Dad, when he said..." Dewey's voice faltered a little. "He always used to say that mom was going to go first. You know, because she was always so stressed out."
Malcolm frowned and remained silent. He didn't actually want to talk about it and he hoped Dewey would understand the subtle hint.
However, either because he was oblivious of his brother's mood or was lead by a desire to twist the knife in the wound, to lay it all out, to talk about it—Dewey continued: "You know, he often used to talk about the time when he wouldn't be here any more. I didn't take it seriously back then... Who would have? I mean, I was just a boy. We all were. And here we are now—"
"Dewey," said Malcolm, and it sounded a lot like a warning, with a strict tone, not unlike a teacher scolding a student. "I don't want to talk about it."
For a moment Dewey looked like he had given up, defeated by the authoritative voice of his brother; he lowered his face and looked at the spoon and the sponge he was holding in his hands, but then he raised his head again and looked defiantly straight into Malcolm's eyes. Malcolm found his gaze too intense to bear, so he looked away from him. It hurt to look into those eyes.
"Why?" Dewey demanded.
"I just don't."
He knew this wasn't enough, but he also knew he didn't want to explain it to him.
"Wouldn't it help? It would help me."
"But not me, okay? So please shut up."
Something snapped inside of Dewey. "I will not shut up! I'm not a little boy any more so that you can order me around! Don't you see? We'll only be able to get through this if we talk to each other!"
Perhaps what had angered him hadn't been so much Malcolm's reluctance to talk as his indifference. It was the thing that Dewey hated most about his brother.
"I don't want to talk," Malcolm repeated
"Why are you always so cold and distant? So... so logical?" he spat the last word out as if it had been the worst insult he could think of.
Malcolm still felt shocked when he remembered his younger brother's words. They had hurt so much, and they still hurt, but he had already started it and he didn't know how to take it back. So there had been a row. A terrible row, where things were said that neither of them really meant, or so Malcolm hoped—but either way, it had hurt too much. And it had put an impenetrable barrier between him and his brothers, because as soon as they had learned what had happened, they immediately took Dewey's side. He knew it was because they felt threatened by him; his intelligence had always intimidated and antagonized them, just as it had everybody else in his life. And he wasn't going to back off; he didn't owe anyone an apology, and he knew that.
All this time he was seething with righteous anger, though, there was a little voice in his head that said: They don't deserve this. They don't deserve a brother who acts like a total jackass. They love you and care about you, so you shouldn't repay them with this. Take it back.
But he didn't know how to. All his life he had never told an apology and actually meant it; it had always been because he could gain something from it. It's not like he didn't know what it felt like to be sorry; oh, he knew that, all right. But it was putting those thoughts and emotions into words that made him uneasy—it was as if he was stripping a part of himself and putting it on display where everybody could see it and judge him by it. He didn't like that helpless feeling, while he waited for his apology to be accepted or rejected. He hated it when something about his inner peace depended on somebody else; and so the smart, logical thing was to block out the part of him that cared.
Then again, he knew this couldn't be a permanent solution. He knew this feeling would haunt him for the rest of his days, and he might as well be done with it now. But there was a certain almost childlike stubbornness and thick-headedness that stopped him from doing that. It was a form of protest against the inevitable conclusion, a futile attempt to postpone what had to be done sooner or later. Perhaps it made it even more futile that he realised there was nothing he could do about it; he had been born with a conscience and the sooner he accepted that, the better. However, he didn't like anything about his life to be out of his control—and so maybe this was even a form of self-punishment, a sort of an attempt to kill his own conscience. But he knew that wouldn't work, too.
Suddenly despair hit him. He was never going to win that struggle against himself, and perhaps he shouldn't. Perhaps he should struggle against that part of him that made him fight with himself, the world and everybody else in the first place.
Wait, what's he talking about? Fight with what? He shouldn't apologize. He never had to, there's no reason to start now. Apologizing is for weak people. It's for the sissies who can't take what life throws at them.
But Dewey's voice had been so pleading... He can't do that to them. He loves them. This is what keeps him going, although he'd never admit that out loud. Perhaps it's apologizing... no, forgiveness that keeps everybody going. He owes it to them to at least try.
He knew that he wouldn't be able to think about campaigns and elections and loans any more. He knew that he wouldn't be able to sleep now, too. So he sat up in his bed, reaching for the phone. Then he pulled his hand back. And then he reached for the phone again. And then he pulled his hand back. Just when he was about to reach out for the third time, the phone rang, so suddenly and unexpectedly that Malcolm flinched.
Hi, it's Dewey again. Hope you received my last message. Please call me back soon.
Malcolm thought offhandedly of how trivial and stupid this message was, too. If his brother was calling to apologize, he could at least come up with something good and meaningful to say to him. How naïve of him to think that—
But then, out of the blue, he felt a tear roll down his cheek. Almost as if he didn't believe it, he touched his face with his fingers, perhaps hoping that it wasn't true. Then he held his hand in front of his face, examining the moisture on the tip of his fingers. It glistened in the faint daylight coming through the window behind him. And then, absent-mindedly, he reached for the phone, clutching it as if it was a life-belt.
And started dialing.