By the time I noticed that Will was coming up earlier on weekend mornings and staying later in the evenings, the three of us were moving smoothly in our rehearsed routine, only to be adapted due to the lack of one component—although Mirko was in that absence, too, in the way we danced around it afraid to invade the space that had been, and still was, his. There were sunsets to the soft music of Will’s guitar, when each note assumed a different shade of red and Filippo’s brush was slower, new galaxies climbing up the wall like ivy. As gold threads wove in and out of the horizon, piercing it, I kept thinking of what I had lost. What cruel creator would allow you to understand your mistakes, yet not let you go back to fix them?
The evening when Will came up and found me crying belonged to a day of 40 degrees and 90 percent humidity. My clothes adhered to my skin like leeches; they stank, and so did my hair, yet the shower down in the house seemed a thousand steps too far.
“What now?” he asked, the scent of his aftershave wafting toward me. Locks of wet, black hair fell onto his forehead in annoying perfection.
“I don’t understand,” I said, drying my nose with a corner of my T-shirt.
“Does anyone, ever? If you, who tried to do it, don’t, who else can?”
“But he was ...” I said, opening my arms in what I hoped was a large span, like the wings of an albatross.
“To us. Yes. But to himself?”
“It’s so unfair that it should have been him. It’s like …a betrayal, or something.”
I didn’t expect to see such disgust in Will’s face.
“Oh, of course, it should have been me. The prick. The homo. Right? Or maybe even Filippo, with his promiscuous mother and all his crippling sensitivities. The two of you, the elected, should have survived the storm and gotten married and made beautiful babies. That it?”
“What the fuck? Will, get help.”
“No. No. No! You have no idea.” For the first time since my return, I saw anger contort Will’s features into the disproportionate, graceless boy that he had been. Those of the hurt adolescent on the day when Mirko had scratched out that sentence from the wall of the tunnel. “You don’t get it. You don’t know what it’s like when your fucking brother who will always be better than you, but never admits it, bleeds in your arms and all you are, all you ever did is useless. When he just decides to leave you. You left long before that!”
“It wasn’t my choice!” I screamed, my spittle settling on his face. “I was a child!”
“You haven’t been a child for a long time,” he hissed. “Where were you?”
That night I asked Filippo to paint me a wall of falling stars. Luminous dots started appearing, and to each of them I entrusted the same impossible, blasphemous wish. Outside the window of the house on the tree, the moon shone vigorously, so radiant as to seem like a hole showing a brighter world on the other side.
Some days I feel that time—the time spent on the tree house as a child; those days and nights in my mid-thirties when the house had reformed around me like a necessary shell; early motherhood—is all ensconced in me, still, hidden in the folds of my old skin, just waiting to grow back and make me young and powerful again. Time between late childhood and early adulthood seemed like centuries; that between the ages of twenty and sixty like minutes. And now, now it’s a little like dreams, lacking logic and going in circles, trying to reveal secrets I can rarely grasp. Only Mirko has remained young, untainted, and it seems strange to think of how short my time with him was—a few months, seventy years ago; nothing but a tiny fraction in a long existence—when I compare it with his lasting effect on my life.