On the window sill, my legs dangling down, I called it back as I had been afraid to do since I had left; saw it all as they say you do before you die. Our days in the tree house, the chewing gum we bought at the mini-market, which got jaw-breakingly hard after a minute of chewing; ice pops dripping on our tanned, scabby knees as we watched Filippo paint his colourful world; ghost stories read and then retold in more disquieting detail as the sun, melting on the horizon, bloodied the outline of each cloud, set alight the seagulls’ wings.
One night we’d been able to escape our houses undetected—all but Filippo, who had been so deeply asleep he’d remained in his bed, and who would cry about it the following morning—we huddled in the centre of the tree house’s only room, our legs under a sheet that kept the Mistral wind at bay, and in torchlight read from an illustrated book about medieval torture methods. Then I made up a story for each of the people drawn on the book, a real witch, a family man, a thief, and the stars between the dancing, disheveled branches turned into a million eyes. And as I talked I saw the darkness trace shadows on the boys’ faces which I had not known were there, and which would fade in the morning. Will was so silent, so still, I thought he had fallen asleep. But, as the moonlight reflected in his eyes, I saw them sparkle in reply, as though the two of them were entertaining a conversation from which all others were excluded. What was strange about it was that I knew I would remember it forever; I felt my brain working hard at engraving my memory with every resin-scented gust of wind, every whisper of the leaves awakened by the wind. Magic was at work that night, and we were the only people awake in the whole world.
I was picking up every detail of it as you would a shrimp caught between two submerged rocks, when I heard the steps up the ladder, and thought I must make ready for adult Mirko. Perhaps he was bald now, he might have become heavier, he might not look as impressive as he did when he was thirteen. I did not want to be disappointed; did not want to look as though I was. So I waited and did not turn, and gave my mind time to ruin his broad, tanned face and fade the darkness of his hair; to ravage his body and dull the light in his eyes.
“Well, well, well,” said a voice just behind me, and I shivered as though someone had blown a cold breath between my shoulder blades. I turned then, and for the time of a heartbeat I thought the tall man facing me a stranger.
“So it would seem. Sorry to disappoint.”
Now, as I saw that old arrogant smile come back, I knew him. He placed a large hand, as graceful as a long-legged spider, against the boards that made up the right-hand side wall and leaned on it, crossing his legs at the ankle. I noticed his brand jeans, the expensive shoes, the polo shirt that seemed tailor-made.
“Gosh, it’s not like I expected a snog, but something like ‘hello’ would be nice,” he said, and his voice was like ruined silk.
“Sorry, I wasn’t expecting...you. And for a moment there I had no idea who you were. You are…different,” I said to his symmetrical teeth. This beauty of his—it was frightening. It was alien to the gawky, mis-sized teenager he had been, and why would you keep something hidden for so long if not for some sleazy reason?
“I’ll take it as a compliment. So, still ready to kill yourself? Shall I set up a suicide watch up here? It would be like old times.”
“You never did know when to shut it, Will. Where’s Mirko?”
Something passed in his eyes, a shadow like the outstretched wings of a dark bird. “You think you have a right to everything you want, don’t you? My tree house, my brother. What makes you think any of it belongs to you?” His voice had grown sharp, his pose no longer relaxed, hands balled at his sides.
“Look, I made a mistake coming here. I’ll just contact him some other way,” I said, making to step around him towards the ladder, but he stood before me unmoving.
“I’ll take you to him,” he said, jangling in front of me a set of car keys with a BMW key ring. “Just a short drive.”