The Birthday Brothers

4 Jun

In his kitchen, the ice snaps as he pours a substantial swallow of vodka into a glass and squeezes in an orange. Sipping, he gathers more ice from the freezer, drops it onto a washcloth on the counter, folds it and presses it against his neck, which is stiff. And he smiles.

He sits alone at his kitchen table in the evening cool, taking a moment, organizing his impressions of the day. But after barely a minute, A looks up to see his brothers standing in the doorway. His face falls and he finishes his drink.

“I didn’t think it was so late. The day went too quickly,” he says.

“Yes,” says C, “we felt the same.”

“Please,” says A, “sit. Can I fix you a drink?”

“I wouldn’t mind. Whatever you’re having,” says C.

“I’m not sure I’m old enough,” says B.

A opens a cabinet and grabs two more glasses. “If we are, you are,” he says. He pours drinks for his brothers, refills his own: vodka, ice, orange squeeze. The brothers clink cheers and drink.

“It’s good,” says C.

“I don’t like mine,” says B.

A nods. “Like Daddy,” he says. “I don’t think he liked vodka either.”

“Tell us about your day, Brother,” says C. “What’s with the ice on the neck?”

A reclines and massages his own shoulder. “Oh, my daughter. Today I taught her to drive. She’s 19, but she’s avoided it until now. ‘I’ll never use this, Dad. It’s all autonomous now. It’s not like when you were a kid.’ Anyhow, she’s jumpy on the brake and my neck is paying the price.”

“A daughter!” says C. “What’s her name?”

“Gertrude. ‘Gertie.’ I have a son too. Five years old. He cried when I brushed his teeth too hard.”

C grasps A’s hand and smiles. “Yes, continue! What else?”

“What else. Well, the day was chilly, but in the afternoon, the sun shined and it was hot on my head and on my arms. When I first saw my daughter, she hugged me and my nose and eyes filled with the smell of her shampoo. It was very pleasant. There was a leaf on my car’s windshield before I drove to my job. The color of the leaf was a very deep, dark green. I suppose it made me a little sad. Maybe it seemed as if it belonged back in the tree with its brothers.”

“Yes, maybe,” says C. “What’s something that made you happy?”

“My shoes made a sound as I walked on a stretch of gravel in a parking lot. That made me happy, the crunch-crunch. I think you would love it if you heard it. Also, this morning I drank coffee, which I enjoyed very much. It was sort of bitter. But a good bitter. My coffee had milk in it and that helped. I hope I can have it again next year.”

“Coffee,” says B. “That’s a beverage, I think. A drink.”

A removes the washcloth from his neck and drops the ice into the sink. He fixes his eyes on a slate sky on the other side of the window, light sinking lower. Across the street, a house blinks out of existence along with a lemon tree in the front yard. “Yes, it’s popular with other grown-ups like me. At least I think so. My thoughts on it are already fading, so I’m not sure.”

“And your age?” asks C. “Which birthday is it?”

A thinks. “Oh. Forty-eight? I want to say forty-eight.”

C turns to B and says, “What about you, brother? Which birthday was it for you?”

B beams. “Thirteen. I watched television programs on my tablet. Most of them were funny. I ate breakfast with Mommy and Daddy. Mommy made my favorite: strawberries and French toast.”

A winces. “I miss Mommy.”

“I miss Mommy too,” says C.

“Yes. There was a picnic,” B continues. “The school year is over and there was a picnic to celebrate the start of summer and uh. My, you know, friend. Aron. He told me he had gotten me a birthday present, but he wanted me to open it down on the beach. So we left the group and walked toward the water. Our feet were in the ocean a little bit and Aron started talking about how he liked how brave I am and how I’m not afraid to take chances and then he held my arms with his hands and he kissed me.”

“Was the water cold?” asks A.

“A little. I guess it was cold.”

“Did you like being kissed by Aron? Did it make you happy?” asks C.

“I don’t know. I keep thinking about it. It’s a partly happy and partly nervous thing for me to think about.”

“What are strawberries like?” asks A. “I didn’t have any today.”

“They’re sweet but also a little tart. They’re very red. With sort of seeds on the outside. Mommy slices them.”

At that moment, three vodka oranges with ice disappear from the kitchen table.

“And what about you, Brother?” A says to C. “Which birthday? What happened?”

“Fifty-nine,” says C. “I took a shower this morning, which is when the water comes out of the little holes and there’s soap and it makes you clean.”

“I know showers,” says B, raising a hand.

“I know showers too,” agrees A.

“I rode on a train for awhile,” says C. “It was very fast and didn’t seem to touch the ground. There were screens and lights and a VR harness to keep me occupied in my seat, but mostly I looked out the window. I saw deserts and trees and two different rivers. My wife slept on my shoulder. A thing was on my lap. An urn.”

A and B nod.

“I spent part of the day with both of you and our wives and husband. We walked to the end of a long pier to p-pour ashes into the sea. Thuh-that’s, that’s what grown-ups do sometimes when, hnn, when p-people die and…” C’s throat knots, his face grows hot and tears swell in his eyes. He buries his head in his hands.

A and B exchange looks. The refrigerator disappears.

A says, “Brother?”

“It’s Mommy!” cries C. “Mommy died months ago!”

And the triplet brothers begin to wail. Wracking, spine-shaking sobs as the kitchen sink faucet pops away to nothing, causing tap water to shoot from the plumbing and onto the counter and floor.

“NO!” bawls B. “NOT MOMMY!”

A crumples to the ground, holding his knees to his chest. “MOMMY WAS THE BEST! SHE LOVED US! SHE FOUGHT FOR US!”

The chair beneath C evaporates, sending him sprawling. “THAT’S RIGHT, SHE DID! MOMMY FOUGHT FOR US!”

“OH MOMMY!” wail the brothers.

The cabinets dissolve, smashing the dishes they contained onto the counter. Floor tiles and cutlery, glasses and Tupperware, oven racks and skillets blip away as if they were never there to begin with.

Through tears and snot and saliva bubbles, C rakes his fingers through his hair: “Shuh-shuh-she, shuh-she was so sad. We talked about how sad Mommy was at the end, how she w-wanted to go to Heaven be with D-D-Daddy and she, and she…”

“I DON’T WANT THIS!” cries B. “I WANT ANOTHER DAY WITH MOMMY!”

“Those aren’t the r-rules, though,” says A. “You know the rules.”

“I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING!”

“Maybe say the rules, Brother. It’s best,” croaks A, face wet.

“NO!”

Once a year…’” says C.

“NO!”

The kitchen table and remaining chairs disappear. C and A right themselves and sit cross-legged, joining hands with B and with each other, swallowing sobs. B shakes his head as, more and more, memories of the day blink from his brain. B bows his head and whispers.

“Once a year,
the children too soon gone
are granted a day
to experience a taste
of a life they never lived.”

And bit by bit, item by item, the remainder of the kitchen is uncreated. Dish fragments and glass, sink water and silverware. The oven. The ceiling. The walls and windows. The floor. All vanishes to still and infinite white.

The triplet brothers who shared a womb, fingers interlocked, hang in the center of The Fluidity, The Peace, The AllNow, The Grand Everything.

“Day good,” says B, as best he can. “Pretty and beauty and want more.”

“Miss warm and Mommy. Day good, but miss Mommy,” says A.

“Happy share brothers,” says C. “Happy always with brothers.”

The three drift, soon bodiless. Baby A, Baby B and Baby C, held safe by an umbilical as big as the universe. They travel to where the other children are waiting. And not just children, but grown-ups too. Friends and loved ones and neighbors and strangers and animals and even Mommy. And everything that ever was and ever could be.

There they ruminate and speculate and confer.

And they begin the wait for their next birthday.


 

Dedicated to the fighting Mommies of children too-soon-gone. 

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6 Responses to “The Birthday Brothers”

  1. Jon Schweitzer June 4, 2018 at 11:08 am #

    Beautiful heartache, friend.

  2. noelleandphoebe June 4, 2018 at 12:52 pm #

    I look forward to your annual post each year.

  3. Wife, Mom, Etc. June 4, 2018 at 1:03 pm #

    Happy 7th Birthday, Rudyard, Desmond, and Oscar.

  4. Catherine June 4, 2018 at 3:30 pm #

    Seeing this new post kinda of shocked me.. I had first come across ur blog in June 2016 looking for hope and success stories as my water broke in my first triplet. Our boy Kason, Just before 18wks. He was born right on 18wks… and like u and ur wife I begged for anything that could help keep our girls, Lyvia and Haven, in til 24wks but like u my goal was 27wks. They stayed put til 22wks 4days gestation and on my 36th birthday i woke up to what i knew would be their birthday too.they lived for an hour… the grief as u say hits u when u dont expect it.. while both heartbreaking to see ur post again after not seeing your blog for sometime…it was also .. well I don’t have the right word.. but it touched my heart and I relived my own nigtmare of loosing them too but i think i need that sometimes.. it makes me feel closer to them somehow.. please give my triplet sister mama/Ur wife My love too.. xox

  5. Sharon Bear June 4, 2018 at 6:10 pm #

    Jer, you write with such depth, poignancy, love and reach into the soul of reality. The guys are a blessing and so are your messages of life and truth. Happy 7th birthday for each!!!

  6. Becky June 4, 2018 at 7:00 pm #

    Thank you, Jer, for allowing us to go with you to the hidden place and share the loss of your precious boys on this sacred day.
    Love you, mom

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