Eavesdropper, part 4: The brothers
By ROBERT GLANCY, 07 Feb 2018
One dystopian invention – a radio that can eavesdrop on anyone, anywhere, anytime – and four strange tales. Here's the fourth and final part.
After years of searching on the local library Eavesdropper, I finally found the conversation I’d been looking for. They say my brother murdered a man. They say the ‘evidence was stacked against him’. I’d been searching the Eavesdropper for months, turning the dial to find what I was looking for. The search was as good as the find. In all those months of listening I heard my brother speak and it made me feel good. I listened to him for so many months, chatting away to folks. He was polite, always saying good day to women and hello to men. He was knowledgeable and humble – two things that rarely mesh in one soul.
The man my brother killed was a bully. He threatened my brother with all sorts and my brother did his damndest not to rise to it. The thug didn’t relent, he came back time and again – I could hear on the tape, could hear others in the bar shouting, ‘Let it go, Jesse’ (that was my brother’s name) and some others doing the opposite and chanting, ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’
Mum said folk were strange like that, said people were so bored they’d rather watch people kill one another than suffer through another day of nothing much to do. The man was shouting at Jesse, ‘Your brother’s a fucking retard, a devil I tell you. Yeah, you heard right, he’s a fucking devil with his head blown out like a dumb balloon. Your daddy and mamma shoulda drowned him on the day they had him.’
Jesse spits back, ‘Don’t talk about things you know nothing about, John!’ But the thug wasn’t done: ‘He’s a walking talking abortion who needs to be put down like a rabid dog, is what he needs.’
This time Jesse’s voice is darker, years of frustration thickening it: ‘Say one more thing and I’ll kill you. I’ll fucking kill you right here with all these folks looking on, kill you with my bare hands. So don’t say another dumb word.’
There’s a long pause here, even the crowd goes hush, and I play the word again and again, but it’s so fast, the crowd noise swallows whatever insult John tried to throw. It could simply have been John sneering, ‘Devil’ possibly, ‘Retard’.
No matter how often I re-ran the recording I couldn’t make out the word. The Eavedropper ain’t perfect, it can’t catch every little thing. I just couldn’t tell because before the word was even formed the crowd exploded, and inside the sound of savage howling I heard the flat smack of my brother’s fist beating John’s face, a dull sound like when the men hitch up dead pigs on spikes and slap ‘em on down the line. Slap, slap, slap and the noise of the crowd started as something wild before turning, twisting to something else, something scared, hysterical women screaming too late and after the fact, ‘Stop, stop, stop, he’s killin’ him!’
No one could have stopped him. I knew that. That’s when the crowd goes silent as a grave yard and all’s I hear is that slap, slap, slap but now it’s wet, wet with whatever pulp was left in place of John’s dead face.
After that my brother didn’t talk. In court he sat silent as the case was done and dusted. Everyone in town, bar the judge himself, had seen him beat John to death; there was no wiggle room, no grey area, no, what they called ‘mitigating circumstances’. My parents barely spoke of it. Not so much for the shock of it. But more as if we had all at some point almost expected it. Didn’t even ask my brother why. That was just as well as he was in no mood for talking. Besides which we knew why. It was 20 years of a town dragging my family down because I looked like a freak, and folk round small towns don’t take to any kind of thing that’s different to any other kind of thing.
Odd as it sounds, the bullies, the Johns of the town, were not the worst of it. Least they only took a few drinks to show their feelings. Polite liars, they was the worst. Ones who looked mumma in the eyes and said, Weren’t nothing wrong with a child being different. When all along mumma knew them folks was disgusted by me.
My brother didn’t talk for 30 years, just went to jail, and each time they asked if he wanted to go up for parole he shook his head, ‘No’, as if he never wanted to go back into the world again. I don’t know how he spent his time; his silence meant I never got a grip on what was going on in those years. I visited of course, took the long bus trip to him every month, but we just sat in our own silence, which suited me fine. I hoped and prayed he didn’t get embarrassed by me. He never seemed to mind, always came out of that cell with a smile and we’d just sit a while. I’d give him the paper and he’d read, when the hour was up I’d nod, he’d nod, and I’d be back next month.
Until that is he died, heart attack, natural causes. No mitigating circumstances, just God switching him off.
I remember my mother telling me, said she spoke to a guard who apparently spoke to my brother the week before he died. Right at the end he decided to speak and it was that conversation I wanted the Eavesdropper to find. After a long search, I caught it, and I listened to that chat over and over, again and again, taking strange comfort from it.
My brother and the guard chatting. My brother’s voice rusty as an unused hinge.
The guard asked: ‘Do you remember the town you came from?’
‘Place far from here but yeah I remember.’
‘What you remember?’
‘Shadows were different to in here. Dusty as scribbles in the dirt.’
‘And how the shadows here?’ ‘Mean, jet black, sharp as slate.’ ‘What else you remember?’ ‘Fields after the harvest. Corn tall and thin as skinny men leaning on one another. Then next day cut, all them skinny men harvested, chopped at the knees, bound together. Left the land like golden stubble.’
‘Did that make you sad?’ ‘Why?’
‘I don’t know. Cos the corn was cut?’
‘That’s what corn’s for.’
‘What else you remember?’ ‘My brother as a kid.
Remember him vivid. Boy looked like a sunflower. Not like a sunflower in cartoons but a real one, droopy, shaggy, lopsided, face puffed up large from some strangeness at birth, hair straw-yellow, thick, folded like petals about his lumpy skull. And his face was dark with moles like so many sunflower seeds.’
‘Sound like you love the kid?’ ‘Course I love him.’
‘Why you say of course?’
‘Because that’s what brothers are for.’