The worn ivory keys thudded under the pressure of my fingertips, but I heard no sound. My muscle memory slipped into the opening of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. The dusty air around me swelled with the melancholy notes, or at least that is how my brother described the piece to me.
* * * *
"The song is as if you awoke in the middle of the night," he said, plucking the sheet music out of his satchel bag and placing it on the music stand. "It's dark and quiet and you're alone."
"So it's a dark piece?" I interrupted.
"Yes, but not dark like blackness. It's more like the deep blue sky studded with constellations."
He stood in front of the pulpit like a reverend addressing an adoring congregation.
"The darkness is there, without a doubt. However, flecks of light freckle the sky, shining through the thicket of darkness."
My eyes hung on his lanky form, following every arch and swoop of his calloused hands. He plopped himself onto the ragged bench I resided on; his elbows brushing against mine. His fingers pecked out the melody with swift precision. My eyes studied his every movement, wide intaking every stroke. He lifted his hands, signaling the conclusion of the demonstration. My eyes fell on the page of complex measures as my hands hover over the first position in hesitation.
"Relax, Bug," he told me with a warm smile. "Just let the music flow."
I sighed a small breath and fumbled out the bassline with meager precision.
* * * *
I blink the misty memory away and recoil from the piano. It feels wrong. The solitude of the hollow church sends prickling spikes through my body. My heart rattles against my rib cage and each breath grows laborsome.
I sit in this House of God, but He is not home. The empty silence which shadows my existence, gaping oblivion swallowing my mind. My drowning lungs burn for the breath of fresh air the world referred to as Matthew. The women in my building pray for the swift hand of God, but I yearn for the soothing touch of Matthew's palm on my shoulder. But never again will I feel his tender touch. Never again will I see him.
A hand taps my shoulder lightly. I jolt back into the painful reality surrounding me. It is only when I look up at the Father clad in black robes I become aware of the streams of salty sadness flowing down my cheeks. His thin lips move with concern, but my sight is too fuzzy to comprehend his concern.
His weathered lip contour with every syllable, expressing worry for his Godly child just as my parents have done. Life seems to go this way. All worry laser-focused on my deficit, so the remaining world fades into a chaotic unkempt background.
I push my balled fists into the aged foam bench, shoving myself upright. Through the subtle vibration of the wooden floorboards I know the bench has clattered to its side with a theatrical thump.
I will my trembling legs to swiftly carry my hollow vessel down the stained red carpet. I heave open the tall arched door and force myself out into the crisp November air. I nestle myself behind the wooden manger the church displays every Christmas.
I choke on lost words never spoken as a sob escapes from my throat. I pull my knees close to my chest and wrap my arms around my broken body; my head hangs in my lap, weighed down by the memory of my brother.
Matthew is the oldest of five children. Correction: he was the oldest of five children. After him followed me by four years and then eight years later the triplets were born. Our three-story Victorian-style home felt less like the expansive palace from Matthew and I's childhood fantasies and more like the quaint cottage, the Seven Dwarfs cohabited. Space we once took for granted became the root of conflict, so Mom proposed Matthew's sizable room to become a nursery for the triplets and he moves into the attic.
"It'll feel like your own apartment," I remember Mom saying, "Plus, you won't hear the triplets cry."
I watched the interaction while quietly spooning cereal into my mouth. I willed through vain attempts at telepathy for Matthew migrate from the bedroom beside mine, sharing a thin cream colored wall. The wall which provided my solice during the waning darkness when frightful fantasies cascaded across my consciousness. Those nights, I awake with primal fear coursing through my veins which could only be subsided knowing my brave big brother lay just on the other side of sheetrock. Not being one to protest, Matthew nodded with sympathetic understanding, leaving me to weather the darkness solo.
In the weekend following, Matthew's former poster-clad walls resolved to a mellow shade of green. Where shelves of thick dusty tomes laid at rest, were occupied by a handmade wooden toy chest bursting with trucks and building blocks.
His presence seldom graced the main living spaces of our cozy abode. Our family only complete as we congregated around the grand and out of place dining table for Sunday, but even then his face held a distant disposition.
It was only after Sunday mass when the adults congregated over light refreshments in the atrium I actually spent one on one time with my big brother. We'd sit shoulder to shoulder on the bench where I sat trembling moments ago. He'd place his hand on top of mine and guide my fingers into the opening of another beautiful melody.
I think back to the last Sunday we shared together in the morning before he died. I found myself so entangled in the sonata I finally mastered, I didn't notice when Matthew's attention no longer belonged to me. Only in the aftermath do I understand why his shoulders tensed and his eyes read of bewilderment.
"Your playing gets lovelier each week," praised the heavenly Father.
* * * * *
Another round of tears brim in the corners of my eyes. I was so focused on reading the ancient priest's lips I failed to read the obvious situation in front of me. Only now as I replay my last memories of my big brother do I understand. Only now do I see the silent pain and despair painted on his freckled face as he gently swung back and forth from the crossbeam in the attic.