The Writing Disorder



New Fiction


by Miranda McLeod

      Here is a hypothetical:
      Your brother dies suddenly. He is twenty-two. You were never very close. There are several claims to his body — his organs are donated to the sick, his father erects a headstone above what’s left, his mother visits the stone and thinks the crows nesting above it are talking to her.
      And you? You want your brother’s bones. Or maybe just one bone — the tip of his finger, say. Or his knuckle. You want this bone desperately. It’s your worst craving.
      You wish you’d thought of this earlier. His eyes, his lungs, his heart, his liver were passed out to strangers. You’re his sister. You spent twenty-five years strapped next to him — car rides, plane trips, the long bored bake of childhood. You fought over the same dining room chair. Don’t you deserve something, too?

      Here is another:
      Your brother dies. You get a five a.m. phone call informing you of such. Actually, you get thirty-one phone calls, but your cell is on silent and you don’t hear a thing.
      You wake up because you have to pee. The windows are dark. Only your phone is lit. Your lit phone means missed calls, but you decide to pee instead of checking it. This turns out to be a good decision. Once you check your phone, you will see the sickening number of missed calls, and you will have to dial your mother so she can tell you that your brother is dead.
      At first there is nothing, only a faint sense that to feel nothing, given this news, is inappropriate. Your boyfriend is lying next to you and now he is up on one elbow, waiting, and for the longest time it’s just the two of you in the blue light of your phone, breathing. Your mother waits on the other end. You wait to cry. You say to yourself, your brother is dead, your brother is dead. You must cry. If you don’t cry, what does that say about you? How can you not cry for your dead brother?
      The loss is already burrowing in. If you can’t feel it yet, that’s just because it’s five in the morning and your room is dark except for the glow from your phone and the windows, now lightening. Your boyfriend is on his elbow and the covers are warm. It’s a good thing you’ve already peed. You’re not crying yet, and you are comfortable, even drowsy, in these last moments.

      A memory:
      There was a sweet time, forever ago. Your brother adored you. You were just old enough — six, seven — to exploit this happily. Once, your mother found him kneeling on the counter, filling a glass with water to the very brink. He was getting it for you, he said, because you had promised that then you would be-his-best-friend.
      This story is told and retold at Thanksgiving and Christmas, your brother rolling his eyes, the shame of it gritting your teeth. Your family will not understand. After all, you were just a kid. You will be unable to explain how this small, childish act proves that some of your heart is dark. It’s just a knucklebone, but pushed far enough, there’s no knowing what you might do.

      A better example:
      Swimming lessons. The broad instructor, with her cap of blond hair and square white teeth. Her pool was awkward and shaded by the early afternoon. If you needed to use the bathroom you had to go into her house. It was silent and no warmer than the water, and there were magnets on the fridge and fake flowers in a basket on the back of the toilet.
      You roll your wet suit down your body. Your skin is pale with goosebumps. The dread.
      Soon, class will be over, but first you will have to swim to the deep end of the pool, climb out, walk around to the diving board, and jump in. Your brother will have to do this, too. You will be scared, but he more so, and you will take pleasure in this. You won’t comfort him. You will jump first, steeled by the knowledge that the ache in your stomach is nothing compared to his. Later, there will be orange slices and stale fortune cookies. Somehow, this will be an appropriate reward. Somehow, this is foreshadowing.

      You think about digging up your brother’s knucklebone and putting in your mouth. You want to roll it around. This both horrifies and comforts you. It’s an incessant fantasy, a recurring thought that if only you could dig up your brother’s knucklebone, then you could put it in your mouth.
      It’s because you’re a crazy person. Morbid and incestuous and superstitious. It’s also because you are choking with guilt. You were flippant with your sibling and he was taken away from you. Remember that, the next time you’re glowing with satisfaction in a yoga class, on the train, clomping down the street in your high-heeled boots like some magnificent horse. You’re morbid and incestuous and superstitious. Crazy. Guilty.

      Wake up and get ready for work. For unchallenging tasks and a soft-spoken boss who lets you order expensive pens. On Fridays, you can go home early. It is all quite bearable. You will no doubt impregnate yourself soon and move to a more reasonable, more spacious home. You’re only twenty-seven and your brother is dead. It’s alright if you feel silly, angry, in your ironed slacks.

      In the breakroom, you smell the scent of chicken soup hung over everything like a shroud. It is not palliative. It is thick and greasy like Vasoline.

      In the breakroom, there are eight different kinds of teas. You can’t choose one so you leave, still thirsty. Outside the air is sharp with sweat. There’s a hardware store down the block. Go there. Crawl if you have to, your mouth burning. Ask the man behind the counter about heft and grip. Buy his most expensive shovel.

Miranda McLeod studied creative writing at Columbia University and earned her MFA in fiction at New York University. She has taught writing at NYU and the Bryant Park Word for Word Series, and currently teaches at Long Island University. "You Can Teach Me How to Grieve" was a finalist in the Glimmer Train 2009 Very Short Fiction Contest.


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