My mother’s email read, "You had another brother, but we left him in the dark." That’s all. That was the whole message, sent at 2 am the night before. The next day, I contacted her memory-care unit and asked a nurse how she'd sent it. Did she sneak out of her room at night? Had she stolen a laptop? They were at a loss. As for me, I didn't have a brother to begin with, let alone another one.
She'd been a speech pathologist. During visits, she often thought I was one of her patients (always one who couldn't pronounce Rs) and would run me through exercises. First starting with the sound itself, then the sound in a longer syllable, and so on until I could say the sound frequently in a short sentence: R, Ra, Rain, The rain ran rampant, The rain ran rampant running round royal rugs, and so on. The constancy of the exercises calmed me: My foundation was solid.
On a more lucid day, I asked her about the email and the brother left behind. She said she didn’t know what I was talking about. She closed her mouth tight, and behind a wall of clamped teeth and lips, she said, “No no no no no.” I didn’t push it. Her eyes rattled. The sun left her room, but it lit up the parking lot for another half hour.
I still didn't know what to do with the statement. "You had another brother, but we left him in the dark." It was a cul de sac. The winter after she passed, I found myself compulsively building a list of possible brothers: a brother who lived, then died; a brother who died then came back to life; a brother who lived, then was abandoned; a brother who died, then was forgotten by us; a brother who lived, but then left of his own volition; a brother who died, abandoning us; a brother who lived, then forgot us; a brother who died, then decided to live; a brother who lived, then was stolen; a brother, a twin, who neither lived nor died, but instead hung in the balance like a ghost, toes barely scraping the hardwood.
And so on.
Next summer, in the metastatic heat, I formed the list of possible brothers into a map, a diagram. I ate little. My mother was gone. The schematic didn't help me understand her statement, but, like the exercises, it calmed me. I could see the shape of the possible brother from above, a bird's-eye view, a figure in a clearing. I thought that if I could picture him well enough, if I could shade in the borders of the outline, then some presence would fill it.
And yet, none of this held back the future, hell-bent on arrival.