The world knew it was me who killed my brother.
Time has no concept when your mind is unwell. Today is yesterday, the present isn't where you wish to be, and tomorrow may never come. I lived that way for years
I don't know what it was, but something I saw awoke a long buried memory. Gazing out through the kitchen window an apparition stared back at me, stealing my breath and stopping my heart. At the same moment I felt a tug on my skirt.
Twenty years to the day, and for the first time in a long time I was forced to reflect on my life. I realize now that I must have been insane or at the very least, delusional.
In truth, it's what saved me.
I became who I am, because of my father, whether I want to accept that truth or not.
My father was a loving, cruel man. How's that for a description? If you were to ask, that is the only way I know how to answer.
A loving father in front of the world, a cruel man behind closed doors.
At one time he was a good man, or so they tell me. Perhaps when he was sober, but I never witnessed that part of him. When the drink took him, he became cruel. Yelling, cursing, striking us if we got in his way. Worst of all, he beat our mother. He was always drunk, therefore always cruel; therefore, my mother was always beaten.
It became worse, if you can imagine, the year my brother died. When we buried him, the last shred of kindness in my father’s soul disappeared.
From the glances I received during the funeral, it was clear the world knew I was responsible for my brother's death. My father was sure to tell anyone who would listen. An accident, he would say, but what can you expect from a child whose mind was never in the real world?
People would whisper. ‘It wasn’t her fault.’ Kind words from strangers, meant to comfort me. Regardless, those empty words did nothing to fill the void.
An amazing thing happened as we were laying him into his final resting place. After the hymns were sung, and the priest said his last few words of bullshit, there was silence. The air was calm, quiet, no sound, no wind.
Like a spirit from a fable, an owl materialized out of the autumn sky. He swooped down and perched upon the headstone. This silent predator of the night came to us in the light of day. To comfort us or judge us? I couldn’t say. He rocked gently back and forth, his strong talons raked across the stone, marking the smooth surface. Ghostly pale, his beautiful face held no emotion. Ebony eyes burned into my soul, he sat there and stared at us. Stared at me. I recognized those eyes.
No-one moved, we were transfixed. Until my sweet, younger cousin innocently whispered. "Mommy, is that a duck?"
Gentle chuckles released the tension that hung in the air.
Without warning this majestic creature launched himself at my father, who dove to the ground, veering away, a split second before making contact. Circled once then vanished into the sky.
I laughed as my father picked himself off the ground, beating the grave dust off his Sunday best. That only strengthened my father’s story about my mental instability. Especially when I added. “ Geez Dad, that duck almost got you.”
As he glared at me, I stared into the darkening sky, seeking the fading phantom as he blended within the clouds. For what it is worth I believe he sensed me. The owl returned often to our farm, perched somewhere close by, and watched us.
He would let me approach him, I would talk, he would listen.
On nights of my father’s madness, no one was around to defend mother or myself. After all, what can a young girl do to a full-grown adult. He never even felt my little hands beat on him. My tiny voice screaming to leave my mother alone. She looked over to me and smiled. Then fell back as he struck her again. That evening I escaped, to a place my brother and I would often hide to seek refuge when the thunder cracked the sky, or the storm raged in our home.
I ran into the night seeking shelter. The barn was the last place I thought I would end up. Standing there panting heavily my body began to shake. A golden glow from the harvest moon, cast an eerie light that pierced the dark. Its ethereal tendrils reached within the barn, bringing shadows to life.
I heard the sound before feeling the wind brush past me, his powerful wings stirred the cool night air. Flying to the back of the barn he perched on a rail. Midnight eyes looked back at me. I sensed he came to protect me. As I mentioned, I may have been slightly delusional.
Taking hesitant steps to the back I called out. "Brother, is that you?"
A shadow stirred, and a familiar voice called out. "So, you finally decided to return, I have been wondering if you ever would."
"He's beating her again."
"I know, that's why I am here."
"Help me, we can’t just stay here and do nothing."
"What is it you think I can do? It isn't like I can stop him. You know this. Besides..."
"Besides, it isn’t me he is angry with, disappointed sure. But angry?
"Then who's he angry with?"
We heard screaming coming from the house. I ran to the barn door, ready to race to mother's aid. My brothers voice called out to me.
"Wait. What do you think you can do? He will hurt you too."
Turning around I yelled, "We have to do something, it has to stop."
There was only silence.
"Please." I begged
He stared at the wall, rocking his head. "It will stop, it always does. Soon he will fall asleep. In the morning before anyone wakes, he will be gone. Pretending it never happened."
I remember trembling , my muscles shivered but not from the cold. I asked the only question I could. "Why?"
There was sadness in his voice when he replied. "He is angry with her, because she knows the truth about…”
"Everyone knows it was an accident, and it was my fault..."
He scoffs, “An accident?"
My throat tightens, I looked down, away from his eyes, otherwise he will see the truth .
"You know, don't you?" He states.
"Say what?” I reply.
“You need to tell the truth, or he will never stop hurting her."
I remained silent.
He continued. "You know why she lets him?"
"She doesn't let him. He gets drunk and hits her for no reason."
"That isn't true, she lets him because she feels guilt too."
"No." I cried out. "She didn't do anything wrong." Tears flow freely.
"She feels she should have protected us, protected you.”
"It wasn’t her fault."
My eyes burned, my breathing came in shallow heaves, I couldn't find my breath. The barn started to spin. I fell on my knees. The damp soil cooled me, the familiar smells calmed me. When I looked up again, I saw the axe.
Brother knows what I am thinking. "So, what are you going to do, are you going to use that on him?"
There is no more screaming, it is quiet, he has finally passed out. That is when I would try to help mother clean herself. While he snored on the couch. She always refused. Instead, she would walk me to my bed, tuck me in, and sings me a song until I fell asleep.
He laughed, "You haven't thought this through. If you do this, maybe you kill him, maybe you don't."
My mind went silent.
"If you try and fail, he will hurt you.”
I have no answer to that.
“If you hurt him, you will probably go to jail for a long time.”
I began to sweat.
“If you do succeed in killing him, you will be in a living Hell forever."
I was already in Hell. I walked over to the axe; the wooden handle felt warm against my skin.
"You realize how messy that will be?" Nonchalantly he added. "Blood everywhere."
He was right, but it would feel satisfying. I think?
“Are you strong enough?”
Did he mean physically or mentally? I was unsure of either.
I drifted towards the cabinet under the workbench. Opened the door and peered inside.
His chuckle startled me. “That was your favorite hiding spot.”
Taken back by that comment, I asked. “You knew?”
“Of course, you hid there every time we played hide and seek.”
I smiled. “I loved playing with you and your friend. He was always nice to me. If you knew where I was why didn’t you come find me?”
No response, only smiling eyes stared back.
“When I finally came out, you two were always gone. Where did you two go?”
“I’m sorry sis, we let you hide so we could sneak away.” He confessed.
“Sneak away, where?” Then it dawned on me. “Oh.” My cheeks burned.
"Let it go, sis."
I glanced at the axe and moved toward the darkness.
"Stop." There is pleading in his voice. "Don't do it, this isn't you. The only thing you will accomplish, is abandoning mother, and losing yourself.”
I never thought of that, she would be all alone, or worse, alone with him. Neither was a good option.
“Just tell them the truth." He pleaded.
I managed to get the words out. "I can't."
"Can't or won't?"
My chest was pounding from the inside out. I heard the rapid beating of my heart burst through my ears.
"You were here when it happened.” He said this as a fact.
"Why do you let him say those things about you?”
“I should have realized that he would cast blame, rather than face the truth.”
I fell to my knees again, held my hands to my head. "SHUT UP."
Sadly, he said. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
"No, it was me who ..."
He whispers, "It wasn't you."
No, but I should have done something.
He glanced towards the cabinet. "I’m sorry you had to watch. I didn’t know you were there, hiding from him.”
I cried, " I should have stopped you."
"It was too late for that, the only one who could have stopped me was…me.”
“Why?” Was all I managed to say.
“I was confused. At least that is what he used to say to me.”
“No, I knew who I was at an early age. No matter what he thought, I was not going to change how I felt. He never understood. He was ashamed of me.”
“Mother and I loved you, wasn’t that enough?”
“It should have been. Had I thought, I would have realized it was more than enough. But I didn’t think. It happened so quickly. I remember a flash, numbness, then all went dark."
I relive that moment. Me crawling over to kneel beside him. There was so much blood. I heard a cry of anguish from behind as mother entered the barn, she was too late.
Words like mist, seep into my mind. "It wasn't your fault."
The same words my mother said to me.
"It wasn't your fault."
"I let you go, I should have stopped you ....father was right… it was my fault.”
I heard a sharp screech. His wings spread wide, flapping wildly. He began screeching once more. There was anger in his tone. I finally heard the words clearly. "He let you take the blame, he told everyone you were playing with the gun. It wasn’t true. It wasn't your fault.”
Until that moment I believed I was responsible. A story repeated becomes truth.
A soothing voice entered my soul. "He was responsible, not you. What I did was because of him, I didn't have your strength. Don't let him take that from you."
Dark eyes stared at me, like they did the first time I saw him perched upon his head stone. He knew then. I don’t now how long we gazed at one another.
I finally felt calm... at peace... It wasn’t my fault.
“You did nothing wrong, sister.”
Ebony eyes locked onto me. I could tell, he wondered if it was too late. Was I damaged?
"Don't let him continue the lie."
Standing tall I replied. "I won't."
In one graceful motion he leapt up and flew away, out of my life and into the night.
I walked into the house, armed with only the truth.
I never saw him again. Until today.
There is another tug on my skirt. I look down at my daughter. She is pointing to the tree in our backyard and repeats. “Mommy, what is that?”
Through the window, I see proud eyes smiling back at me. My heart skips a beat. Pressing my hand against the pane I reply. “It's a barn owl sweetie.”
I realize now, my father created but could not destroy me. I refused to let him define who I am.
My guardian calls out to us. We watch as he spreads his wings and soars away into the endless sky.
“ Thank you, brother. I'm free.”
Thanks to my son Cole, who drew the title picture with only two hours notice. I would like to acknowledge my wife Linda for reading and re-reading this with me. Her input is truly appreciated.
I would like to thank you for reading my story.
About the Creator
I have enjoyed writing for most of my life, never professionally.
I wish to now share my stories with others, lets see where it goes.
Born and raised on the Canadian Prairies, I currently reside on the West Coast. I call both places home.
Beautiful and moving.
A very deep and compelling story.