Megan Fink - is a graduate of the University of Alabama's MFA program, where she served as an assistant fiction editor for Black Warrior Review. Now living in Chicago, she started the art collective, Flying House, finished a novel, and continues on with her writing.
It was the attic where he hid them. Piles of manuscript pages, yellowed and crumbling with age, and thrown haphazardly about the badly insulated space, like he hadn't cared about the weather dripping in up there, onto the pages, melting them into one another. I hadn't seen them lying there at first. The light was dim in the awkward attic, only one naked bulb in a far off corner, and I hadn't recognized the glass door as something to open, as something to move through, as something that contained these hidden pages, until the light bulb caught the window's reflection from the angle in which I turned to head back down the ladder. I had been looking for a box, not a whole room.
When my brother reached out to me, I thought it was another one of his episodes. Thought he was off his meds. Thought all the paranoia had come flooding back in to consume him. He told me he was dying, and I didn't believe him.
What threw me off was the cleanliness downstairs. My brother was a slob. My brother went in and out of artistic fits, working day and night for weeks and then falling into a confused sleep. Neither frame of mind allowed for hygiene. I brought food with me when I came to visit, but had to hire women to pick up after him on a daily basis. They all quit within a week. He was hard to be around when he was working. He couldn't stand the slightest of sounds.
In the good days he had traveled. Not to see sights, but because he loved the trains. He would visit train stations all around Europe, looking for the perfect one, the one that would keep the smoke. That's what he called it. It needs to keep the smoke. He'd repeat this line to me over and over again, a form of explanation that seemed to encompass every possible angle for him, but would leave me only slightly less daunted. Paddington Station was a favorite. It was enclosed; and the engineers knew him there. As boys, my father had taken us into London with him when my mother needed a break from motherhood. He worked the newspaper stand, and he introduced us to the conductors, all of whom my father knew by name. Good for business. My brother remembered them like celebrities. He memorized the trains they brought in, the platforms they braked beside, and what schedules they were on.
It's about the light, he told me finally, expanding his vocabulary. My brother's preoccupation with train stations hadn't died out with age, and it was the first sign—for me—of his growing concern for things other children our age no longer cared for. There was something in his eyes that told me not to ridicule him, and it was because I held my tongue that he would eventually trust me with his work. The light changes inside the smoke, he told me. It becomes colorful.
The manuscript pages were full of lists. Like To-do lists, which was how my brother's mind seemed to work, first one layer and then the next. He dreamed up inventions, detailing them in notebooks, and wrote them into theories, and histories, and described how they could save the population from air pollution, sewage concerns, or over-flowing landfills. I knew he had written through a stack of twenty or thirty notebooks, but they had disappeared from his workroom during a fit of paranoia, never to return. I imagined him hiding them alongside his artwork, stuffed into the corners of our dead father's tool shed and covered over with bed sheets. The new owners of our family home hadn't minded; their son was an autistic boy. Though, when I had driven over to collect my brother's things, the pages hadn't been among their shelves. And now the biographers were swarming.
Posthumously, it was the artwork that made him famous. A Modern Impressionist they called him, admiring the way he placed colors next to one another to depict light shining upon an object, or through the air, at different moments in time. The paranoia had ruined some of his work; he had burned through four of his canvases, and two more were painted over with stark white gesso in thick strokes from a pallet knife. I had found a water-soaked painting wedged beneath a tree root in the stream along the backside of his house. He had become a master of painting water, just as he had of smoke filling the air off dark train station platforms. Light gives natural elements flesh on canvas, he had said. I figured the writing had gone downstream too, save a novella I had found in the freezer, unfinished. All this before I noticed the glass door in the attic; I had been readying the house for sale.
My brother had spent a good amount of time in the attic room, unbeknownst to anyone. A seat was built from cinder blocks and bricks, and before the pages had been thrown about haphazardly, it seemed a few had stuck nicely to a corkboard hanging upon the wall. My brother had the habit of signing everything he wrote. He dated each page, sometimes each paragraph, and he gave full citations for any ideas that leaked into his work from the outside world. When I sat down to read through the pages, careful not to turn them to dust, I too wondered if his writing would give some explanation for his death. How he had known death was coming, if he indeed died of natural causes? I saw that his name, and any dates or citations, had been meticulously erased from all of the documents in the attic. As the pages dropped from my hands, I had the feeling that my brother had boarded ones of his trains, and taken with him all the ideas about why.