All Other Instruments

Heaven is this: a short, crisp October day, the clear sky a great bowl above them, the amber valley a chalice below. He dreams of flying. Not on rockets, the way he used to, but on the tails of the geese, ebony blackbirds. Their V's pepper the air with bleating cries and he dives down through a sea of pins and feathers to fix his eyes, delighted, on things below: two young men who wrestle and play like they are half again as old.

And heaven is this: the two, reunited, work together like halves of a whole. It is beautiful to see. He sits in his iron chair, confined to the porch, and watches them spin through the yard, come together, drift apart; not a fight so much as a dance. A train, a steaming dark line in the distance, crawls at snail-pace along the edge of the world. To the opposite side, behind the house, a gleaming river. Risenbourg, the beginning and ending of everything these days, and sometimes he wonders what he ever did to deserve this.

During the days the brothers play and he drinks their color in with the sun; during the nights he swims in cool sheets, listens to crickets and floorboards creak. Sometimes, Edward comes to him. His heart beats so fast then that he thinks it might burst and he lets it, listens to his pulse roar. He's not sure if it's that he's no longer afraid of dying, or if it's merely that he has finally learned to live. Something big has given, and he wakes each morning still to the same uncertainties, but also to blackbird's song, and he finds a kind of faith there.

A natural chorus, always all around him now. The brothers become a percussion section. Feet-stamping hand-slapping. Alphonse, laughing melodiously, trips his brother and Edward's fall makes a bass thud. Alphonse is everything Edward has ever said, and more—flashing eyes, ruddy cheeks, a wild air he himself has certainly never possessed. They really are nothing alike; similar in face only. Alphonse is a summer breeze; himself a breath of winter. They find middle ground here only in October where neither fits: Alphonse too bright, himself too pale. And Alphonse wears his hair long still, because he wears his short; such is the quiet, subtle rivalry between them.

But for the grace of... he thinks as Alphonse laughs again, lovingly, at his brother. He knows that Alphonse lets him stay. And as for Edward—

Oh, Edward, his lithe form twisting down on the lawn, his shiny hair, his hissed obscenities, all of it, all of it...Edward gets back up and shoots him a sheepish look, embarrassed, and his chest, a mass of scars from surgeries, hitches all over again. Edward smirks and then flaunts himself for appraisal, goes right back to sparring, and now his heart is singing in his throat. So much the man has done for him. He thinks a lot about God lately, and although he knows it's blasphemy he can't help but think of the old Bible verse about a house with many rooms, cool sheets prepared. There are too many feelings there, but the simplest is this: a shaky, bloodstained hand reaching out at the end, a whispered plea—take me—and now the whole world is a symphony, Edward's world, Edward's heaven, that he never even believed in until it was nearly too late.

Edward makes a show of knocking Alphonse over, trying to regain face by planting his brother's into the grass. He laughs triumphantly and waves up at the porch, proud of himself, wanting him to be proud too. His smile then takes lust, takes need, and tempers it into something precious and great.

A blackbird trills.

All of God's instruments, faith and sex and everything, here at once altogether, and he closes his eyes and just lets go, drinks it all in.

He lifts his arms up and applauds from his wheelchair.

Edward soars back up the hillside toward him, and Alphonse follows, a similar bird. Golden hands reach out toward him and he accepts, lets himself be lifted up on their wings.

In the space between October and dying, Alfons flies.

Heaven is.

::when i think of heaven / deliver me on a black winged bird::