FoundlingReview

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All that remains from the best part of me is in a plastic bag in my pocket. This zip locked, air-tight bag, rolled up inside my jacket, next to my cigarettes, is the only thing keeping the last bits of my twin brother Silas from mingling with the air and leaving me forever.

 

I left some of Silas in Westminster Abbey, in Poet’s Corner. A few pinches of the person who was the other half of me have been scattered in Parisian cemeteries.

 

Some women leave kisses on Oscar Wilde’s grave. Me, I blew a kiss of my twin brother’s ashes.

 

It’s been difficult to ration him out just right. Would Silas have wanted more of him to be in California with Bukowski than with Byron at the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Nottinghamshire? Did I leave enough with the six-toed cats at Hemingway house in Key West?

 

Will he forgive me for not going to Chile to leave some of him with Neruda? There’s only so much of him to go around.

 

Even more difficult is trying to scatter ashes from a plastic bag in your pocket without anyone noticing. I failed at this in Lowell, Massachusetts, but the bag of Silas in my pocket keeps me from feeling any shame about it.

 

Today is the end of the road. My brother is almost gone. All the money I made from selling everything I owned won’t last much longer. What I’ll do tomorrow is something I know nothing about.

 

I didn’t plan that far ahead.

 

By now, our parents must have noticed the fireplace ashes in Silas’s urn. They’ll never forgive me. They’ll never forgive either one of us. I don’t think I can forgive them, either.

 

It doesn’t matter. After I found Silas in his apartment that morning, after I saw what he had done to himself, his forgiveness became the only thing I needed.

 

The Piazza di Spagna is too alive with tourists and locals trying to sell you ridiculous little objects for an even more ridiculous price. I can’t tell if the stifling heat is from sun and humidity, or from the throngs surrounding me. The buzz emanating from them has escalated beyond sound; it’s a sensation that blows the little hairs on my arm. Teenagers from all over the place chatter in high, energized voices. Old people bumble around while eating gelato from tiny paper cups. Italians move through the crowd with purpose, as though they see none of the chaos. Most of these people don’t notice me. The ones who do wear an expression of distaste. I can’t blame them. Backpacking alone for several months can take a toll on a woman’s appearance. I don’t expect them to understand.

 

The clean, brilliant white of the Spanish Steps is glaring under the sun, even though much of them is covered by vibrant shrubbery with purple flowers and people sitting, standing, talking and pointing at things.

 

I stand there for a long time, smoking a cigarette and staring at the house to the right of the steps. Everything around me is so alive, full of sound and color. Me, I’m the washed-out, silent speck in the middle of it all.

 

The year Silas dressed up as Lord Byron for Halloween, I felt envy. Envy at how someone so much like me could be a bold, vivid energy without regard for anyone else’s opinion.

 

The next year, he was Jane Austen. That year was the first time I ever heard my father call my brother a queer.

 

Then it was faggot.

 

Then it got worse.

 

Silas, he just became a blinding motley of pride. I didn’t know. None of us really knew it was an elaborate act. An act of pretending not to care. A performance that became his entire life and used up all his fuel until it drained and broke him.

 

His demise is my failure. I let my other half whither and fade.

 

Fade to a bag of gray ash.

 

The door closes behind me. The stairwell is white, silent and cool. The commotion and heat of the Piazza de Spagna feel miles away, though they’re just on the other side of that door.

 

At the top of the stairs, a girl takes my four Euros and my backpack, and then points me toward another flight of stairs. I encounter an Italian girl at the top, who tells me that flash photography is forbidden and maybe she says something else about some other thing, but I’m not listening.

 

The main room of the house is wall-to-wall books. Glass tables with letters, photos and memorabilia encased within. Paintings on the walls and more books. What I want is the bedroom. What I want is to finish this with a minimum amount of pain.

 

But then I see the painting. I don’t know what it is. I get closer, needing to see the details. The faces are pulled down and twisted in the expressions of agony that only come from grief. A man holds the body of another man who seems to have drowned.

 

I think of how I held Silas when he finally drowned under the weight of his life.

 

The plaque next to the painting says this is a depiction of Percy Shelley’s body being discovered by his friends. The painting just below it depicts his cremation.

 

When I find the will to turn away from the paintings, I tell myself that I’m going straight to the bedroom, but I don’t. Instead, I start reading the letters in the glass cases. Letters from this poet to that one. Letters to one another about the painful loss of their friend Shelley. Letters of grief about the death of their dear friend Lord Byron.

 

I don’t know why I care. These are Silas’s heroes, not mine. I only came to leave him with them.

 

It takes a couple of hours for me to reach the room at the back of the house with the gold plaque that says, “In this room on the 23rd of February 1821 died John Keats.” The bed looks so lonely with no blankets or linens and no one to sleep in it. The sad little writing desk at the foot of the bed sits under a window looking out onto the Spanish Steps.

 

If Silas were more than a bit of ashes, he would say something poetic. He would be able to find the words to make this all feel like a profound experience. Me, I have no beautiful words. If I did, I would have used them to save my brother from all that killed him.

 

The reason I saved this place for last is one that I don’t fully understand. The morning I found my brother’s body, I found the Keats poem. “When I Have Fears,” it’s called. I’ve read it every day since that day, trying to comprehend the meaning. It didn’t provide any incredible insight. It didn’t give me any answers or comfort.

 

It only helped me to decide to take what was left of Silas on a journey. A journey that would end here.

 

Next to the door is a glass table. Under the glass is the detailed story of the night Keats died in the arms of his friend. He came to Rome to get well. Instead, he really came here to die. My vision blurs before I finish reading. I blink several times in an effort to keep the tears away.

 

When I look up again, I find a tall man in a suit with a pointy silver beard looking down at the bed. He holds up his camera and takes photos of the room, the ceiling, the floor tiles, the desk. I pretend to continue reading as he takes several photos of Keats’ death mask encased in glass next to the bed. He turns, smiles a kind, polite smile and leaves the room.

 

Reaching into my pocket, I find the plastic bag holding what’s left of my brother and dump him out into my hand. It isn’t a lot. So much of him is already floating around other corners of the world.

 

A sprinkle under the desk. Behind the bed. I wipe my eyes with my sleeve and scatter a tiny bit of my brother behind the chair in the corner. I blow on my hand and the last, dusty, gray remnants of the best part of me puff into the room and become nothing.

 

Outside the window, people mill about on the steps. Through the glass, I hear the muffled cacophony of the crowd. Of the world outside. The world I now have to step out into without any plan.

 

Without a destination.

 

Without a purpose.

 

The lobby downstairs is a small gift shop. Poetry books, postcards, t-shirts and bookmarks. I grab a blank book from the shelf without realizing why. The girl takes my money, and then returns my weighty, filthy backpack to me. She smiles at me in a kind and nervous sort of way that makes me feel a little ashamed for not being normal enough to return kind smiles.

 

Outside, a man is trying to sell cheap bubble machine toys. Bubbles float around among the crowd and somewhere behind the din, I hear music. It’s late afternoon and there’s as many people here now as there was before I went inside the house. Nothing changed outside. It’s all the same.

 

I decide that I should leave to go find some food and a drink. But, I don’t. Instead, I climb up the Spanish Steps, weaving my way in and out of the teenagers and tourists until I’m about halfway up. I sit down and light a cigarette.

 

I don’t know if anyone sees my tears. In the midst of all this movement, I almost feel invisible. I’m still holding this book of blank pages with no idea why I have it, or what to do with it.

 

“Someday, I’ll write something so beautiful,” my brother told me one day, long before the world suffocated him. “I’ll tell a story. I’ll give it to the world and let it float away, until it’s not mine anymore. I’ll string words together in some way and someone, somewhere, will be moved by this little gift I put out in the wind, just for them.”

 

I open the book to the first page and grab a pen from my backpack. I wonder what Silas would have written on this page, if he weren’t scattered among so many dead poets.

 

I don’t know what he would have written. I can only guess, so I take a deep breath and start writing: All that remains from the best part of me is in a plastic bag in my pocket…

 

      
Rasmenia Massoud is an American writer living somewhere in France. She is the author of the short story collection, "Human Detritus" and some of her other work has appeared in places like Metazen, Girls With Insurance and Underground Voices. You can visit her at: http://www.rasmenia.com/



Like most of my fiction, this story explores the scars that humans leave on one another and how we cope with them. It often happens when I'm writing that my brain connects one random thought to another and the story is not complete until that connection is made. This time, my brain connected bullying with romance poets. I started writing this in the passenger side of our car during a road trip in Italy. As my husband and I drove away from Rome, I was preoccupied with the memory of standing alone, staring at the naked, empty bed in the room where Keats died. The train of thought kept rolling along with the landscape, the daydreaming started, my brain made connections, and I began scribbling fragments about Silas and his sister's journey.

 


 




  


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