My twin brother has always been a bit… well… different. Mentally so. Perhaps this has affected his outwardly appearance somewhat- he dresses in paint-splattered jeans and ratty jackets, keeps his dark hair shoulder length and constantly tinged blue, and wears large, dark, bejeweled shades that no one can see his eyes through, even at five inches away- but it shows itself more through his way of moving. He tends to walk like a drunken gymnast on a high-wire. When he talks, his hands are always moving through the air, whether it be to shove his rarely-combed hair away from the shades, to touch an object -which he is no doubt paying more attention to than the conversation- or to illustrate the shape, size, or flow of what he is speaking. It could almost be construed as dancer-like, if said dancer were on drugs, but I know that he keeps moving to will his attention to stay in one place.
You see, those of us who know Johnny well know that he has a short attention span on certain things. Human conversation, for one. Women who introduce themselves to my brother generally walk away with the illusion that they had held a somewhat interesting conversation with him, but within five minutes after their exit, Johnny has forgotten they existed. Not intentionally, but because his attention was elsewhere. He had, perhaps, noted that the dead bug on the windowsill was a yellow beetle with five legs and only one antennae, and that the spider outside had sucked two flies dry during the conversation. Or that the alley cat had found the bird's nest and was upsetting and beheading the chirpers inside.
He has great concentration, my brother, but rarely exercises his abnormal focus on anyone. Alive and breathing, that is.
Johnny stands at the window of the gallery, his eyes not taken by any of the mediocre work that is displayed on the cream walls, but instead ensconced in the activities of the crows that are pecking the rotting flesh of a dead raccoon on the road outside. His hand is barely touching his chin, first knuckle pressed against the smooth skin of his face, thumb tapping his jaw. I stand halfway across the room and count down the seconds until the girl five feet away from him introduces herself.
"Hi." The woman, a brunette with long, flowing hair, sidles up to my brother and smiles at him, her lips curved flirtatiously. She is pretty, with a slender figure and curving back, the latter revealed by the scooping line of the back of her fuchsia dress.
"Uh… hi." Johnny turns slightly and bends his body towards her in half bow, his hand reaching up to swat his hair away from his beloved shades. He shifts from one long leg to the other, rubbing his booted foot on the floor in a way that signifies to me he is impatient. His ever splattered jeans are ripped at the knees, and today he is bereft of a jacket, wearing a simple white button up shirt that is rolled up on one arm.
"My name's Judy." She holds out a long-fingered hand, the nails of which are painted to match her dress. "What's yours?"
"Judy." He repeats her name quietly to himself in his Johnny-way, then supplies his own name with an imaginary lift of the hat he's not wearing. She emits a giggle that sounds more like a chicken and mock curtseys. I wrinkle my nose. Johnny hates anyone to respond to his mimes. He does not react negatively, however, but gestures to all of the art hung on the walls. "Any of those yours, Miss Judy?"
She giggles again and shakes her head, lifting a hand to her lips coyly. Johnny quirks his slight, crooked smile and cocks his head, and I can see an eyebrow raising over the black rim and multi-colored jewels of his glasses.
"Why anyone would want to waste their time splashing paint on a canvas is beyond me." She titters. "But they are beautiful to look at."
Johnny bends his head forward a little and touches the window with his fingertips. He does not agree, but will not say so. The paintings are boring, and he knows he can do much better. Art- and woman-wise. I can tell by the way his head is turned just slightly that he is watching the crows again. "I suppose they are. The one behind you has an interesting color to it, although the subject is a bit insipid." He taps the window three times with his fingers, then adjusts his sunglasses.
"So…" The brunette tilts her head towards the light and rubs her hip lightly. "You've already looked at all the art?"
Johnny tilts his head side to side and shoves his hair back from his square jaw. "I've seen most of them." His way of saying "I looked at one, it was crap, and now I'm bored."
"You want to look again?" She smiles at him. "And tell me what you think? I'm not much of an art critic."
I can see it in the way he twitches his hand a his side, and the move of his head away from the window. He wants to leave. He glances at his alligator-shaped watch, which has never worked, and then up in my direction. "Actually, I…"
I walk up to them and thread my arm into his. "… was just about to come get me." I smile up at Johnny and then kindly at the brunette. "I'm done." I do not introduce myself to Judy, nor do I give her any sign that he is my brother, not my boyfriend. Her face is a mixture of disappointment and anger, but she pastes on a fake smile and nods in my direction.
He smiles at Judy and half bows again. "It was nice to meet you, Judy. Au revoir."
I do not look back as we exit the gallery.
The greatest school activity for Johnny was not recess. Biology was his favorite time of day, when they brought in the little green frogs or dehydrated worms to be dissected. He loved to poke right behind the frog's eyeballs and make them bulge at the girl at the next table, and no one had ever been able to break his concentration on the tiny little organs that decayed inside. He was the best student the Biology teacher had ever had, but only when it came time to dismantle dead animals.
I am not supposed to be up, but I crouch at the top of the stairs and strain my ears to hear what the principle is saying to Mama. He came over right after dinner, and Johnny and I were sent to bed immediately. This has only happened once before, and right after that, we moved. I clench my eyes shut and hope we'll stay put. I like this house.
Though their words are muffled, a few portions of the conversation float up from the front parlor. I can hear the deeper voice of our principal as he converses with mama's high soprano.
"…your son… mentality is often excitable… concentration levels vary… Mr. Eaves' class…"
I lay my head against the wall and smile. Mama must be so proud that Johnny does so well in Biology. I cannot hear what she replies, but her voice sounds a little calmer than usual, which can mean one of two things- she's mad, or she's thinking. I listen some more and conclude it must be the latter, because Mama's voice never raises an octave like it usually does when she's upset.
I feel a tap on my shoulder. Johnny creeps up beside me and rests his arm on mine. "What are they saying?"
I shake my head at him and shrug, noting his eyes are tired in the dim light. Even though it is only seven o'clock, it feels late. He lays his head on my shoulder and we listen to mother and the principal together. We do not know what the principal's name is yet, because neither of us or any of our friends has gone to his office, and we have only been going to school for two weeks.
I begin to say something. "Whatever they're saying must be important…"
"…because we haven't been here for very long and he's come already." Johnny finishes for me, smiling. It is something we do often, finishing each other's thoughts. Our friends think it's funny. Our mother finds it annoying. Johnny and I relish the effects of sentences we leave unsaid and the secrets we often communicate to each other, especially in groups of people, by one word.
I sigh. "Last time…"
"Yeah." Johnny says. "I hope we stay here this time."
"But… it is kinda fun…" I whisper.
"Like gypsies." Johnny inserts my next thought for me.
Suddenly, we hear the front door click shut, and we scramble back into our bedrooms. I trip slightly over my long nightgown, stumbling into my bed and barely making it under the covers before Mama's steps sound coming up the stairs. I squeeze my eyes shut and pull the covers up to my nose. I hear her pause at my open door, the rustle of her long skirt sliding over the wooden floor, and then she shuts my door with a quiet swing. Her footsteps do not pause at Johnny's bedroom, but continue down the hallway to her own room.
Once her door clicks shut, I hear three knocks on the wall at my head. Johnny and I had created this signal long ago- one knock meant "Sweet dreams", Two knocks meant "I love you", and three meant "Come, please.". We usually only used the last signal if one or the other of us had a nightmare. I frown and slip out of my bed, quickly and cautiously scurrying into Johnny's room.
"What?" I climb up on his bed and sit, bouncing a little. Johnny is sitting cross-legged on his pillow. He reaches out and touches a strand of my long hair, tugging it before answering.
"Did she give you a kiss?" He asks, and I know what he means.
I shake my head no. Johnny winces.
"She's mad." We say in unison.
The most excited I have ever seen him was right before our father's funeral. While mother sobbed and I leaned my head against the cold window of the car, Johnny poured forth his questions. What do they do with the dead bodies? Would he ever get to see inside of one? Could he touch it? Would they dissect it? And on and so forth, until Mama finally clapped her hand over his mouth and hissed at him, through her flooding tears, to shut up.
I guess his questions were a little sacrilegious, but I was curious too. I wished she had answered the questions. Neither Johnny nor I had never been to a funeral before, and it was never explained to us how funerals worked.
Johnny sits beside me, rocking from side to side on the hard pew. I nudge him with my elbow, and he stops his rocking. His eyes are fixed on the casket that is open to reveal our father, white, old-looking, and very much unlike the strong figure I am used to seeing. Johnny leans over and lays his head against mine.
"What are they gonna do with him?" He whispers into my ear. I glance sideways at Mama, who is dabbing a white handkerchief at her eyes. The thin cotton comes away streaked with black mascara. I sigh and hope I will soon be old enough to wear makeup. Mama forbids I even play with it.
"I don't know." I answer Johnny with a whisper as quiet as his. "Are you sure that's Papa?" The more I look at the pale face with its slack wrinkles and blue-veined eyelids, the more I wonder if it's really him.
Johnny shrugs. "Dunno. I guess it is. He's wearing his ring…" Johnny discreetly points to Papa's hands, which are crossed over his chest, and I see the slight glint of the gold band and blue sapphire. It was his father's before him, and I had never seen Papa without it.
Mama stands as the pastor leaves the stage. "Come on. Let's go." She takes my hand and Johnny follows behind us. I feel his fingers slide into my hand as we near the casket. Mama only pauses for a moment to look down at Papa. She lets go of my hand and touches his face, then jerks her hand away and sobs into her handkerchief.
I look at Johnny, for he has stilled completely beside me. I nudge him when he doesn't move on. There are people waiting behind us.
"Was he caught by vampires?" Johnny whispers to me. I stifle a giggle and try to push Johnny on.
Johnny cocks his head and finally moves away from the casket. "Why is he so white, then?"
I shake my head and shrug. I don't know either. I look up and see Mama being comforted by two women, one of whom I recognize. She is our Sunday school teacher, and she doesn't like Johnny any more than Mama does. Miss Elise was an old spinster, a woman that no man in his right mind would marry. That's what I had overheard, anyway. I thought she was kind of nice, other than the fact that she treated my brother with distaste. Because of that, I never took the candy she offered me. Her white gloves are patting Mama's back slowly, and I overhear what she is saying.
"Don't you worry, Sarah, another man will come along." She glances my way and smiles a little, then hovers her head near Mama's and whispers something I only catch the end of. "…whip that boy into obedience." Her voice is a harsh growl. Mama nods and dabs her eyes with her handkerchief.
I realize then that Johnny is no longer at my side. I look around for him. The sea of people wearing black suits and dresses make it easy to spot Johnny among them- he is wearing his favorite orange sweater with yellow and blue stripes up its sleeves. It is the only item of clothing that was ever given him as a gift- from Papa. Everything else he owns is hand-me-down.
I maneuver my way through the crowd of mourners, stopping only when an elderly lady crushed me to her bosom and patted my back reassuringly. She smelled like peppermints. Johnny was inspecting the casket again, and this time he was touching something. I walk up to him and look over his shoulder. He is lightly touching Papa's face with his finger.
"Johnny!" I whisper. "Don't! You'll get in trouble!"
"He's dead. He wouldn't mind." Johnny retorts as he cocks his head and stares at Papa's face. "Are you sure he wasn't caught by vampires?"
I shake my head and try to pull him away from the casket. Mama is marching towards us.
"Who gets to take him apart?" Johnny asks me, and I yank his arm away from the casket. Too late, though. Mama grabs Johnny's ear and my arm and pulls us towards the door.
"You two are an embarrassment to me!" She hisses at us as we hurry past people towards the exit. "Can't you even behave at your own father's funeral?"
I glance up at Mama's face. It is red and livid. I opt to say nothing, biting my lip as Mama twists my arm to get into the car. She pushes Johnny in behind me and slams the door. I look at Johnny and sigh. He smiles ruefully.
No one, not even Mama, understood him like I do. She tolerated the dead squirrels he tore apart on the back porch, and she overlooked the mice parts he left scattered on the dining room table. Her lips smiled when he exclaimed over the dead bird, and she barely allowed him to rip the feathers from its poor body. But she detested him. I could see it in her eyes. The horror never left them when she glanced at Johnny, which was normally all the attention he got from her.
Perhaps that is part of the reason why he acts so different. Father died when we were seven, and mother never had paid Johnny much attention. She had only wanted a girl, which flattered me, but I thought was unfair to Johnny. I love my brother with all I have. But then, mother was not very affectionate toward me, either. She gave me hugs and kisses- which she never gave to Johnny- and she read me the bedtime stories I requested, but mother was always a bit aloof. We weren't to muss her dress, touch her hair, kiss her cheek, or interrupt her if company came over. Even without company there, we were not allowed to touch her more than to give goodnight hugs. To do so was a grave mistake.
"Mama!" I run and hide behind her, half giggling, half irritated by Johnny, who is chasing me with a dead mouse. Its head has been bitten off by the tom-cat Johnny chased off to get the mouse. He stops at the bottom of the porch steps and grins up at me, and I stick my tongue out at him in mock anger.
Mama swats me away from her and glares at both of us. "Look what you've done!" She swipes angrily at her cream-colored dress, which is now smudged with fingerprint streaks of grass and dirt. "Johnny!" She snaps. "Put that disgusting thing down this minute!"
Johnny opens his mouth, looks at me, then drops the mouse on the step. His eyes are avoiding Mama, and I notice the stifled way his shoulders shake with laughter. I can barely hold my own giggles until Mama swiftly grabs Johnny by the ear and kicks the mouse off of the porch.
"Do you learn nothing at all? I work hard all day to improve you and your sister, and you have no respect for me. Look what you made her do!" She shoves him towards the house, and he almost runs into the screen door. "Wash your hands and go to your room." She hisses.
I look down at the porch as Mama turns to me. "You too, Lilabet." Her voice is considerably less angry, but I can still hear something odd in her voice. I scurry past her and into the kitchen, sharing the sink with Johnny. Water splashes over our hands, and I flick the wetness at him as we playfully fight over a towel.
"Johnny!" Mama scolds. "Behave."
I let him have the towel, and both of us wrinkle our noses at each other. Mama doesn't seem to notice as she shoves Johnny towards the stairs and I follow.
"I'm sorry you got in trouble." I whisper to Johnny.
He smiles his crooked grin and touches my shoulder. "It's okay. Mama's just tired."
I glance back down the stairs before I go into my room. Mama is at the bottom of the stairs, but she is not looking up. Her body is bent over, and her arms are wrapped around her middle, shoulders shaking. I can hear her dry sobs. I almost turn to go back down and give her a hug, but then I hear her talking to someone.
"Oh, Harold… why did you leave me with them?"
I frown. Harold is my father, and he's dead. I go into my room and sit on my bed, wondering. I heard a teacher say that people who talked to themselves or the dead are cracked. I asked him later what "cracked" meant, and he told me it meant a person who is crazy.
Is mama cracking?
All in all, Johnny is a bit strange. It is what draws people to him. His twenty-six year old existence is noticed wherever he goes. Men talk to him because they want to be like him; women talk to him because they are intrigued by his fluid moves and good looks- looks only slightly hampered by his unkempt hair and dark glasses. The glasses, which only I can look behind, hide deep, beautiful brown eyes that communicate his soul in one glance. The glasses are a part of his mystery that attracts everyone. They want to unmask the genius, to reveal the artist. My brother is a master of all forms of art.
He paints crucifixion scenes that make the atheists weep, and styles dreams that frighten even the most stalwart. His sculptures capture the essence of a tiger's attack on its prey, and vividly portray the great warriors of the ancient times. He especially likes illustrating the fearless Celtic warriors of old, who ran into battle with wild eyes and lustful weapons, crazed for fight and glory and death. Art is the only part of him in which real life truly registers. I have seen him paint so true to a scene that it brings tears to my eyes.
So many paintings he's given me: Illustrations of his favorite stories, such as The Tell Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado, or scenes he painted from outside- the dead bird he found with a twisted neck, the tomcat proudly displaying its dead prey. I have them hung on my walls. But the one I love the most displays his greatest work as well as mine.
I sit in the rocking chair, a little upset after a somewhat exhausting confrontation with my now ex-boyfriend earlier that day. Johnny is in the next room, painting. I can hear him talking to himself, as he usually does, and then he laughs and comes to the door of the parlor, where I am sitting.
"Come, Lilabet, come. I've finished!" He grabs my hand and pulls me out of the chair and into the informal sitting room. "Behold!" He waves towards his handiwork.
It is a magnificent painting. The blood is splattered everywhere- on the green-papered walls that peel with age, on the dark wooden floor that is grooved and splintering, on the white-painted windowsill that holds warped glass and blocks out a scene of grey skies beyond. A body is twisted grotesquely in the corner, a young man with a sword embedded firmly through his chest and into the wall behind him. His head lolls to one side, one arm flops over the sword, his legs stretch out before him. The blue eyes of the man are wide open, terrified, and dead. I am amazed at how much emotion remains on the face after death. I study the painting and then look behind it, to the corner where my former boyfriend, Stephen Lake, is yet to be cleaned up after and buried.
"Johnny, it's… it's horrible!" I wipe a tear from my eye and turn to Johnny, noticing that there is green paint in his blue-tinged hair.
"I might put it in a gallery." Johnny says proudly, smiling and rubbing his cheek. A smear of red paint follows his fingers. His eyes are alive, and he winks at me, then pulls my sword from Lake's body and hands it back to me. "D'you mind if I dissect him?"
"I don't think that's proper…" I say to him, then shrug.
Not that he's ever been proper. It's just Johnny.
A/N: This story is a little random... it all began with the very last flashback's basic idea. So it might be a little... ha, random. R&R?