Hanged

Lauryn Gierchak

“Why do you care?”

“He’s your brother,” Iris says as though that really solves it.

“That doesn’t mean I’m keeping his shit,” I snap. It’s a lot harder to get over losing someone when you see their dumb orange toothbrush in the bathroom every day. “It’s been six months.”

“Andrew-” Iris tries again as I throw open the closet door. “Is your dad bringing you dinner?” she asks before I get the chance to toss anything out of the stale closet and into the awaiting cardboard boxes.

“Probably not.” He probably won’t be coming home at all.

“If you need anything, please text me.”

I don’t say my phone’s dead and the likelihood of me charging it rests near zero. Instead, I say, “Thanks.” Iris pauses a moment, considering if she really can get away with saying anything else, then starts down the creaky stairs. I listen, hearing the heavy front door slam and her car engine ignite. For the briefest of seconds, I think I can hear her car tires crunching the dead leaves littering the gravel driveway before I rationalise that’s not possible. “You can come out now.”

Nothing responds.

I throw a stack of Fred’s old shirts, slightly musty with misuse, into a box. Everything in the room feels stiff; even the air feels as though it hasn’t moved since the last time Fred was here. I shove the box out into the hallway and fill another three. Minutes pass, filled only with my footsteps crossing between Fred’s room and the drop-down stairs to the attic. I go to get the last box, only to find someone sitting on the unmade mattress.

“Why are you moving my stuff?” Fred sounds surprisingly impassive.

“I don’t like seeing it every day.”

“You never moved mom’s stuff.”

“This is different.” He doesn’t argue with me because he knows it too. I push the last box into the hallway and take one more look around the room. It doesn’t look like Fred’s without its signature perpetually unmade bed and clutter of coffee mugs. He had the worst habit of setting his coffee down somewhere, forgetting where, then getting a new one.

Fred follows me into the hallway when I go to put the last box of his hockey stuff in the attic. He watches silently from the bottom of the drop-down stairs until I climb back down and let the stairs fold back up.

“Why are you wearing my shirt?” he asks, as though that really matters.

“This is my shirt.” At least, I think it is. I don’t actually know. What I do know is this: does it really matter if I’m wearing his shirt? It’s not as though he can take it back.

“How’s Iris?”

“God, Fred, what is this, twenty questions?” A moment passes before a pleased smile splits Fred’s blank expression. “I don’t remember you being this annoying.” I also don’t remember us speaking this much, but I don’t say that.

He keeps smiling. “I’ve got nothing better to do now.”

⎕ ⎕ ⎕ ⎕ ⎕

A nightmare startles me awake, but doesn’t compare to the surge of panic I feel when I don’t instantly recognize the room around me. The room’s completely dark, save for the sliver of moonlight ghosting through the window. Another moment of dead silence only broken by my breathing and I realize. Fred’s room. Again. Part of me hoped by moving his stuff upstairs, I would stop waking up in his room at strange hours of the morning when I don’t even remember falling asleep. Now that I think about it, I don’t know why I thought that would be the way it works.

I get up and go for my own room. At the end of the hallway, the attic stairs sit backlit against the window.

“Fred?” I yell, startled instantly by my own voice. I go for the stairs, cringing every time the floor creaks under my feet. Now I can hear the wind whistling outside alongside the soft patter of rain.

The attic feels infinite the second I step into the darkness. I fumble around for a moment, trying to find the chain attached to the lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Fear climbs into my throat, though I don’t know exactly why. There’s nothing in the dark—I know this—but it feels as though the dark is something. I finally feel the chain brush against my fingers and I yank the light on.

Around me, the attic adopts a dull yellow glow. Movement catches my eye and I turn towards it. For a second, I think it’s Fred looking back at me until I realise it’s my mom’s old vanity mirror my dad never wanted to see yet couldn’t throw out. I cover my face and laugh. When I drop my hands, my reflection does the same. At first glance, I really believed it was my twin brother’s reflection. Now I can see my own freckles—different from Fred’s if you look close enough—clothes, and unmarked skin on my neck.

“Andrew?” I turn towards Fred’s voice, finding him sitting among books from his room. He spilled the box on the floor to look through them for something.

“Why are you up here?” I ask, looking between my reflection and him. Definitely not a reflection this time. His old Pink Floyd T-shirt tips me off, but the purple bruises around his neck confirm it.

He looks around at the books a moment, as though he doesn’t quite know why himself. “I was looking for something.” It sounds like a question. In the pale light, his skin looks paper thin and the dark circles under his eyes look like bloody bruises.

“What?”

“I don’t remember.”

A long pause follows where he picks up his thrift store copy of The Shining and stares down at the yellowed cover.

“It’s not so bad, you know.” Above us, the dim light bulb flickers once before turning off with a soft pop. I swear softly and fumble around for the light’s chain again. Pulling it does nothing. The dark starts to close in again, making my lungs feel tight. From somewhere to my left, Fred says softly, “It’s not like the movies.” I didn’t hear him get up, though he must’ve.

“Stop being so damn creepy,” I mutter even though he’s not listening anymore. I still feel better saying it. “I’m going to bed.” He doesn’t respond. “Do you want me to bring you a flashlight?” He doesn’t respond. In the end, I just stumble back downstairs, taking care to leave the steps down.

⎕ ⎕ ⎕ ⎕ ⎕

I don’t remember charging my phone. Rationally, I must’ve. Given the two options—I forgot I plugged it in, or ghosts are suddenly concerned about my iPhone—I think the former seems less crazy. For a moment, I think I imagined the shrill ring after hours of silence. Then it rings again.

“What?”

“Andrew, thank god—” Iris rushes to say something else but the phone line crackles too much to hear it. “Why haven’t you been picking up? I’ve been calling all week.”

“My phone was dead.” Fred walks into the room and stares out the window to the backyard a long time.

“Andrew?” Iris’s tone tells me this wasn’t the first time she tried to get my attention back.

“What?”

“Are you okay? I thought about driving over, but that seemed a little excessive for a few missed phone calls.” She’s rambling now. I look over at Fred again and this time he looks back. His dark T-shirt makes his skin look as though merely touching it would rip it away from his bleached bones. He looks at my phone and shakes his head once.

“I gotta go-”

“No, you don’t. Has your dad been home with you?” I sigh and shake my head even though she can’t see it. I yank another few shirts off their hangers and drop them into the awaiting cardboard box.

Fred says, “Why are you wearing my shirt?”

“This is my shirt.” Probably.

“Andrew!” Iris snaps over the phone. For a second, I forgot she was talking to me. “Is that your dad? I’m a little worried about you, you know and, and-”

“I’m fine.”

“Andrew, don’t you dare-” I hang up the phone.

“How’s Iris?”

“I don’t know.” Between the second I hung up my phone and now, it died again. Its blank screen refuses to even tell me the time. “Don’t you have somewhere else to be?”

Fred thinks a moment, his hand reaching up to close around his bruised throat. “I’ve got nothing better to do now.”

“Why is it you’ve suddenly started talking to me six months after you died? Why not when you were still alive?” I’m not yelling—not yet anyways—but I feel like I want to scream at him. “Fred, what did you expect anyone to do if you wouldn’t talk? Didn’t you want to get help?”

Instead of actually answering me, Fred looks back outside and says, “It’s not so bad, you know.” His fingers turn to daggers, digging at his necklace of burst capillaries until his fingernails carve crimson half-moons into the already purple skin. “It’s not like the movies.”

⎕ ⎕ ⎕ ⎕ ⎕

I ask Fred if he knows what day it is. I can’t find my phone and I’m starting to lose track of days after I lost control over my sleep-cycle. Once life isn’t wake up, go to bed, you lose all meaning of days.

He tells me, “I don’t know.” I drop another pile of his vintage band shirts into a cardboard box that I’m sure we’ve had in the attic since we moved to this house five years ago. When I grab another few, I feel like I’ve been emptying this closet for years.

I glance over at Fred, lying on his unmade bed. “You’re staining the mattress, genius.” He doesn’t look the slightest bit concerned. Then again, it may be possible he didn’t hear me at all.

“Why are you wearing my shirt?” he asks after a while.

“This is my shirt.” Upon further inspection, he was right. I’m far too vain to proclaim my love for The Smiths with a T-shirt. “Oh. Sorry.”

“It’s not so bad, you know.”

“Is it?”

“It’s not like the movies.”

⎕ ⎕ ⎕ ⎕ ⎕

“Fred?” I yell, my voice echoing through the empty house. When he doesn’t respond, I drop the shirts I was taking out of his messy closet and go looking.

I find him downstairs in the kitchen, staring out at the backyard through the sliding glass door. He doesn’t look at me when I stop next to him. His skin looks waxy and blue, even in the warm yellow light in the kitchen.

“What’s going on?” Fred’s bloodshot eyes never leave the dark backyard. For a second, I think, oh god, he looks just like when I found him hanging in the backyard.

“I don’t know.” I look at the sliding glass door and am shocked with my reflection on the glass. My dark circles and Fred’s shirt don’t startle me. What startles me is I look almost the same as he does. The only difference is my neck isn’t covered with bruises and frantic, bloody fingernail scratches. Not yet, anyways. “Why are you wearing my shirt?” Fred asks.

“I don’t know.” I lean forward and rest my forehead against the cool glass. “I can’t do this, Fred.”

He says nothing.

I’m going crazy in this house.

Why are you wearing my shirt? Fred had asked me. I said, this is my shirt. We both knew it wasn’t. Then he asked me, how’s Iris? and I said something short and snipped in response. And then four hours later, I found him hanging from the oak tree in the backyard.

At the time, I thought to myself, how dumb would it be to die in a Pink Floyd T-shirt?

“It’s not so bad, you know.”

I think about my dad and Fred’s rock climbing rope in the garage. Green isn’t really my colour.

“It’s not like the movies,” Fred assures me.

“We’ll see.”

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