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Requiem for My Brother – Excerpt

Lake BeaverhouseDawn. I awaken suddenly from a deep sleep to thunder-the heavy, waterlogged kind, hard to situate on the lake. It is hot and muggy, oppressive. There is sporadic, needlelike lightning on the horizon and an ash-colored filter on the sky. Is there a tiny breeze, or is that a brief scatter of rain?

I am sleeping on the floor of the screen porch, facing the lake, visible through a light lattice of birch trees. The rest of the family is scattered around the cottage we have rented on Lake Kenogami, not far from the town of Kirkland Lake. My sister, Sara, is in one bedroom; her oldest son, Jon, and his wife, Suki, upstairs in a bedroom; her younger sons, Quinn and Gideon, in sleeping bags on sofas or mattresses; my daughter, Katherine, in the screen porch with me. I am always the first to wake up.

Slip out the door, down the lawn, barefoot and silent to the end of the dock, trying not to disturb the duck that sits there, discard my T-shirt and climb down the little ladder into the lake. A vestigial breath of mist rests on the motionless water. Swim out-breast stroke, no splashing-until I am about 100 meters from shore. Turn my back to the thunder, lie perfectly still, arms sculling lazily, toes pointing skyward, the way our father always got such pleasure out of floating.

It is Monday morning of the long weekend in August, twenty-two days and twelve hours since the death of our brother, Dave. I have never known time to pass so slowly.

Not long for this world . . .

Dave's funny old diver's watch with the ragged Velcroed strap weighs on my wrist. It lay on my kitchen counter in Toronto from the day of his death until this past Friday, when we collected our children from the airport and drove up north. It is indestructible, the watch that has never stopped, never needing a new battery in the twenty years he wore it. It sounds only the hour and half-hour-one beep, two beeps. I have decided, without thinking too deeply, to consign it to the black waters of Lake Beaverhouse with Dave's ashes.

An early riser on a dock two cottages down raises his coffee mug to me in silent salute. I wave, then float, eyes closed, until I hear sounds of my family stirring in the cottage. I know the children are waking with a jumble of emotions about the day ahead. They don't know what to expect, and the weight of their mothers' sorrow silences their usual blunt curiosity. This is a plan Sara and I idly sketched out in my garden in Toronto on a hot July afternoon, without an inkling that Dave would die within hours that same evening. The children have never been where we will go today.

It preys incessantly on my mind that I did not ever discuss this plan with Dave. We never spoke of death.

The shadow-stalker, stealthy and swift . . .

Day and night I have a shadow who grieves and silently wails. Hovers in the wings while the daily drama unfolds as it must. My heart is leaden, but head and body are smoothly running engines-writing obituaries, transporting ashes, making notes and lists, calling, packing, and giving his things away, doing legal things. Renting a van, renting a cottage, a boat, packing for the trip north, coordinating the travel of children from three cities, secretly assembling all the elements for Sara's birthday celebration, driving, singing loudly in the car to obscure the clicking sound of thawing lobsters, spraying lavender mist to obliterate the scent of fifty orange and pink and yellow roses inexorably opening. Each second is a heartbeat.

The roses are full-blown now and their scent untrammeled; they are gathered into loose bouquets on a table on the deck. It was Sara's fiftieth birthday on Saturday. We hid everything in the back of the van for the eight-hour drive, and the day of her birthday we executed a perfect celebration that ended in a supper of lobster and champagne and small New York cheesecakes smothered in wild blueberries, made by the owner of the bar on Lake Kenogami. Then we had presents around the table; her gift from Dave and me was a 1938 copy of her favorite childhood book, for which she had been searching for years: Li'l' Hannibal, which our mother read to her every morning as she brushed her long red hair into fat, springy ringlets. Sara read it aloud by candle-light in a wobbly voice. We leaned in and listened silently and the darkness wrapped us. It seemed Dave was not really absent, honoring with us her birthday, his death day.

Now it is what we already refer to as "Dave's Day." The sun has burned off the mist and the thunder has subsided. God has stopped moving the furniture around upstairs.

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