The process began when the hand left his chest. Ever so gentle. It was not forceful, but there was malice. The hand, soft as it was, left the slightest imprint in the other boy's shirt. A clear trace of fingers and palm lay marked on the soft cotton. This is when he fell, as the fingers left, the last contact with the step was made. His toe, so delicately mounted on that top step, was in free fall. His other foot was already in the air. Knee bent and reaching for stability it would not find. His arms, small and still bearing the remnants of baby fat rolls were flailing. They swung up and down and felt for the handhold that might stop this deadly descent. His hand instead scraped the sheened wallpapered wall, the flat, dull roses of the paper offering little resistance to such force of gravity.
And so he fell. It took 8 seconds. The first second he grabbed and scraped and floundered. He felt the air leave his lungs and the weight leave his body. It was second two when he saw his brother. This was the turn, the very moment when his head began to tilt back on itself. When he bore absolutely the weight of the world on his inanimate body and he tipped tipped tipped towards the steps. The shock was only beginning to register on his freckled face. His eyes, greener than his and starting to part ever so slowly were fixed on the fall. His arm was still outstretched, he noticed as he tilted that his hand was not clasped, it was not closed in a final act of regret over his push. The fingers open and pointed were in their final position as they ceased contact with his shirt. He had pushed him and he had not tried to catch him.
He saw the ceiling now, once white but yellowing with age, their Ma had always wanted to paint it, she never had, she never would either. He tipped and circled back on himself in a slow motion back flip. He reached his hand behind in prospect of the collision, he hoped to avoid the incoming impact to his head, at least to cushion it with his outstretched hand. He felt wood, with his fingers first, his hand was on the edge, the brown, council house carpet ran only down the middle of the step leaving several inches either side. How well he knew this carpet now, about to become one. The dusty rag the only comfort between the sharp wood beneath. His hand took some weight, he felt that. His head took the rest, he felt that too, it met the step hard. Not quite on the edge. He hit the top squarely with the top of his head and he bounced.
Second 3. Halfway down. The pain was immediate but also brief. He saw his brother again now, he still held the glass in his hand. It had been his turn. It had been his turn to bring it in. He had been young but he remembered this. When he woke that morning and saw the empty bed he knew there was trouble ahead. His brother was never up early, especially not on a Saturday. He had jumped out of bed and raced down the stairs, his old friend the stairs, his bare feet bouncing on the carpet, 1,2,4,7,9,12 steps. He had only counted them that morning. He dashed into the kitchen, his bare feet instantly ice cold on the ceramic tiles. Jack was here, perched on his knees on the counter top, a chair underneath to help him climb up. He was kneeling and reaching into the farthermost reach of the corner cabinet. He was reaching for the glass. One of a set that Ma had gotten as a wedding present. They rarely used them, only special occasions. Like today.
He was turning now, sideways and sprawling, his elbow had connected with the next step. Still he saw him. Jack. He stood with his arm at his side now, his face plain and unemotional but beginning, yes just beginning to maybe tick into a smile. A gentle smirk that was gone from his vision in an instant as he rolled sideways down the steps. His head hit frequently now, two, three times it kissed the wood and continued to roll.
Jack had smiled when he came into the kitchen, he had the glass in his hand and was climbing back down the counter. The bottle was on the table, it was open, standing easily amongst an array of red-circled stains. “It's my turn,” he said to Jack, “you did the last one”. He didn't answer. “You did her birthday Jack,” he pressed. “It's my tu.., Jack slapped him, cutting off the plea. He slapped him easily, across the face and tears sprung immediately to his eyes. Jack hadn't spoken. He simply withdrew his hand, picked up the bottle of cheap red wine and poured a hefty measure into the nicest glass in the house. He spilt some, it dripped down the side of the green bottle and settled on the bottom, circling its way around the rim and becoming just another stain on the kitchen table.
It was that day he usually came back to when he lay here, tubes in and out bringing liquids up and down, red, yellow, clear they all served a purpose, in which he had long lost interest. The doctors fiddled and shifted them but he didn't pay any attention to that, no use now. It was through his body either way, first his stomach, his liver, his pancreas, it didn't discriminate. They told him it had spread to parts of his legs and they would have to amputate his left leg beneath the knee, he had laughed then. Why not, he thought? He hadn't used his legs since he went down the stairs; take the dead weight. “Your family are outside now, will I let them in?” a nurse whispered in his ear, he did not answer, he didn't even look back to her. Energy wasted when it was so so precious now.
He had taken his slap with some dignity, he never really fought back, not physically anyway. He had gone with Jack to deliver the wine. A mother's day present. Ma usually took her first wine of the day in bed, they didn't have a present for her, just the overfilled, stained glass. New and precious to them then, dirty and cracked to his mind's eye now – he was not sure which was true. They brought her the glass, the way they usually did, the usual precautions necessary to enter her bedroom, particularly first thing in the morning. She was alone thankfully. Often there'd be a second body occupying the place their father should have. The room stung with the smell of sex, recently made. That was clear to him now, though it was not at the time. Much too young he supposed. He would've nearly been at the end of the stairs now, 4 seconds into his journey. He cracked and cracked his way down, his arm was bent he noticed as he rolled toward the end. His leg too, but higher up. He once knew a friend who had broken an ankle, a grotesque turn of the foot in the wrong direction had stuck with him for years, his was much higher, it felt like his thigh was the wrong way. Felt is maybe the wrong word, he didn't feel much of anything.
A smile hung in his vision, his mother's. She didn't get up many days, electing instead to take her day wrapped in blankets, smoking and crying and sleeping in any order she desired. This was different, Mother's day was a treat. They carried the glass in and met her smile with their own. His mother's smile was warm then, as it is now. Warm and tired and ever so fleeting these days. He saw it now as she came in through the hospital door, a battered leather bag in one hand and his youngest son in the other. She smiled to him, a smile just for him, a smile tinkered with a knowing shared sadness. His wife followed, leading the other kids, and Jack. He came in last.
On top of the stairs. There had been no words exchanged, there had been no insults, no warning, just a hand and a push and a fall. 5 seconds. He hit the last step and the feeling really stopped now, there was no pain. Only blood. It clouded his vision and filled his mouth with a bitter metallic sting, it pounded in his ears – he was thankful at least that this blood was still in his body. 6. He felt the floor at last. His back was flat on the wooden floor, his face angled up the stairs facing Jack directly now and there was a smile. It was formed now as he walked down the steps. It reached his eyes and spread his face in a way that he'd do a million times after. It was happy. 7. He lay perfectly still on the hallway floor and Jack came down the stairs. Did he shout, did he scream and call for Ma? He must have because she came. She came out frantic and screaming and pushing Jack aside she rushed down the 12 steps to his side.
She was at his side now. His wife at the other. His family remained surrounding the bed. He knew it wouldn't be long, the doctor had administered the shot some hours ago, the time was drawing ever nearer. His family. His mother, her hand clasping his as it did that day in the hallway. Tears flowed on both occasions he thought, wild and painful then, slow and accepting now and so very full of love.
8 seconds. He lay there as his mother called for help, her phone dug from a pocket and an ambulance shouted for. Jack stood just behind her, on the final step. Overlooking his younger brother lying prone and bent on the hallway floor. His arm was under him, broken. His head bled of its own accord, deep red essence leaking into the light wood of the hall. His leg – his left – was the worst of it. He asked if his toes were moving, not sure if he asked aloud or just in his head. Either way he couldn't feel them moving - they weren't, they wouldn't. His mother held his face and spoke to him, he can't recall the words. His eyes never left Jack's, the smile still spread to his eyes.
His wife held his hand here too. He looked to her, she was speaking - he couldn't hear. His tunnel of vision was closing in this bed. He rolled his head with immense effort and focused his eyes on his brother in the back. Jack – who outweighed him by at least 100 pounds since the treatment – stood tall and overlooked his younger brother in his hospital bed. Just like he had that day. When he had stood and smiled. His eyes were locked with his. The tunnel was closing and closing. The heart rate monitor ticked lower and lower and lower. He didn't leave his eyes and when that tunnel was at its most narrow he saw that same ear-stretching grin stretch on his brother's face. He saw it amongst the tears. He saw it.