My eyes slowly opened to the sun’s golden rays. The sensitivity to the light from my tired eyes was bothersome and prompted me to sit upright upon my bed. My bedroom was small. Next to the door was a closet filled to the brim with dusty boxes. Abutting my bed was a nightstand that my father carved himself. The nightstand had a peculiar shape. It was wide at its base and skinny at the top-- almost like a bowling pin. A single light bulb rested on the nightstand. The bulb was formerly attached to a lamp. However, when my brother Jim moved to his apartment across town he took the lamp with him, curiously leaving behind the bulb.
Jim had been unemployed for several years. His last stable job was as a cashier at a local retail store. He decided to quit this job and find a more lucrative job. He labeled his decision “pursuing other opportunities”. Much to my parents dismay, pursuing other opportunities largely consisted of moping around the house.
A month ago, my parents became so fed up with his shenanigans that they purchased a small apartment across town for him. His apartment was situated near a boarded up Rite Aid and a local jail. They hoped that this generous favor would revitalize his life. My father said to Jim the winter night he moved out that the bird must depart the nest eventually. I always remember the way that Jim looked back at my father. The pure disgust in his eyes. His mouth was tightly closed, his head was cocked slightly to the left, and his chest was angled towards the cement sidewalk. He maintained this distasteful glare for only a second as he turned his back on my parents for good and fled into an oncoming taxi.
Jim was once so full of life. He used to smile and the world smiled back. He had a close relationship with my eldest brother, Blake. His entire world revolved around Blake. They would often spend hours together laughing and enjoying the fruits of nature on scorching summer days. They were inseparable; that was until the war.
Blake was three years older than Jim. When Blake turned 18, seven summers ago, Jim’s world turned upside down. Eighteen was a special age for Blake because not only was it his first taste of adulthood, it was the first year that he was eligible for the draft.
It is a tradition in our small town located in the outskirts of Copenhagen for the boys aged 18-37 to be entered in a draft. Out of the five hundred boys that are entered annually, only seven boys are selected. The selection process is random.
It was a fall afternoon, Blake, Jim, and I were returning from school. We eagerly scurried home past the weeping willow trees that outlined the path from school to our neighborhood.
Our house was as an old tudor style home. The pavement leading to the doorway was badly warped, and the house’s beige paint was peeling like how a snake sheds its skin.
As we entered the doorway, the house was silent except for the euphonious chirping of the red-beaked robins. We simultaneously laid our satchels down on a wooden bench in the foyer. The bench was a wedding gift from my father to my mother. Delicately carved deep into the right side of the bench was a heart containing my mother’s initials, DE.
Blake and Jim raced up the stairwell to my parent’s bedroom leaving me in their wake. I cautiously followed them and stood, concealed, a few paces outside the entrance of the room surreptitiously eavesdropping on their conversation with my mother.
“Mother, what were the results of the draft?” exclaimed Blake.
“Seven people were drafted,” my mother said under her breath, in a solemn tone. Her eyes fixed on the wooden floor as she spoke.
“Who was drafted?” inquired Jim, his voice raspy due to the bronchitis he was currently fighting.
Before Jim could finish enunciating “drafted”, my mother broke into thunderous sobs. She subsequently darted from the room holding her slim hands over her eyes. She passed without noticing me, and hurried down the stairs with rhythmic thumps. A few moments after, Blake and Jim were standing behind me in the doorway. I could feel Blake’s hot breath on the back of my neck heating my nape like the sun warms the shore. I turned to face Blake and I was greeted by his disgruntled expression. His eyes were wide-open and he was staring into the distance. I followed his gaze and met a fluffy cloud billowing in the ocean blue sky. This cloud was free to roam the sky as it pleased. Free to choose its own path. Unlike Blake, who now, no matter what he wants, will be a soldier in a war far from home.
Jim interrupted the silence. He softly asked, “Blake, what will happen if you were drafted?” Blake slowly moved his head towards Jim as if acknowledging his question. However, he did not provide a response and continued his longing stare. I presume Blake did not answer Jim because he was uncertain of his future. Blake had always paid very little attention to circumstances that did not directly impact his life. As a result, he was not political at all. In fact, he despised the very concept of politics. The way he perceived it, politics was only grown men arguing over matters that possess very little consequence.
Two short days later, I would be saying goodbye to Blake forever. My parents, Jim, and I drove Blake to the train station in the heart of Copenhagen to see him off to war. As we waited for the train to take Blake into our memory, we said our final goodbyes. Jim lunged at Blake, tightly wrapping his arms around his waist. It took Blake a moment to regain his balance. Tears trickled down Jim’s scrunched face until they dissipated into the arch of his lips. It was the first time I had ever seen Jim cry. Blake, who was struggling to liberate his arms from Jim’s grasp, reached for a watch on his wrist. The watch was a gift Blake received from his girlfriend before she moved to Frankfurt. It was one of his most prized possessions. Blake carefully removed the watch from his wrist, revealing a harsh tanline.
Blake placed his right hand on Jim’s shoulder. He proceeded to look him in his watery eyes and say. “I want you to have this watch. It is very special to me so take very good care of it.”
Jim’s eyes lit up as he snatched the watch and fastened it on his wrist. Before Jim could properly thank Blake, he was aboard the train, gone from our lives.
The car ride home was silent. Not a word was spoken. The rain struck the roof of the car with quiet, evenly spaced thuds before disappearing into oblivion.
Prior to Blake’s departure Jim was an A student. The following semester, after Blake left, his grades plummeted. After each school day, he would slowly trudge to his room with his shoulders hunched and his eyes fixed on the floor. He would sit upright on his bed pondering his thoughts for many hours.
We received our first letter from Blake a month after his departure. The envelope was a veil of optimism that returned the life to Jim’s eyes. Three months passed after the first letter, and we had not heard from Blake.
One spring afternoon, a peculiar black SUV parked in front of our house. A sophisticated man emerged from the SUV wearing a black suit and sunglasses that concealed his eyes. He approached our door and knocked three times. Each knock louder than the one before. My father opened the door a sliver. He leaned his mouth into the sliver and assertively inquired.
“Who is it?”
“I’m from the Danish government. I have a message for you regarding your son, Blake.” calmly said the man. It was evident that he had rehearsed the greeting.
My father placed his hand on the door and looked back at my mother, then at Jim, and finally at me. Jim crept closer to the door keen to hear the update on Blake. My father hesitantly opened the door to the man.
“Would you like to come in?” he asked the man.
The man entered the house and stood in front of the bench in the foyer. He sighed and then recollected himself by broadening his shoulders. He cleared his throat and said,”I’m sorry to tell you this...your son Blake was unfortunately killed in battle. I know the pain you must be feeling and I can assure you that your family will be in my prayers.”
My mother collapsed into her husband’s arms. She buried her face into his shoulder and he patted her on the back several times in an attempt to calm her. The government agent looked uneasily at the floor before he left the house without saying goodbye.
Jim who was visibly distraught darted to his room slamming the door behind him. His agonizing screams echoed throughout the house. From that moment on, Jim was like a rower against the current; borne back ceaselessly into the past.
That same night, I discovered Jim’s watch on the bench in the foyer. I carefully lifted the watch to my eyes to examine it. Curiously, Jim had changed the date on his watch to read four months in the past.
“Hey, what are you doing with my watch!” Jim shouted angrily from the top of the stairwell.
“Why is the watch set to the wrong date?” I quietly murmured to Jim, not wanting to upset him more than he already was.
“It’s not!” he defiantly responded.