The Land of Nod

Fernand-Anne Piestre Cormon's painting titled Cain flying before Jehovah's Curse, c. 1880, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Fernand-Anne Piestre Cormon’s painting titled Cain flying before Jehovah’s Curse, c. 1880, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

“Larry,” Glenn said, “I know what this means for you, but I want to die.”

Larry and Glenn were brothers and although they often annoyed one another they were as close as two brothers could be, so naturally Larry was terrified to hear this. Not because it was the first time Glenn had mentioned killing himself, nor even because Larry couldn’t live without Glenn. It was because Larry, unlike Glenn, had never gotten their Catholic upbringing out of his head. In fact, the thought of ending it all had occurred to Larry many times himself, but he knew he could never go through with it on account of his fear of God’s promise that his soul would go to Hell.

Larry turned his gaze away from Glenn. Glenn had been staring at him intently and his lack of emotion over the matter had become too much for Larry to look at directly. He knew that the coldness, the matter-of-factness, of the statement was not apathy, but conviction. Glenn’s conviction was a terminal illness in Larry’s mind. The Kübler-Ross model did not apply to Glenn, but it was a very real thing to Larry.

“Please, Glenn. I know you are suffering. So am I, but you mustn’t think of suicide. It is the one sin you can’t repent for. You will go to Hell, Glenn. You will break your covenant with God and burn in Hell forever. Don’t let vanity cost you your place in Heaven.”

“To Hell with your Heaven. And it isn’t my vanity you should be worried about.”

“Don’t say that, Glenn. I love you. Jesus loves you. Jesus died on the cross for you so that you might go to Heaven.”

“Jesus Christ, can I return the favor?”

“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain on top of it.”

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

“How many commandments do you intend to break today?”

“To Hell with you and your commandments. I can’t stand to be around you or your goddamn commandments any longer. And anyway, you are a fool who doesn’t understand the same commandments you refuse to shut up about. Taking the Lord’s name in vain means using God as the justification for doing shitty things. You break this rule every day by not shutting up about this after I have asked you a thousand times.”

“I am only trying to save your soul, Glenn.”

“Well you certainly aren’t helping to save my life.”

*          *          *

 

The two brothers fell quiet and stared through the television across the narrow room. “It’s a Wonderful Life” was playing, but both Larry and Glenn realized that what was once a tradition had become a painful and pitiful routine. Glenn was more noticiably annoyed by the dullness of the routine, but it was far better than listening to his brother go on and on about God and Jesus and Heaven and Hell. He did not care if his soul was saved any more than he cared about the ketchup stain on Larry’s shirt. Glenn found the idea of both of these things repulsive. He wanted only for the repetition to end and yet he suspected they would have the same conversation over the same meal and watch the same film again the following Christmas. It wasn’t that he wasn’t serious about his suicidal thoughts. His deformity and the limitations it placed on him were an incurable source of depression. He was concerned only about what it would do to his brother, despite how annoying Larry had become to him. Larry was the only family Glenn had, aside from that redneck asshole, Uncle Frank, who they’d only first met a few years earlier.

On unlucky nights, and most nights were unlucky, he would fall asleep and this would be the last coherent thought in his head before he awoke to the same thought again in the morning. Larry had been quiet since the movie came on, however, so there was a small chance he could put him out of his mind. As the two brothers sat side-by-side on the sofa, Glenn closed his eyes and allowed his head to fall to the right, leaning away from his brother. Glenn focused hard so that he might fall asleep and dream of what his life would have been like if he had had a normal childhood with Christmas trees full of presents and parents that stuck around and could look upon him with love. It was a lucky night. Glenn had fallen asleep with a faint smile on his face and it remained there for a time.

Larry was still very much awake. He, too, was staring at the television and his mind was also elsewhere. He looked to his right and saw Glenn’s smile and he knew what he was thinking. The Smith & Wesson Model 4006 pistol that Uncle Frank had brought over to show off to the brothers was loaded with .40 S&W cartridges and lying on the coffee table just in front of them. It was half buried beneath an old issue of Entertainment Magazine, but it wasn’t hidden well enough for Glenn to slip one by him. He knew now why Glenn was smiling. He had been talking about it all day. All day Glenn had been preparing for it and now he was just waiting for him to fall asleep. Larry was finally thinking clearly and he was happy he had not been outstmarted by his condescending brother before he made that most foolish and unforgivable of mistakes. It was no wonder Glenn agreed to watch the movie for what must have been the 30th year in a row. Glenn had sat there without complaining, just waiting for him to fall asleep. Larry knew that his soul was safe in the eyes of God, but he feared for his brother’s. Sooner or later Larry would fall asleep, just as Glenn had orchestrated the ordeal.

Larry remembered the end of the conversation earlier in the evening:

“That’s it, Larry…I’ve told you the last time, one more word about Jesus and I’ll end it tonight. And on that I swear to your God. Just put that stupid movie in the VCR and shut the hell up.”

“Okay, fine. I’ll put in the movie, but remember God loves you even if you don’t love him. He loves you, but if you don’t bring Jesus into your heart, you will burn in hell. Suicide will put you right straight into hell.”

“So be it. Let’s just go watch the movie and shut up about everything for a couple hours.”

We walked into the living room and sat down on the sofa. He had been brilliant about it so far, but he had not counted on me remembering about the gun and he had not hidden it well. Larry was being clever. He was putting all of the clues together. No more of this, Larry thought, he promised he would do it today. If he doesn’t do it today, he could possibly do it when I am caught off-guard. He will do it. He will break God’s law and his soul will spend all eternity burning in the fires of Hell.

Larry tapped his brother’s thigh and confirmed he was asleep. He slowly leaned forward, careful not to awaken his brother. Glenn was out cold and Larry now held the pistol in his hand. He stared at it in awe as he listened to his breath shorten and his heartrate quickened. He knew now what must be done. It was the only way to be sure.

Glenn was alseep and Larry knew that he would not approve of reading the Apostles’ Creed and so he mouthed the creed to himself so as not to leave the rites incomplete entirely.

“This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.”

Larry bowed his head and closed his eyes.

“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

Having completed what he could of the Annointing of the Sick, Larry prayed for himself—that he might too be forgiven. There would be time, he had already considered, to repent for the sin he was about to undertake. He knew also that it couldn’t really be an unforgivable sin in the eyes of God insofar as he was saving the soul of another. He would have to be quick afterwards. He would have to be clear of mind. He would have to maintain awareness until he’d completed his Penance. He looked to his brother with love and compassion. A tear ran down his cheek as he placed the pistol to his brother’s left temple.

“I am my brother’s keeper. I am my brother’s keeper,” Larry whispered as a mantra to build confidence before pulling the trigger.

It was difficult for Larry to see his brother like that. Glenn had always been the more handsome of the brothers, having beared the lesser extent of their shared deformity. His once handsome face was now gruesome and grotesque. He knew that for his own soul he should begin repenting for his sin, but as their blood poured from Glenn’s body, Larry found it difficult to concentrate. He felt with his powderburned right hand the shared pieces of flesh at their abdomen and he wondered where the dead started and dying began. Most of the liver was in Glenn’s body, but the idea of dying from liver failure seemed absurd now.

Even then, with Glenn dead and he dying, there was the overwhelming fear that this was not about saving Glenn at all, but about cheating the system. He was growing disillusioned and weak so that his motives now seemed incoherent even to himself. Now there was only the hope that God should have mercy if his confession lacked the complete sincerity of true remorse and that failing all else, his death should be penance enough.

“O my God, I am heartily sorry

for having offended Thee

and I detest my sins

above every other evil

because they displease Thee, my God,

Who, in Thy infinite wisdom,

art so deserving of all my love

and I firmly resolve

with the help of Thy grace

never more to offend Thee

and to amend my life.

Amen.”

After having finished the Act of Contrition, Larry recalled the act of Perfect Contrition. It had been described to him by the Monsignor when he blessed them as children in the hospital and later in the orphanage. He was losing consciousness now, and he couldn’t remember the Monsignor’s name. Glenn would remember, he thought, he was always better at that stuff. He used the last of his energy to rest his head on Glenn’s shoulder. He stared down at the table and remembered reading the magazine the night before. He remembered setting it down on the coffee table.

Larry could feel his heart slow down and then stop. He was not thinking then about God or about Jesus. He was thinking only of Glenn. Of how sorry he was. Of how much he missed him. Of how he wished he didn’t have to die alone.


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