My brother falls dead at the bottom of the hill. Head in the crook of his elbow, one leg strayed out onto the grass verge. He does it behind me, quietly, so all I hear is the crinkle of plastic. His share of the shopping has settled around him like resting dogs, his right hand fingers still curled through the thongs of the fruit bag.
“Get up, Simon, we’re nearly home.” He reacts as a dead man would: not at all. I watch his shoulders for any hint of a rise, but they are totally still. I nudge him with the toe of my sandal, near the ribs which I hope will rouse him. Nothing.
“Come on, we’ve the shopping and all. We’re nearly home.” Nothing. “I can’t carry you anymore. You’re getting too big for this.” Nothing.
I drop my bags and unhook his fingers from his. His hands are clammy from the twisted plastic. I feel for an electric twitch but they are still as still. I think, as I always think, of my grandmother’s hands laced up with rosary beads. Colder than the room, somehow.
Once he’s free of his baggage I put two arms around his stomach hoist him up standing. “Come on!” I say loudly into his ear. His arms swing, two pendulums. He’s not really standing; I can’t get his soles flat on the footpath. After a moment I’m tired and I lay him down again, more on the grass this time so I don’t scratch his face. “Well damn you anyway.”
I pick up my bags and his bags too, because I know he’s got the milk and yoghurts, and I head on up the hill leaving him where he is. Ten minutes later I’m stocking the fridge with perishables and eating a banana and drinking a glass of water. It’s a hot day and the hill is steep and the bags were doubled. I take my time going out to the shed. Inside I find Simon’s old cart against a wall, full of compost bags and rust flakes. I empty it out and take it with me back down the road. The axles make a fierce noise and I’m sorry I didn’t oil them before going. Saying that, I don’t want to be all day at this thing.
Simon’s at the bottom of the hill, unmoved. As far as I can tell. I passed three people on the way down who must have passed him. None of them moved him. “I’m putting you in the cart, Simon. Unless you want to get up.” Nothing. “I can’t carry you anymore. Not up the hill.” Nothing.
I get him around the waist again and drag him arse first into the cart, so he’s sitting up in it like Lord Muck. As soon as I let go of his shoulders he falls forward onto his knees and stays there. I tuck his arms down the side of the cart so they don’t flop out, but his legs won’t fit. I leave his runners out over the edge, so we make an awful scraping noise going back up the hill, between his shoes and the axles. It’s a small thing, the cart, and the handle I’m pulling on flexes like it won’t last.
We get home anyway. I stop in the driveway and say, “Would you like to come in for some juice? I put it in the fridge.” Nothing. So I take him out the back garden and down into the field beyond. Once I get past the lawn I have to leave the cart, so I lift Simon under his arms and drag him through the scrub and ragwort. It’s alright for a little distance. He’s not so big yet.
The faery ring is just a short drag into the field. I lay Simon out across the centre, on his back, and cross his arms over his chest. His lips are gone a little blue, it looks like, but I could be imagining it. I can’t see any breathing. “I’m having lunch,” I say. “You damned eejit.” And that’s what I do.
Fifteen minutes later the kitchen door opens and he enters, letting the dog in behind him. I’m eating and reading at the table. He makes a peanut butter sandwich at the sink and pours a glass of apple juice, then sits down beside me and eats noisily, rifling a newspaper. His skin looks warm and slick again, I see in quick glances. The blueness gone.
“I don’t know what you’re sweating about. I’m the one who should be sweating, after dragging you home dead.” Nothing. “You’re getting too old, Simon.” He looks up at me, still chewing, like he doesn’t know what I’m talking about at all.