There was dried blood still trapped under my fingernails. I picked at them as best I could with my good hand but the shattered bone screamed in the hot, bright language of pain every time I dug too deeply. The waitress approached my table with a steaming carafe of black coffee and I quickly hid my stained hands under the table where they wouldn’t draw her attention.
“Top you up?” She gestured towards my half-emptied mug. I nodded and pushed it slightly towards her and she refilled it with more of the acrid brew. The last thing I wanted to do right now was sleep – images of scrabbling fingers, memories of the fall we took were bubbling up unbidden like the whorls of cream upwelling in my coffee. The borderless world of sleep wasn’t ever safe, but the waking world was fraught enough right now. I sipped at the too-hot burned coffee and felt it slide down my throat. I’d say it was warming but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel warm again.
Wincing, I shifted and tried to rearrange my broken right arm into a more comfortable position, but nothing was going to help until I could get it re-set and into a cast. I fumbled with my left hand, the good one, in the vest pocket of my heavy coat until I found the familiar smooth metal of the flask there. Awkwardly I fished it out and passed it to my right, which had just enough grip to hold it still while I unscrewed the top. I slopped the remaining whiskey inside into the mug until the liquid wobbled, threatening to overtop and spill.
Burning doubly now, I sipped at the mug left handed, trembling a little as I set it down again. The white porcelain now bore livid red smears, dried blood reactivated by the spilled liquid and left there like an accusation. One I was guilty of, certainly, no matter the justifications and circumstances I wove around it. The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb, the saying goes, but this blood, this covenant, had been with my own brother, my twin, even. Where’s the pithy saying for perpetrators of twin fratricide? That blood hadn’t come from me, but it was mine, just as much as it was his. Two cups drawn from the same well, one now shattered.
The fragments of my brother’s vessel lay, scattered horribly and cooling still at the bottom of the elevator shaft of the building that was now occluding the murky sunrise on the horizon. I watched the scarlet disk of the sun crawl up the edge of the building as I finished my coffee. Leaving a few bills on the table after cleaning off the now-empty mug with the sleeve of my coat, I rose, tenderly, favoring my arm and the leg that had partly cushioned the fall. I left the diner and lit a cigarette, one handed, the normal routine broken by having only my off hand to use.
The morning was cold and windy, threatening rain. A few droplets stung my face as they were blown down the man-made canyon of the city street. Maybe I was still in shock – I knew I should be seeking medical attention, but for now, as long as I was walking, I didn’t have to think about it. About him. About what it meant now that it was over. About what was next. About any of it.
The sun finally overtopped the building, now a tombstone, a monument to my sins, and cast watery orange light down the avenue. My cigarette had burned down to the filter in my ruminations and I turned to face a glass-fronted building to shield the next while I lit it. Backlit in the wall of glass, I caught a glimpse of my own ragged, lopsided reflection.
A black, featureless, man-shaped hole with a single burning eye was all that was left of me.