Image
Photo by Ty Downs on Unsplash

Bright pink border surrounding a jagged white line right in the middle of her left knee. I cannot help but stare. I never noticed this scar before. Is it new? Looks a bit faded so must be old but no memory of how it got there. Maybe some accident as a kid, something that happened without me. Maybe a fall on some rocks like the ones right here, lichen covered boulders on Mount Timpanogos summit. Resting and eating after a four-hour slog up the side of this towering peak in the Wasatch Mountains. Infinite peaks in every direction, the urban expanse of Provo and Salt Lake City below, miniature and stress free seen from 12,000 feet above sea level, the tiny trail we walked on meandering through meadows and basins. She had always refused

soft flesh then hard bone

invitations to hike with me, despite the many things we did together. Once we became adults we got together often for concerts, meals and drinks, and nursed each other through sickness and bad relationships. But she always said no to hikes. Until this day. Good to walk the trail with her but now she is sullen and pensive, something on her mind, like on mine, that scar. Its origin the newest mystery. Could I have had something to do with it? No connection I know of, never could have done something against her, never could have

aggressive hand grabbing shoulder

hurt her. No reason to hurt her, a quiet, gentle kid. Willing to help Mom and Dad, play along with everyone, never imposing. Maybe too quiet to the point of mousy, never sticking up for herself, going along with everything, never speaking up. Her silence, now like so long ago, thick as these granite boulders, sullies the usually guaranteed peace and calm I get from being among these mountains. She was fine this morning, lots to say, but now, completely silent, in her own world. I want to know what she is thinking, what is on her mind. I want to know about the scar. I should break the spell, wake her up, force

screaming, crying

a reaction, some conversation. Hear the story of that scar, the only visible trace of some unknown event. Perhaps from a fall during a run, a trip on an exposed root. But that’s too recent. It had to be earlier, as a girl. Maybe in school when I wasn’t there. But I would have heard about it when she came home with the stiches. Must have been poorly done to leave such a scar.

a boy’s hand roughly pulls, the girl loses balance

I don’t understand the boy’s hand, the girl’s shoulder, that screaming. Where are they coming from, why do they torment me? Is that her? Is that me? No memory of that event. I don’t remember ever having my hand on her shoulder. Did we ever touch as children? Must have but no memory. Kickball, hide-and-seek, board games. But little physical contact. So not my hand, not her shoulder. Specters with no connection. A mirage

crumbling to the ground, knee slamming on rock

brought on by this elevation. A sharp rock could cause a scar, hitting it hard enough. Definitely break the skin, cause an injury which would leave a scar. Maybe walking with Dad in the woods. Wearing those rain boots she loved so much. Everywhere, church, the mall, the beach, the woods. Too big for her and maybe they caused her to fall. In the woods. On a rock. She has a scar

not on rocks, on glass, broken glass

on her forehead, got as a child on the swing set, leaning off the side of the swing, slammed her head against the metal frame, the exposed bolt, ripping open her skin, bleeding and screaming, crying

screaming, crying

until Mom rushed out and when they returned hours later, she had five stiches on her forehead and dried blood on her shirt, and now she still has a little, barely perceptible scar. Maybe something like that, falling off the swing, she was clumsy. We did touch as kids, we pushed each other on the swing, taking turns, so we did touch. Could just ask her but don’t know if she would tell, if she even remembers. Finally,

a slash, torn flesh, pool of blood, screaming, crying

what are you staring at, she says. How did you get that, I say. This, she says, pointing at the scar on her knee. You don’t know, she says. I don’t know. Shit, is her only reply. And then, that’s amazing. I should know about it, but I don’t. I ask her to tell me, she smiles at me, not worth talking about, she says. Then silence, a cherished commodity but not right now, not with the question of the scar. And then that boy

runs past screaming crying girl, past her blood

and that girl, leg covered in blood, and her screaming. Hugging a single yellow rain boot with a plastic pink flower at the top, the second boot still on one foot. She loved those boots; that must be my sister who now sits in silence across from me. We were going hiking that day, we always raced to the van to get the seat next to the best window. I was always first because I was faster, there were no rules, first come, first served. She must have tripped in the race, those damn rubber boots, she couldn’t run when she wore them. That’s her on the ground but that can’t be me running past her blood. We sit here, I say, and I am seeing things. A little you screaming and bleeding on the ground. Your knee bleeding, do you remember I say. There is a boy, he pushed the girl down, ran past her blood, but I don’t remember. You don’t remember, she says. I don’t remember. Very convenient for you, not remembering, she says, packs her bag, and heads for the trail. Wait, I call out, but she is on her way down. Scurry to pack my bag, catch up with her. Must have said something wrong, something to set her off. Caroline wait, I cry, trying to get her to stop. It’s fine, she says as I reach her, but I can’t talk right now. So now a three-hour descent enveloped by her angry silence. It wasn’t that way

grabbing, crumbling, bleeding, screaming, crying

when we were kids. These visions are not what I remember, not the way it was. Spinning Mangione records, playing Monopoly laughing the whole time, snow tunnels and snowmen, family making lunch, unpacking groceries, completely different memories. They can’t both be real, cannot have happened at the same time. I would remember had I been violent to her. And she slows down just into a meadow, sits on a bench. This may be difficult to hear, Andrew, but you were a terrifying child, a frightening brother. We had a great time together, I protest. Her shoulders relax, hands on knees, takes a deep breath. Being on this trail with you, she says, was pleasant at first, but something started bothering me. I didn’t know what it was all the way up the mountain. Then you brought up this scar and I remembered stuff I haven’t thought about for years. Things you did, like the scar. Like I did, I ask. I don’t remember anything like that. Listen for a minute, Andrew, maybe you’ll remember. Mom and Dad were taking us for a walk in the foothills, she says. So, it was on a hike, you fell in the woods, I say. Remember our VW bus we had for so many years, she goes on, and the plastic water faucet on the dashboard, we all thought it was real though we never saw water. We all wanted the window seat by the door, all three of us. Always racing to get the precious quick access and the best view through the window, best place to talk to Mom and Dad, see the faucet in case it started to work. Anyway, on that day, I got ready first and headed for the bus. You came seconds after me, angry because I was first, I think. You got angry a lot. You grabbed me from behind and sort of twisted me

crumbling to the ground, knee slamming on rock

and threw me to the ground. It hurt when you grabbed my shoulders, but it was excruciating when I landed on that glass.

not on rocks, on glass, broken glass

It’s like she’s inside my head, narrating from my visions. Her details perfectly match the ones in my mind’s short films. But I don’t remember the boy as me, must be our brother, not me. She’s forgotten, mixed things up. I don’t remember these things happening. Don’t remember my hands being the same hands on that poor girl. It couldn’t have happened that way, I say. You fell or someone else pushed you, not me. The glass slashed my knee, she continues, and I needed eight stiches. The scar is here as proof. Just because you wanted the window seat. Maybe you tripped because of those rain boots, I say, they were too big. And the worst thing was, she continues, that you didn’t even stop. You saw me fall, heard me scream, but you just ran to the bus and climbed in. You didn’t care. I probably didn’t know, I say. You did know, Andrew, you did that, you made this scar

flowered sundress, sun-bleached hair, yellow rainboot with single plastic flower, blood, screaming, crying

and then what happened next is what always happened. Mom and Dad helped me but didn’t believe you meant to push me. You called out that I fell and they believed. It must have been an accident, I offer to her now, sitting together on this bench. The thing is, Andrew, this kind of thing was just like you

Lincoln Logs flying through the air, a fist slamming against a nose, a push off the stoop, the jerk of an arm, a stolen cookie, a stolen toy, a slap across a cheek

as a kid. I remember being afraid and anxious all the time. Of you, she says. We knew you would do something to us, but we never knew when, or what, or how we managed to piss you off. Was it really that bad, I ask, for both of you. Both of us, yes, but especially Kyle. Do you remember that time when we were teenagers and Kyle was upstairs practicing his trumpet?

trumpet arpeggios, incessant, a raging teenager

You were in your room downstairs. You were so mad as you ran up the stairs. And then you really hurt him. He was always afraid of you. We both were. She goes quiet and now I do remember this. He was playing loudly, over the top,

building irritation, skinny fingers clenched into fists

running up and down his scales. I was out of control, outside myself as I ran up the stairs, two at a time, with my fists ready, like charging into battle against a giant foe, not the little brother he actually was. I slammed against his door, it swung open and crashed against the wall. Kyle dropped his trumpet, it rang on the ground. I pounded my fists into his chest and he collapsed onto his bed, and again, the screams, the crying, and I left him there.

screaming, crying

I remember now, I tell her. But I had forgotten. Why didn’t you guys talk to me about this, I ask. We were too scared of you, she tells me. I mean all these past years, I say, we get along so well, and none of you seem mad at me. We didn’t think any good would come of it, she says, and you have changed so much, it’s like what’s the point? I cannot answer that, so I look out across the meadow, exhausted, like the power to speak, the need to speak has been hampered by the heaviness of the words spoken, truths having been told. Green and yellow grasses, scattering of wildflowers, framed by snow-topped mountains and capped with a blue sky. A setting so much the opposite of the maelstrom inside me. My violent past and hurtful behavior, left behind to protect who I think I am. We should go, she says, and touches my hand, and then heads down the trail and I follow. The silence continues, mine because I am beleaguered by my guilt, by the knowledge of who I was, and by extension, who I really am. Like in the short story by Walser. After a long, meditative walk the main character comes to understand that he has not always been the gentle man he thinks he is, that his history is full of failures and violent, ugly actions. I didn’t like the story, unaffected by the man’s discovery. But now I am in his shoes, and I see the magnitude of the man’s realization. Today’s visions are not B-sides meant for passive entertainment or bafflement, not hallucinations, not a tired mind playing tricks. They are real memories of things I did as a boy, history lessons unveiling my own unflattering behavior and cruel treatment of my siblings. I am the man in that story. I raised my hands against others

pushing, slapping, punching

and then buried that reality for the comfort of believing that I have always been a good and gentle person. To avoid dealing with the truth. Simply a façade, a dirty secret. And I want it to disappear, like using a computer’s delete key to make letters, words, ideas vanish from the page, a real-life key that could eliminate the scars I’ve created, make it so these things never happened. The key for the man in Walser’s story was apology: he asked forgiveness from everybody he had offended, but at the time I saw this as an unsatisfactory denouement. Sorrow seems insufficient to rectify the damage done, clean up collateral damage. Not enough to erase permanent scars. I see her scar reminding her of what I did, that one time and all the other times. That two-inch piece of hardened skin represents my mistreatment of her, and she is fully aware of that. Her scar runs deeper than I can see on her knee, deeper than words of apology can reach. And I have a multitude of scars

thrashed, broken, battered

which mask my own covert episodes. Large, calloused hands. Striking. Slicing through the air, landing on a small face. The sting. The pain. A leather belt. Looped and snapped. Doubled over for more impact. The hands grasp the buckle. Swing. The sting. The pain. It’s me. The small body. The flesh receiving the blows. My hands protect. Shield. I cower and wonder why. And when. When it will stop. It goes on forever. I can’t endure it. Cannot last to the end. But I can. I do. The swing. The pain. And then nothing but hate.

fingers pointing, crowds laughing, punches thrown, kicks to the groin, vicious names, threats and stealing

Bastard and shithead and Fatfuck and Weirdo. Kicks and punches and pissing. Stealing books and backpack and pencils pens homework baseball cards, all stolen from my hands. And then nothing but hate, for him, for them, for me. And then those same small hands were raised against Caroline and Kyle. Those hands which turned into these adult hands. I cannot believe they are the same. But they are. Covered in scars. Causing scars. It was all I knew

nothing but hate, tears in the dark, hollow fearful heart, bowed head, sullen remorse, lost, alone, sad

and it is terrible and I cannot believe I had forgotten. We reach the car and leave the parking lot. Open our windows and the mountain breeze flows through, depositing the calm that was so elusive on the summit. Now it’s my turn to break this silence, to own my part of her scars. To own my scars. To offer the apologies, to offer explanations but not excuses. She may accept, we may move on, she may reject and say all is lost. Do you still have those yellow boots, I ask. You’re kidding, right, she says, all I have left is the scar. And for that, I say, I am so sorry. It will be okay, she says. But I can’t believe it’s true. I don’t know what is true anymore. Let’s not focus on this scar anymore, she suggests. No, I say, let’s focus on all of them. And she laughs. There may be quite a few, she says. But I want to hear about them, I tell her. I’ll start with what happened after the stiches were removed, she says. It’s a little bit funny, she reassures me. I drive and she tells stories, seemingly endless, about the three of us and the things I did, and I wonder if I can ever make it right.

About the Author

David H. Weinberger

David H. Weinberger is an American author writing in Berlin, Germany. His stories have appeared in Thrice Fiction, Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, The Ravens Perch, Gravel, and elsewhere. He holds a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and taught kindergarten for eight years in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Read more work by David H. Weinberger.