The smell of dying leaves is everywhere. The musty and damp odor follows me as I walk. Dad is nearby. In the distance I can hear a car, probably someone going to work.
When I got up this morning, I went downstairs and saw two white envelopes on the table in the hall. Usually people just put their keys there in a silver tray. One had printed in black Pentel "To the Farrells" and the other, "To Chris." They were both in my brother's neat handwriting.
"Chris, where are you?" Dad asks from somewhere behind many trees, grass, dirt, and leaves. The fall trees are bare and make everything look vertical, directing our gazes to the sky or to the ground.
"Over here. Let's walk toward the stream."
The note to me and the one to our family had both told us that he had gone into the woods. But the woods near our family house are over twenty acres, and he didn't say exactly where he was in them. After I read the letters I went upstairs to Mom and Dad's bedroom to tell them.
The muddy bank has thick tree roots that stick out. My feet stumble in the mud and grass. Some of the roots stick out like ropes, and I grab them to help me get my footing as I descend.
I remember how a few days ago I saw my brother park his old green car between the side of Mom and Dad's house and a row of ten pine trees. The parking spot is very private, and I had never seen him park there before. When I said hello he was taking a large blue blanket out of the car's trunk, and something was wrapped in it. I asked him what he had, and he said in a shaky voice, "I'm just cleaning out my car."
I cross the little stream and step on wet rocks. The rubber cleats of my hiking boots help me. Dad is getting old now, about 62 and with bad knees. I'm not sure that he can even cross the steep bank safely. The water soaks the sides and soles of my boots. It moves quickly in places and makes splashing sounds on the rocks. Squirrels, possum, foxes, and rabbits probably drink here at night. I wonder if Tim heard them last night when he came here alone.
He had won awards for his films and was a fine painter. He skipped the last year of high school and went to work in a starting position--a grip--at a film company in Washington, DC. I was living there, and we lived together for four months until he found his own place. About a year later he returned to Baltimore to start at the Maryland Institute College of Art and began working on his bachelor's degree. He got an apartment and a roommate to share it with.
"See anything, Chris?" Dad asks. He doesn't sound emotional, just resigned and accepting.
I remember Tim's visiting Mom and Dad's home last weekend and sleeping on the floor in the living room all night, even though there was an empty guest room upstairs. I just figured he was tired of his apartment near the Maryland Institute College of Art. The apartment was kind of depressing with bare white walls and beat-up woodwork. He was leaving Mom and Dad's house about seven a.m., but I didn't ask him anything about why he slept on the floor because I didn't want to worry him. I wanted him to talk about it without my asking. But he just said he'd been tired, so he slept on the floor, not in the bed. He left the blanket on the floor, and Mom picked it up that morning. It was the same blanket that found its way to the car in the driveway.
"No, Dad," I say.
"Alright," he says. He must be very upset underneath. He named Tim after himself. Tim was the junior, looked more like Dad than I did, and seemed to be doing fine until about three years ago when he wanted to leave prep school.
I climb the second bank, lower than the first, and walk toward the concrete path that borders the woods on the south side. He wouldn't be so close to the path, so I turn around to cross the water about twenty feet downstream from my first walking.
The embankment seems even steeper as I face it again.
He was a cute baby. Alert, with white blond hair and blue eyes. I loved him as soon as he arrived. The housekeeper and I took care of him, played with him and took him for walks. I photographed him a lot. When he was little I had to stuff him in the corner of the sofa so he wouldn't move and blur the picture. Later he wanted to play with me and my friends, even though I was eight years older.
I walk up the bank in Dad's direction. I'm looking all around, mostly on the earth at roots, leaves, and twigs, for any sign. Dad's shoes in the distance are snapping the sticks and branches.
My brother wrote in his letter to me that he gave me all his savings and added, "Don't let the family cheat you out of anything." He had probably felt cheated. He was becoming an artist in a family of businessmen and lawyers. He had been forced to go to an uptight school when he wanted to make art. Almost no one had supported him.
As I reach the top of the bank, I see a pile of clothes on leaves. A rumpled cotton flannel shirt and a pair of khaki pants lay there. The pants have leaves on them. I see a large branch, about three feet long, arms, shoes, and my brother's face. I realize that his still body is in the clothes.
Dad is walking maybe thirty feet away, and I hear the crunch of his shoes come closer.
A new shotgun with a long black barrel lies nearby. Tim had never owned a gun before. I remember the shape of the blanket from the car. For a moment I hope that he is okay. Maybe he came here and fell asleep, unable to shoot as he thought about the consequences. Or maybe he tried to shoot but missed, or it was a practice, or the gun misfired.
I move closer and see his face. The blue eyes and blond hair are there, but everything has changed. An eye has moved. Part of his forehead and top of his head are missing.
"Tim. Tim," I say. My chest feels heavy with stones and water. I hear birds leave the trees overhead. A car accelerates up the road about sixty yards away.
Dad comes over and sees the body. I know he's seen many bodies from when he was in the war. He begins to lift one of my brother's arms.
"Don't touch him," I say.