Awake at 2:58 AM Anticipating Eruption
The first line of this story has existed for several years, gestating. As the title suggests, it was in the middle of the night a few months ago when the rest of it presented itself to me with such force I had to get out of bed and write it down immediately. Something unique about this piece is the way it blends fiction with reality and the history of mental illness in my family. In many ways, it’s just as much about myself as it is about my real-life brother as it is about any hypothetical sibling.
My brother is becoming a bomb. I lie awake while cicadas scream, his wires crossing, sparks hissing. He strums strings and creates such beautiful sounds; I wish they would wet the gunpowder in his head. But he taps at computer keys, and I imagine he’s twisting himself into a rectangular shape with knobs and buttons, preparing for the worst.
When he comes down for dinner, he looks just like a boy, the younger brother I’ve always known. Our parents won’t hear the ticking from his bedroom next door. The constant thrum. They accept silence at face value and ignore the rapid beat of his heel on the vinyl kitchen floor as he pushes food around on his plate and dodges questions about his day. We return to our rooms; I ache to defuse the weapon next door, but we come from a tradition of sitting and waiting.
At one point, our parents will take my brother to a factory where he’ll be dismantled and put back together. While he’s away, our parents will say he’s busy getting better. I’ll cry after Thanksgiving dinner because he will be busy getting better. He will forget to turn twenty-one because he’s busy getting better.
He’ll become strictly boy-shaped again. The bomb pieces will slough onto the dirty carpet of his bedroom floor in a riotous clatter, some hidden among dirty laundry or scraps of garbage. But he’ll gather and keep them tucked away, and some nights he’ll tinker and toy and balance them on outstretched limbs, unsure where he exists anymore on the spectrum between life and liability.
Eventually, my brother will snap fully into one state or the other. He could be a boy who someday becomes a man. Maybe he’ll move away from home and forget those jagged bomb pieces, hidden beneath old clothes and tattered shoes. Maybe he’ll never know how many of my own I’ve collected and shoved under every damp rug I could find. Or maybe he will dislodge us from sleep in a brilliant flash of blazing light. A hole wrenched in our home, an ascension, a frantic and burning escape.
Nathan King is a writer living in New Jersey. They hold an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and their fiction has previously appeared in LEVEE Magazine and Unstamatic. In their free time they fill their bullet journal with the color pink, watch horror movies right before bed, and dance to K-pop alone in their room. You can find them on Twitter @nathan___king (3 underscores!).