How does a mother turn away the corpse of her son, denying her child a last embrace, blinded by pride, blinded by pain, by the anger at gods and men who took and broke her babe, his own stubbornness, disobedience, prodigal son, not listening to his mother’s supplication, betraying his flesh and blood, all that he was, all that she stood for, siding with the opposition, crafters of their ultimate end? How can a mother forgive and forget the one she loved the most, the one who betrayed, broke her, changed her, cast her aside for siren songs and political chess? How can she? How could she? No one knows.
She turned away the cart, driven by oxen, her child at the back, as the old nurse cried, begged and asked for her to let him in, to lay to rest in the family domain, the ancient crypt where the father, the brother, the sister also lay, his blood, his flesh, the fathers of the fathers, the creator of their name. But she said no. She said she had no child; she said she had no son, no beautiful young man with the eyes of the sun, full of ideals and a hunger for noble pursuits, adventure, what he called justice for the land, justice for all men, a new beginning in a new era about to start of which he wanted to be part. If Brandon was his name, it meant nothing to her. She was barren, empty, detached from compassion, with nothing in her herself but the strength of her hate and the determination of her action.
She had loved him so much, from the very start, from moment he was born, growing up, before he left, when he was just a boy, her boy, gone to war as if as to a game, of wooden horses and wooden swords, fighting for the other side, against everything she was, everything they were, her Brandon, a traitor that would come home remorseful someday. But never came.
Alone she stood by the door as he walked away. Alone she waited for days for him to return, for a note, a letter, an apology, his shadow stretching on the hall, his laughter making pigeons take flight -his smile, two dimples under two suns for eyes. She waited and waited, no letter, no note, no strong, leather clad steps, no shadow stretching on the hall. And something broke inside, like a china doll, and she pushed back the memories, the curls of baby hair, the little paper town, the yellow and grey bear, the wooden horse, the wooden sword, the baptizing gown, all burned in the middle of the court yard as slaves and servants watched and the sister cried and cried and the brother kept silent, eyes wide awake, seeing how love shrank with the crackling of the flames.
And Brandon was not named, his absence filling itself as a droplet in the rain. The news of the war came and went and no prayers were said for the soldier, fighting with the steel, shedding the blood, somewhere, she knew, for someone always dropped a here and there, a sighting, a rumour, a cousin of a cousin who had seen him ride away, alive, well. The traitor soldier boy who had broken her heart. Alive. Brandon, somewhere, alive and well.
And then the war showed its teeth at the ancestral home. There were fires and raids, the young sister raped, the known world dripping down like the drops of blood cascading from her open wrists. And she too was gone. They buried her in the middle of the night, no priest, no comfort, the image of hades and her burning screams painting the mother’s dream black and red, red and black. And no Brandon, no captain nor lieutenant, no uniform of the wrong colour entering her chamber, bent by sorrow and regret. Her son was now one of them: the breakers, the rapists, the burners, the killers, the hell-terror-bringers, brewing down storms in every corner of herself.
How does a mother forgive betrayal and death, from that who was her night and her day, her hope, her future, the continuation of the flesh, the keeper of the pride, the guardian of the name? How do you forgive a son gone to war, fighting for those who are asking for your head? How do you accept him back, pretend that nothing happened, look away from the smoke marks, the blood stains on the wall, the empty room where a young girl once danced and walked and crawled? How do you not look at the shatter windows, at the broken door, at the ragged curtains and welcome him home, prodigal son, just like that? Just like that? She did not know.
Despite it all, her heart breathed with relief, when a rumour came, a friend of a friend, sure he had seen an officer just like him, dark hair flying in the wind, riding a stallion at the end of each punishing battle, yes, yes, very much like him, eyes like the sun, the smile, the dimples, the mighty words of justice for all. Brandon was alive and deep down everything was well, behind the anger, the fear and the pain; the hunger, the poverty, sitting at the table each night where her children and husband used to laugh and talk and fight. Brandon was alive and her broken heart, hanging by a thread, held on a little more, waiting, undecided, for the return of the sun, the son, the prodigal child. It just needed to wait, a little longer and all would be well. Once again.
And she waited. When the brother did not wake after the fever, and the young slaves left, and the garden grew wild, and half of the house was closed, covered chairs hunting the place with the ghost of all that had come and left, the silence creating echoes for her steps, walking up, walking down, wringing her hands as one possessed. And then the cart came. And she heard the thread snapped inside of her, the heart splitting, splatting, dissolved to dirt. Brandon. Her Brandon, her little soldier boy, gone, dead. And she understood then.
She had no son. Her son, her boy, her idealist guy, his laughter making pigeons flutter and fly, the last of them, the hope of her blood. Brandon. Her Brandon. Gone. All that she was, all that she could be, the legacy of dozens of phantoms trapped in the crypt, her Anna, her Benjamin, all the waiting a joke from heaven, there had never been a chance, all had been lost the day Brandon went away, and she knew it then as she knew it now, the prodigal, traitor son, rip, rip, ripping the world she had known, making her an empty shell, cold, angry, hate-filled, inhumane, a raging monster seeing red, everything stolen from her, Brandon, her son, gone.
So, she sent him off.
For someone had to pay.
Off, with no last kiss, no last embrace, no last caress. No last pulling the lock of hair from his forehead. Off, away, from her life, from her heart, from all that she was.
And she saw the boots as the cart turned around. Scuffed, frayed, caked in his blood. And she was about to stop, stop them, call them out, but a darkness from within muffled the sound. And they took him away, in the heat of midday, the clip, clap of the oxen’s hoofs making dusty waves.
And how does a mother turn away the corpse of her son? She did not know. For the years to come, every day she would ask herself that same question, answer it with wrath and silences and tears, and the loneliness of the empty hall, the empty arms, the empty space in the crypt where flowers faded into shades of grey. Everyday. Waiting for redemption. And redemption never came. Brandon. Her child of light, his cradle burned, his painting cut to pieces, nothing left but the memories held in an ancient mind, withering daily into still frames, every day fuzzier, every day further and further away. Had she had a son? At times, she was not sure, but she would call him anyway, this mysterious name escaping her lips, in her coarse voice: Brandon, Brandon, eyes like the sun, someone she used to know, she guessed. Someone. She loved? Someone who had come and gone, like the evening breeze… someone she had known? Someone here. Coming here. Laughing here.