JUSTIN LAWRENCE DAUGHERTY
My twin grabs at my deep-sea diving helmet and I push him away. He says, breathe in the air like the goddamned rest of us. He tries again and I shove him to the sand. He pouts and throws a seashell into the ocean. The caterers continue to set up on the beach and our sisters pour over the list of things that need to be done before our father returns. My twin watches the shore for our father’s fishing boat. You don’t have to be so judgmental, you know, my twin says.
We know it’s the last time he’ll return from sea. Stage 4 Pancreatic. A slingshot asteroid passing through just the right trajectory to earth.
Aunt Kim holds my hand in both of hers like it’s a baby mouse she’s keeping warm. It’s been so long since you were at home, she says. On land, she says.
I don’t say, that was kind of the point.
My twin is half-drunk and talking about albatrosses and mariners. My sister hands him the bottle of whiskey instead of a glass.
He goes to the water, his toes digging sand, and he watches out as though our father’s gone on some mission to burial at sea. I don’t tell him, what’s down there is more alive than up here.
At the water’s edge, my twin holds out the bottle. Someone stringing paper lanterns slips and the whole thing falls behind us and lands on a table, sending food everywhere.
What’s it like down there? My twin asks.
The colony’s quiet, I tell him. Except for the whales. The whalesong is constant, filtered through the speakers. You’d think it soothing, I say.
Our uncle, my father’s brother, attempts to take over the lighting. He barks out orders and calls to us to help.
How far can you make it? I ask my twin.
Before he answers, I’m in the water. Dress clothes still on, soaked. He yells for a moment and I feel him pushing behind me. We push one another and though I know he won’t make it as far as I will, I let him think he might.
My twin yells, and I turn to see him, and he’s not there, except for a flailing hand. I look back, searching the waves for the fishing boat. I get lost in that: watching, mistaking this movement or that cloud for him. I forget my brother’s drowning, his helmetless need for natural oxygen. I turn back and dive and hold him to me and for a moment, despite his thrashing, I hold him there, out of sight of the commotion on land from those watching out. I hold him, and I listen for a moment, before we return, for the whales and all their embracing concussions of sound.