My younger brother came over the other day to share with me his collection of grievances. We sat on the porch of our childhood home, drinking beer, as he went into some detail about all he had collected over the years. The collection fit into a single box – a tin oblong box, about ten by eight inches in size, jade green in color, that he found somewhere during his vagabond days when he was wholly out of touch with the family. The box lay open with its lid beside it on a wobbly folding table between us. I had never seen his collection, but I had long suspected he kept it safe inside his knapsack which was always slung over his shoulder whenever he visited.
The first thing he took out of the box was a smooth opalescent object the size and shape of an almond. “This is one of my more pleasant grievances,” he told me. “Maybe not even a grievance at all, but it irks me all the same.” The quartz-like object smelled of rose water and old sweat and when he turned it over in his hand it glistened. My brother put this object down rather quickly, only to take up another. This piece, smaller than the first, was rough-hewn, obsidian black, and, in truth, rather boring to behold.
“This is just one of many petty grievances,” he said, “but I’ve collected them anyway. You know the sort – I’m sure you have plenty of your own. I find it’s good to look at them now and then, even grab a few and hold them in your fist – makes you feel righteously indignant and ready for the next volley.”
I leaned in to look more closely inside the box, and he was right. There was a dense array of these little objects, igneous and ignoble in nature. But here and there I saw other curiosities, some almost beautiful, needing just a little buffing to shine more than dully in the afternoon sun. I asked him about these, and he regaled me with their histories, one by one.
As each story quickly turned into the next, however, something else in the box at the very bottom of the pile caught my attention. It was a large piece and probably would have remained hidden had my brother not been moving the other pieces around as he was telling me their stories. It looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t remember exactly when or where I might have seen it. I said, “So what’s this one?” pointing. He must have thought I was going to grab it because he immediately pulled the box toward him.
“I don’t really want to talk about that one today,” he said, looking away. But in his abrupt silence, I could tell he was weighing whether to do just that. And after a few more moments, he began to explain. He said, “Well, I guess it would come as no surprise to you to hear that this one’s probably my biggest grievance of all. I thought you’d recognize it, but apparently you don’t. In a way, it’s part of every other grievance, going all the way back to who knows when. I’d say it’s like an ache that’s been there for so long you hardly even know it’s there anymore. But you really don’t recognize it?” My brother looked at me in earnest now, his usually distant eyes wide open and questioning like the eyes of the child he once was.
Though the box lay on the opposite side of the table, I could plainly see the large object inside. In fact, it was even more exposed than before, due to the jostling that had caused the other pieces to fall away when he had pulled the box toward him. It was a gangrenous thing with bulging red striations, like a gnawed bone long buried in the earth. And though I couldn’t detect an odor, for all the world I imagined a salty metallic smell, like the tang of dried blood.
I think my brother saw the change in my expression, the dawning of memory, for suddenly he pulled the box even closer to him. How I wanted to take that object in my hands, feel its contours, remember everything. But my mind was reeling from an avalanche of memories, bits and pieces of shattered memories flashing before my inner eye, and I felt frozen, unable to speak. If only I could find a way, I thought, say what I always wanted to say, I would apologize for everything – for everything I had done, everything we had done, for the whole damn history of our childhood.
But before I could find the words, my brother placed the lid back onto the box with a firm click and returned the collection to his knapsack.