Songdo, Incheon, South Korea
Chadwick International School
How do I dream of you?
How do I dream a dream you would want?
You know you were only mine when you laid down on the water, sinking into the ripples around you, letting tension flow out your body as if I would not splinter you the first chance I saw. As if you trusted me.
Here is my confession: you were only mine when I felt I could hurt you. You were only mine when I watched you sleep, when I imagined the scars I could give you, when I brought the razor against your chin and pretended you pricked yourself in your sleep on the edge of the bedside table. Only mine when I saw you mull over the nick in the mirror, your quiet fingers brushing against it as if speculating, curling over my hands when I later handed you my bandages, never forgetting to say Thank you, brother.
Don’t tell me your destruction will be of your own accord, that I can’t do anything to you, anything that matters. Kill what you can’t save—what I mean to say is, you never understood what I would have given to feel your hands against my wet throat, thumbs pressed against my esophagus. It’s more than morbid masochistic jealousy, as if I felt I was only your equal when you hated me, too. Sometimes I think I wanted to be you, still want to be you, beautiful as you are, forever as you are, in possession of what I can never have: slivered freckles, easy smile, the sunlight carving itself around you, a golden reckless natural that’s only there because you’ve never had to try.
You dirty young god. Mother’s snake had her eat an apple and she birthed me, the conjuration of her original sin. You are Father’s beauty, the touch of his finger against God, a righteousness birthed in tandem with the world’s blossoming petals. Forgive me. Forgive me—
—you loved me best. Back when I was ten and holding your hand to lead you to the pond. Do you remember? The cobalt blue against the green that used to be our entire world. I wondered, then, if I should push your head underwater and watch the bubbles float from your mouth as you drowned, pretending it was all a terrible mistake. I was only teaching my baby brother how to swim, you see, what could I have done better? My parents now, not yours, would come screaming, what have you done, what have you done. Your heartbeat was so fast so loud I could have heard it from the other side of the world. When my hands touched the flat expanse of your back and carried you against the water I only heard one thing, something God told my sire.
That damn boy’s never gonna’ be able to hold a thing in his life without breaking it. I swore then that I would never break you, that that one sheepling I killed yesterday would be the last beautiful thing that ever managed to fall apart the moment I touched it.
You tricky, tricky thing. Bright-eyed and gentle-handed, brushing against the fur of your favorite sheep. Your rosewood staff matched the maroon hue of your pumping, unblemished heart. Knife heavy in my hand, did it have a serrated edge? Eyes curving delicately into crescent moons as I called your name. The edges of your mouth inched upwards. Were you happy to see me?
Forgive me. Forgive me. I can’t recall your answer, the same way I continue to forget the expression on your face, the widening of your eyes and the exact depth and breadth of your pupils, the last words you ever spoke, and the last breath you ever took. The thrum of your existence began and ended in a single moment. But brother, know this as I will know it forever—in death, you are still more alive than I have ever been. Brother mine, after centuries of God-granted exile, I have understood that you wore your heart like an emblem everywhere you went: on your sleeve, your collarbone, your eyes, the bridge of your nose, the space between each of your knuckles. You showed it off, put it on display, paraded your empathy, grace, and mercy. And I, curse my name, locked it in a cage and prayed to it. Devoted to it as a wounded beast, as a predator to his prey, I guarded it and never took it out because I was afraid you would break it and I would forgive you just like that.
Herein lies my sin: I found you too easy to forgive. A promise of a smile and I would have bent my knees to the world, taken it on my shoulders just the way our father taught me. All of my suffering for a single buoyant, unconquerable reason. I wonder, brother, did you ever hear the other thing God told our father? He said, the younger one, the shepherd, he keeps looking for something new to die for. What a binary pair we made—your faithful devotion bordered self-sacrifice and my love only mutilated and mauled.
I think often about the abecedarian hymn of your name and all the ways in which I ruined it. Like the time I shot a bird mid-flight, walked in on my mother mid-song, called my father’s name mid-slaughter. I think about the absurdity of your four letters: A, B, and then an E that clean-cuts A and B’s steady circadian rhythm. Maybe our father named you wrong. He began your life in all the right ways, you see, and then watched as I dissected every bit. Or perhaps I am the E, the Executioner that was meant to slit your name and your breath sideways to create room for whatever minute heart I had left.
But come, brother mine, have my brutal hand and let your body redefine itself as sacrifice. Maybe God will appreciate me this time around, appreciate the best thing I ever destroyed, the best mistake I ever made, the most beautiful and devoted little thing I ever let crumble in the graveyard of my palms.
Do you think it would be too cruel to tell you I only ever did it for Him? Only for Him did I hold you for the last time, drive the knife between the white wishbone crack of your ribcage, and dare look in your eyes as you lay there waiting for your life to fly free from your gentle caged body. Only for Him did I endure the tenderness in your eyes. Only for Him do I let it haunt me forever. Only for Him do I continue to live, because He wanted the smallest piece of you still walking on this land. Even though I would have given myself to the guillotine of the horizon in your place years ago, I took the chance.
In the end, this is not a story worth telling. He takes everything from me and curses me with a lifetime of repentance. God loved you, brother, and you loved me. This is the truth I’ve gutted from myself, that God is a man—that God is the thin veneer of a man over a monster, the pale veil that tears you asunder—and my devotion to Him has given me nothing but a mangled guilt that crashes into my bones and shrieks like a carrion bird in my veins. The things I’ve done to myself are an old cure for sadness that never works, ritual-knife cuts all across my body and soul to rid myself of the memory of your adoring eyes.
In the end I am nothing to Him but your keeper. Please, brother mine, let me bury you again. Let me rest my head against your loud heart and read you this letter. Teach me how to dream of you. Teach me to dream eternal. Tell me you thought of me as you left. Tell me the way home was lit and warm with the fire from my body.
Until then, Abel, I will walk.
“APOSTASIA” is a modern-retelling of Cain and Abel, the first two sons of Adam and Eve. In a haunting and cathartic monologue, the story treads into the most tormenting realms of guilt and grief as Cain relives his murdering of his own brother. Juxtaposing Cain’s deep love and jealousy, admiration and resentment, insatiable hunger and regret for Abel in a sweeping recollection of childhood memories, “APOSTASIA” explores the most extremes of familial war and hurt with a commanding, chaotic presence.
Nahye Lee (이나혜) is a current junior at Chadwick International in Songdo, South Korea. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. She thinks too much about pasta and likes to give her dogs snacks, but mostly she wants to keep writing anything & everything. Aside from prose, she'd also like to explore the complexities of translation, bilingualism, and identity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR