Empathy – Part Three

Part One
Part Two

From beyond the curtains enclosing Pierre’s bed I heard footsteps, soft and rapid, and the sound of an infirmary trolley on the roll – one of the wheels needed oiling, I remember. The curtains whispered softly at their passing and part of me hoped that the trolley pusher might intrude upon us, some nurse, probably male, assigned to give Pierre his chaser of morphine. An interruption might give me a minute or two to step outside and smoke a cigarette – damn their rules – and think about whether or not I wanted to resurrect the horrors of thirty years gone.

But the footsteps and the squeaking wheel passed us by, and with them went my doubts. I had to hear it, even if Pierre’s words might fill my remaining years with sleepless nights. I waited, and after a few moments, he resumed his story.

‘It seemed so incredible,’ he whispered. ‘That this empathic bond should be something more that a natural affinity between siblings or even sheer coincidence. The idea that it may be a genetic time-bomb inside every twin, just waiting for a trauma of some kind to activate it, was almost inconceivable to me.

‘Until I heard the screams.

‘One afternoon, three or four days after the funeral, something happened to me. I was preparing to leave Alain’s house and visit the grave – you’ll remember I was staying at his place, sorting through twenty odd years of his junk – and as I got into my car and closed the door I heard some sound, a kind of soft continuous buzzing, all around me, it seemed.

‘For a moment or two I thought it must have been an insect of some sort; a wasp or housefly, sluggish with the cold and trapped in the car with me. But gradually I realised: the sound was inside my head.

‘Looking back on it, it seems foolish that I decided to drive that day – I’ve heard that phantom sounds like that can precede an epileptic seizure – but you have to understand, Jacques, something was making me do the things I did. The night you found me, something was -‘

‘Is that it?’ I asked suddenly, surprised at how bitter the syllables tasted on my dry lips. ‘You’ve had thirty years to think of an excuse and the best you can come up with is Something Made Me Do It?

Pierre looked at me for a long moment before replying. ‘I have no excuses.’ he said tonelessly. ‘Only my reasons. You can leave at any time, Jacques.’

I stayed, and stayed silent as he continued.

‘The closer I got to the cemetery the more intense the sound became – by then it had changed from that soft buzzing into something shriller; it sounded like … like the howl of an electric saw. Yes, that’s it. An electric saw, and as I drove through the gates it felt as though it might tear the top of my head clean off. I managed to stop the car and open the door before I threw up, but only just.

‘I walked to the rest of the graveside in a kind of daze. I didn’t even realise until later that my nose had bled. Thank God there was no-one else about to see me; I must have looked like one of the living dead myself, blood on my lips and chin, vomit splashes on my clothes, staggering around the cemetery with a wreath falling to pieces in my hands.

‘When I reached the grave itself my knees unlocked and I fell. The dirt was cold against my face, I recall. A few tangles of spiky grass had already begun to grow through it, as though my brother’s body was the finest fertiliser in the world, and I remember thinking, “Good old Alain, always full of merde.”, and then I was laughing and crying and shaking and feeling that if I wasn’t already riding the crazy train, I had at least bought my one way ticket.

‘And all the time my head was filled with that dreadful screaming, and somewhere below that I could hear … not a voice, exactly, more like my mind trying to pull words out of the static.

‘But I heard my name. I’m sure of that.

‘Somehow I made it back to the house. By then the sound had subsided to that soft buzz, and a couple of hours later it had stopped completely. The next day I found myself wondering if I hadn’t dreamed the whole thing, until I saw my clothes.

‘Exactly the same thing happened the next time I visited the cemetery. And the next. Of course, I couldn’t tell anybody. Not even you, not then. A distress call from the grave? Only a psychiatrist might have humoured me while we waited for the straitjacket to arrive. No. I knew what I had to do.

‘I had the -‘ His eyes narrowed suddenly. ‘I had the grave exhumed by … private agents. At night. I was there to supervise; neither of them was overqualified as a human being and I didn’t want them screwing up and digging up the wrong body. We travelled to the graveyard in a stolen van with fake plates, and all the way there the screams in my head were getting worse. This time my ears bled too but the people I hired – a man and a woman – asked no questions. The graveyard’s night-watchman had already been paid off, and I stood and watched them dig, listening to the shriek behind my eyes. And when at last the spade thudded against the lid of the casket, the screaming … stopped. And then -‘

Pierre grinned at me, exhaling death. ‘And then I took him home.’

To Be Continued

Part Four

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