[Five] Spark

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And in the end, it all came back to energy. Newtons, lumens, decibels, volts… mostly volts. I started to see units of measurement everywhere, numbers to define how something could be experienced, seen, heard, felt, pressed, burned, used, destroyed. It started when I read that 2,450 volts of electricity would be passed through my brother’s body and energy began to mean something different to me.

These 2,450 volts would cook his brain and his skin, make his eyes bulge and melt, and his bowels release. They would cause him to jolt so violently against the leather straps that his bones would break. They would stop his heart. They might comfort the families of his victims, watching from behind glass in a room that was at once too close and too far away. And they might bring nightmares fuelled by cognitive dissonance to the people who unlocked the door, led him down the corridor, tightened the straps, pulled the lever. I had no idea what they would do to me.

I left a long time ago, and I never expected to be back. There was nothing here for me then and in just a few hours there will be nothing here for me again. I only came because he asked me to. He wanted someone on the other side of the window in that room who had no personal attachment to the boys whose deaths had finally brought him to meet his own.

Any real connection I had to him was severed years before when I bought a one-way ticket and didn’t look back, but he had no-one else. I wanted to say no to him. I wanted to carry on with my life as though my brother hadn’t murdered children in a country where I no longer lived. I wanted to maintain my distance with my new name from a brief marriage and oceans between us. But still, I said yes, and I went.

We communicated by letter at first. He told me he had come to understand that what he did was wrong, but he couldn’t help it. He knew each of the boys he had killed was someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s friend, someone, but his need outweighed that. He said he had always felt those urges, that they started when he was younger than his boys, and he knew it was only a matter of time before he progressed from doing what he did to animals to doing what he did to people.

He asked if I had been scared of him when we were children, if I had seen it coming. If I had known what he was. It took me a week to reply to that letter because I didn’t know what to say other than yes. The truth is, I had always known. When I heard he had been arrested, I spent a year in therapy I couldn’t afford, telling a well-meaning stranger that I should have said something, should have done something, to stop this. The other truth is I know there is nothing I could have done. I couldn’t have changed something so entrenched in the core of his being. I couldn’t have turned him into someone else.

Where we grew up, hunting was a part of life. It was a running joke that he was a terrible shot, but he wasn’t that terrible. He never missed entirely. He only ever missed enough that he had to finish the job with a knife. The loudest alarm bell was not rung by the killing of animals he hunted to eat, but by the killing of animals he hunted simply because he could. Sometimes he started to cut them up before they were dead, although I think I was the only one who knew that. I found him elbow-deep in the still-twitching body of a stray dog in the back field one day after school and all he said was, “Don’t tell anyone.” So I didn’t. And a year later, I left.

I had seen pictures of him on television and in newspapers, but during my first visit to the prison, I was surprised that he was no longer the fifteen-year-old boy he had been when I last saw him in person. His eyes were the same though—dark, cold, empty apart from the occasional flare of something like anchorless resentment—and I felt a stab of ice in my heart when he looked at me.

He said he didn’t think I would come, but he was glad I did, that he understood why I hadn’t stayed before, why I hadn’t come home when both our parents were killed in the house fire he escaped from unscathed at the age of eighteen. Of course, there had been no definite proof of arson, but I knew and he knew that I knew.

When the day came, he was given the opportunity to speak his final words before they brought down the hood to cover his face. He said only, “I want to thank my sister for being here today and for leaving before. Her presence was the only thing that held me back and when she left, I was finally free to do what I needed to do.” Then he smiled with a gentle, honest acceptance.

2,450 volts.

The thundering beat of my heart as I walked towards my rental car. The slam of the door shutting. The spark of the ignition as I turned the key. The roar of the engine as I drove away. The gathering speed as I headed towards the airport. The glow from the streetlights. The heat of my tears. And in the end, it all came back to energy.