I If our father wasn’t going to put a stop to our foolishness, you were not above smacking us around a bit. With Mother gone, you took over that job as the responsibility of the oldest son. Enough is enough, you’d say. I warned you before, didn’t I? and you’d slap Jack in the face. Once. Twice. Hard. At the breakfast table, at the supper table, Jack and I were always conspiring. Since our mother had vanished what else did we have to do, all day, but leap out of the path of bullets, jump from speeding cars, keep one step ahead of hired thugs? How could you not have resented us, dancing in front of you like birthday candles that can’t be blown out, pitiless in our flamboyance, stealing Mother’s jewelry off her dressing table, wrapping her skirts around us and parading up and down the stairs? Look, I am the Mad Queen, Jack would scream in glee. I am a wicked old woman! I am a witch! I’d cry. No one can touch me and live. The whole world was falling apart. How could anyone be expected to be reasonable? Of course you took your hand to us. You thought you had to. Boys who live by intrigue never mind being sent to their room. II Be careful, there are spies everywhere, Jack and I whispered when we visited Mother’s hospital. Say nothing. Even the doctors aren’t safe. Even in our own rooms we kept our voices low. We had stopped asking when our mother was coming home, why our father never looked at us. Our days passed faster if we were in danger of being assassinated, mutilated, hunted down. We had heard whispers. They had drugged Mother. Strapped her down. Shot her through with electricity. We saw photographs in the newspapers: a tiny man, a tiny woman, a couple so small they looked as if they’d been shrunk to fit the picture. If they could be executed who could ever be safe? III Outside our town limits Korea floated in the dark waters that tugged at the shore and tore away bits of the land. One by one, young men began disappearing. In your room you practiced packing your duffel bag. You were sixteen, ready to ship out. An Eagle Scout. Honor student. Captain of the wrestling team. At night we’d spy on you as you made faces in the mirror to test which look was most convincing, which way you should stand to be brave, to appeal to girls, to be chosen first. You were making plans to leave for good. You took over Father’s desk for your schoolwork — history, your favorite subject. You studied wars, planning your own campaigns, determined not to repeat anyone’s past mistakes. Not anyone’s! IV You’ve got to do something about these boys! As soon as Father poked his head in the house you began scolding him. You’ve got to make them listen. I’m tired of wasting my breath. Trying to get two young boys to be quiet was like begging waves to behave, to stop making a ruckus, to pick up after themselves. At least you could keep the sea to a schedule. No wonder you became a champion sailor. If you were going to put up with any unruliness you wanted it on a grand scale. If anyone was going to throw a tantrum let it be the winds. You could trick them. You turned them against themselves, used them and the tides to win yourself still another trophy. When you fought with us, all you got was a headache. After you quarreled with the sea there was your picture in the paper. V What does a boy do when his mother takes her fist and thrusts it through a window, and goes outside and stands in front of her house and holds out her bleeding arm to one neighbor, then to another? What does a young man do if he shouts at his mother, screams at her, begs her, and nothing he says seems to matter? VI Maybe if you had to deal with craziness it was better if it was the ocean’s. So you chose waves to resent and curse, to push out of your way. Storms to plot against. If anyone was going to be allowed to strike you let it be the sea. At the first sign of war you enlisted. Now you could hate with your country’s blessing. When you sent postcards home they bore no pictures, no news of ports of call or fleet activity. They said little: Look after my girl. Make sure Dad gets enough to eat. Say hello to Mother for me when you visit her. They read like letters from a prisoner of war or a man on a mission. There was only so much you could say. VII One morning, I woke to find you home on leave. You were emptying out my room of everything to do with pretend. You had already carried most of the maps out to the back yard, the Library of Scrolls and Chronicles, the Portfolio of Treaties. I was nine. Jack was thirteen. It was time we learned the difference between reality and make-believe, you said. See this parchment? This chart of the Seas of Galan? This diagram of the Castle of Jerans? Now, see this match? You gripped my hand, held it to the flame. Let it sting me once. See? That’s the difference. VIII Why am I telling you what you know already? At the age of fifty, why does a man start talking about what it was like to be six? To be nine? To be thirteen? Even as a boy you ranted about the unholy empire of the Soviets. Say anything good about Russia and you’d start fighting. Maybe you needed a clear enemy, a story you could pledge your life to. Don’t most of us need a plot that explains why we are alive, a place where we can turn ourselves into characters playing important roles? If our lives make up a story then doesn’t our every gesture, our every fear, our every hurt we can’t shake free of, have to mean something, so we can look back and say, Yes, now I see why this happened? IX Remember your rare visits home from the Navy (were you ever actually in the Navy?) when you’d try to wake me so you and your girl could have a bed, a room whose door you could shut? Finally you’d be forced to lift me, blankets and all, and lug me downstairs and roll me onto the sofa. I was nine. I remember I kept my eyes closed so you’d have to gather me into your arms. I could reach a hand sleepily around your neck, push deep into your shoulder. X The worst of the day is over, the nestling of the urn down into its metal box, your daughter drawing you away, you pulling back, looking up into each of our faces as if you’d just been given news you didn’t know what to do with and you needed answers from each of us, from the sky, the trees. The columbarium is a vault and you have made an investment that has cost you everything. And now, tie loosened, coat off, the guests gone at last, a drink in your hand, you begin talking as if you and I’ve always been close and you are just picking up a conversation we left off a little while ago. You are telling me everything, not just the obvious griefs, but the old lies that still haunt you, all the promises you wish you had kept, the one secret no one knew, not even your wife. You make sure we are out of everyone’s hearing. At first it sounds like a bad movie — gun runnings, assignations, talk of the Company. Neither of us says the real name, as if speaking it, even here in your back yard, in this small New England town, we could be heard, you could be exposed. XI I remember Jack and me asking about your wound. He and I would lie in our beds and make up stories of how you got the scar just under your shoulder. We took turns being you, a dark prince, an outlaw. So used to pretending, to playing spy and tapping messages in code or hiding secret documents in our sleeves, how could we know that our older brother would, one day, turn out to be part of a conspiracy far vaster than ours? And now, given to the extravagancies to which grief leads a man, you take off your shirt, insist I touch your scar. You tell me how the blade came out of nowhere, you jumped just in time, you were lucky to get out with your life. Brother, only now that we are miles apart do I dare begin speaking to you, and, still, only in code. O my dearest secret agent, break it.