She couldn’t believe her brother got to play the piano for her father’s funeral.
Well, she could. Her brother was easily the best pianist she’d ever known, with aspirations to become the Chopin, or Mozart or whatever of the 21st Century. He’d been at it ever since she could remember; he was seven years her senior and had loved her in his own quiet way, but the piano was his first love. There was nothing that could stop him from working those keys, and after all the changes that had been wrought on her since the past few years, she was grateful for the one constant in their relationship; his slender fingers making magic.
Throughout the funeral, he sat alone at the lonesome little platform intended for the organ, but the organ had been passed over for a sleek Bosendorfer. She couldn’t even find the time to greet him until the food was displayed, and grievers left her alone. She slipped away from the people and shyly went to stand behind his left shoulder, as she had always done so. He never stopped for her until he was done playing, but today; he instantly let the notes fade away. He extended his left arm as if embracing someone and she quickly grasped his hand. She pressed her face into his palm and breathed in his hand cream. Like the piano, the subtle scent of strawberries remained the same. She sat down on the bench, familiar with their little tradition. He drew her into him, one hand on the back of her head, and the other tracing soft circles on her back. They stayed like that for a while, until it was time for the congregation to disintegrate.
It wasn’t until all the people in their home dispersed too, that the siblings had a moment to themselves. They didn’t deal well with grief, so they resorted to the only way they knew how to express themselves; music. If the elder sibling was one of the best pianists anywhere in the world, the younger could play strings as easily as breathing. It was her brother who had taken her to her first music store and allowed her to roam. She’d stopped near a cello that had dwarfed her. It was the beginning of her butchering the strings, until she finally mastered them, which led to a duet until he went to college and moved away.
They played Ludovico Einaudi, one of her favorite composers until their fingers tired. This time, there’d be no avoiding the conversation.
“I can sit here all night,” he reminded her.
She looked at him and realized that this was not a stranger. This was her brother. The brother, who’d taught her music, manicured her rough and callused hands, who took her to her first day of high school, who had explained periods to her, and assured her that she did not have a disease. She looked at his face, and the emotions came spilling out.
“He was hurting me,” she whimpered, “he was hurting me, and nobody would help. I swear I didn’t mean to. I just…I couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t know what came over me; I don’t know why I did what I did!”
The last word ended on a sob, and he pulled her close to him.
“It wasn’t your fault, it isn’t your fault,” he firmly said.
“Yes, it is!” She cried out. “I killed him because I couldn’t take it anymore. His blood is on my hands, I killed him, and I’m a murderer!”
His irritation grew, this time, with her. His sister could be a little idiot sometimes.
“The coroner affirmed that dad died after he fells from the stairs and broke his neck. You couldn’t have had anything to do that, unless you pushed him down yourself, which I know you didn’t.”
“I poisoned him!” She yelled at him. “I’ve been poisoning him for a week, which is why he was weakened and he fell down, I did it!”
“Do not raise your voice at me,” he whispered fiercely, “you little idiot. Did you actually think that was really poison you were giving to him?”
She frowned in confusion, and blinked at him, “What do you mean? Of course, it was really poison! Wait, how do you know…?”
“If you think I don’t keep tabs on you, you’re mistaken. I knew what he was doing, and I know you purchased that so-called poison from that herbal store. The cashier is an acquaintance and he informed me the minute you stepped into that store. All he gave you was a mild sleep medicine. He thought you wanted to poison yourself.”
“Then, dad died because he was drowsy! It’s still my fault,” she insisted, as he rolled his eyes.
“Oh for God’s sake, do you hear yourself? The man was an alcoholic, and that sleep syrup wasn’t going to knock him out! You’re not the murderer here!”
“But if he didn’t lose his footing, which meant the stairs couldn’t have killed him…” she trailed off.
He fixed her with his stare.
“You need to know that I will always protect you,” he stated, “and to protect you, he needed to stop. I wanted to take custody of you a long time ago, but he’d have never allowed it. He enjoyed control, him and mom, both enjoyed control.”
A dark shadow overcame his expression, and that’s when she realized.
“Does that mean both their deaths weren’t an accident…” she asked, timidly, but not too afraid of the answer. Her parents weren’t very pleasant people.
“You have to know that I will always protect you,” he repeated fiercely.
In that moment, she would have believed anything that came out of the mouth. She nodded at him, surprised at the absence of fear.
“No more beatings,” she peaked at him from underneath her lashes.
He smiled grimly, “No more beatings.”
Little did she know that just like an aptitude for music, violence also ran in the family, and she would never truly be safe.