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My Brother's Collection

My Brother's Collection: Text

Custom art by KhalilVivo

My brother collected eyes. Our mother said that he had done it all his life, but I never understood. I still don’t.  
Andrew is several years older than me, so I looked up to him from a young age. He taught me card tricks and the perfect way to toast a marshmallow. He was never cruel — not to me, at least. It wasn’t until I was around eight years old that I even noticed his fascination. 
The two of us had been tasked with grabbing groceries for dinner. This was a big deal, of course, because it meant that Andrew was finally old enough to use mom’s car, and I was finally old enough to be trusted without mom’s constant supervision. 
We wandered through the grocery store together, meticulously following the handwritten list that had been given to us. 
“What’s next?” Andrew asked, tossing a box of mac and cheese into the cart.
I turned the list toward him. 
“It says, ‘three tuna - whole.’ Where do you get a whole tuna?” 
Andrew grinned and gripped the shopping cart.
“Follow me,” he said. ”I’ll show you.”
Toward the edge of the store, a cold corner of glass presented a row of seafood on a bed of ice. I pressed a hand up against the display and pulled it away to reveal a small, defined handprint. Behind the glass, a line of dead-eyed fish stared up at me while a tall man in a white coat weighed hunks of something large and pink on a metal scale. 
“Are those the tuna?” I asked, lowering my voice so that the man behind the counter wouldn’t hear me. 
“Yup,” Andrew said. “That’s them. Mom said we need three, right?” 
I nodded and pushed the list into his hands, suddenly feeling uncomfortable for reasons I couldn’t quite explain. 
Andrew approached the counter and spoke to the tall man, who nodded and ducked below the glass to pull out three large tuna fish, their unblinking eyes seeming to cry for help. I turned away and stared into the shopping cart until, finally, the man handed Andrew three white paper packages. 
“Fish mummies,” I said, watching him put the fish into our cart.
He laughed. 
“Yeah, they are kinda like that, aren’t they?” 
When we finally got home, Andrew and I quickly put away the groceries. He handed me a few different bags of dry food and asked me to find room for them in the hallway closet, assuring me that he would take care of the rest.
I made quick work of sorting boxes in the pantry to make room for the new stuff, so I made my way back down to the kitchen to see if I could help put away anything else. 
As I came to the threshold of the kitchen door, I noticed Andrew’s back was turned to me, his hands working and picking at something on the counter. He was mumbling something under his breath, but I could barely hear him over the sound of the faucet that he had left running. 
I moved slowly, getting close enough to see around him. He had laid out all of the tuna on the counter, their white wrapping pulled out like flower petals. His fingers were digging into the soft skin around the fish’s eyes, his nails sinking into the spongy, wet surface. He popped one free, rolling it around in his palm. I could see a trail of something unidentifiable leaking from the open socket into Andrew’s hand. 
Down the line he went, plucking and popping the soft eyes from each of the tuna, collecting them in his hand like tapioca pearls. I was frozen to the spot, glad he couldn’t see me and horrified to think what he would have done if he had. 
After he squeezed the last of the eyes from the fish, I watched him collect his hands together and roll all six of them between his hands, a trail of clear mucus running down his wrists. 
It was only a moment before he clench his hands together and deftly opened one of the drawers at his waist with a free finger. He gently pulled out a clear sandwich bag, opened the zipper, and tipped the gelatinous balls into the pouch. I watched as he closed it up, pressing all the air out first, and tucking the bag into the front pocket of his jeans. 
Before I could move, Andrew turned around, locking eyes with me.
“How long have you been standing there?” he asked. 
I couldn’t speak. 
“I don’t know what you think you saw, Beth, but I was just cleaning the fish.” 
I was frozen and, as he walked toward me, I had the fleeting thought that he might try to take my eyeballs, too. 
Andrew knelt down in front of me on the tile, placing one hand on my small shoulder. 
“You didn’t see anything, did you, Beth? You only saw me cleaning the fish.” 
He began nodding his own head, rhythmically, in some attempt to get me to imitate his actions. Unaware of how else to react, I simply mimicked him, my eyes locked into his, which had darkened and narrowed. 
“That’s good. Say it back.”
I looked down.
“Beth, say it.”
I bit my lip, looking up at him reluctantly. 
“I didn’t see anything,” I echoed. “You were cleaning fish.” 
Satisfied, he nodded and stood, now seeming to tower above me. He began to lean toward me, and I almost flinched until he wrapped his arms around me in a gentle hug. 
“Thanks, kiddo,” he said. “I love you.”
I couldn’t say anything — I could feel the bag of eyes pressing against my chest, and my breath was caught in my throat. 
After the incident, things seemed normal for a time — that, or Andrew had gotten exceptionally good at hiding his “hobby.” It wasn’t until years later, when he was eighteen and getting ready to go off to college, that I saw any other evidence of his collection. 
Mom had taken him out of town for the weekend to visit the campus of his dream school, which was a private college about three hours north of where we lived. I had begged for permission to stay at home by myself for the night, flaunting my maturity and how little I needed a babysitter. After much back-and-forth, Andrew was able to convince our mother that I could use the “lesson in responsibility,” to which she finally gave in. 
With the place all to myself, I decided to raid the pantry for snacks and play video games as loudly as I wanted. 
With a bag of potato chips in one hand and a large glass of fizzing soda in the other, I made my way into the living room to set my bounty onto our coffee table. When I moved to turn on our game console, I noticed it was completely gone. 
“Ugh, Andrew,” I said under my breath. He was always moving the console into his room so he could play games with his friends when they would come to visit.
I made my way up the stairs towards Andrew’s room at the end of the hall. The Peanuts poster pasted onto his door curled at one edge: “The doctor is in.”
I turned the knob a little to make sure it wasn’t locked and then made my way inside. I felt along his wall, searching for the light switch and flipping it as soon as I ran my fingers along the plastic edge. 
The room was pristine — Andrew was always the “neat” one. The television was over in a corner, his games and films sorted and alphabetized on the shelf below it, with the console and wires wrapped together in a tidy bundle. 
Years had passed since I had been allowed in my brother’s room. I could recall countless evenings when he had helped me sneak out of bed to sit in front of his television and watch cartoons late at night but, once he became a quiet and angsty teen, Andrew valued his privacy, and we grew apart. That was fine with me, of course, because after the “incident,” I didn’t like being left alone with him. As I scanned his room for the first time in a long time, I felt a sense of disquiet spreading through my body, like Andrew would catch me sneaking around and punish me in some uniquely cruel way that I couldn’t even fathom.
I quickly grabbed the console and a game that I wasn’t allowed to play when our mother was home. Bounty in hand, I turned to leave, only to immediately bash my toe into the sharp edge of a wooden box peeking out from under Andrew’s bed. I swore and doubled over in pain, clutching the console to my chest as an anchor. 
The box seemed completely out of place. It looked like it had been shoved away quickly, hidden with urgency. Andrew was too tidy for something to just be “out,” I realized, and kneeled down to take a closer look. 
I put the console down beside me and pulled the box out with both hands. It was shaped like a large, luxury cigar box, made of soft beige wood with a small silver latch. Opening it was easy, and I quickly unhooked the lid with a soft pop.
I was immediately surprised by the lack of a smell. It seemed so strange that what Andrew was keeping in that box didn’t produce the stench I imagined it would. The box, lined with a dark blue velvet and sectioned off like a jewelry box, held rows and rows of shiny, clean eyes. 
Many of the eyeballs were glossy and facing with the cornea upward, and they caught the light so perfectly that it took me a moment to realize that they weren’t made of glass. There were several different sizes, many of them small enough to mistake for beads, while a few looked as large as golf balls. Each of them was cordoned off by a wedge of velvet, and each of them was labeled in Andrew’s neat, tidy script. 
I must have stopped breathing because I was getting lightheaded. I couldn’t look away from the collection in my hands, pouring over each of the sections and reading their titles: “owl,” “mouse,” “dog,” “brown,” “green.” There was one area that was empty, however — a small plush square in the back of the box labeled “blue.” 
Blood pumped relentlessly in my ears as I stared down into the box. The box stared back, dozens of eyes daring me to make my next move. 
I snapped the lid shut and closed the latch, pushing the box back under the bed with the original offending edge poking out from under the blanket. Scrambling with the console, I moved out of the room and slammed the door behind me, my breath hitching at the sound. 
I never mentioned the box to Andrew and, if he noticed that I’d seen his hidden collection, he never mentioned anything to me. It became a quiet understanding that I ignored at every opportunity. Years after the incident, I brought it up to my mother.
“He has a different way of thinking than we do, Beth,” she said. “Andrew’s been like this all his life. He sees the world in a way that we could never understand.” 
“You don’t think it’s creepy, like, at all?”
She sighed. 
“Are you asking if I feel unsafe? No, not at all. Do I find his fascinations a bit unique? Yes, of course. Am I going to stop loving my son because of it? Never.”
So, we let it go — at the very least, we stopped talking about it. I don’t think Andrew knew that our mother was aware of his interests, and I’m not sure he would have cared either way. 
After a few years, I began to forget about the box. Life got in the way, and it seemed less and less important for me to focus on my brother’s one weird habit. I didn’t think about it again until I left for college, years after Andrew had gotten married and our mom became the grandmother that she had always wanted to be. 
“She’s so beautiful,” my mother said, calling me from the hospital room where Andrew and his wife were cooing over my new niece.
She was so infectiously happy that I couldn’t help but smile into the phone. 
“Does she look just like Andrew?”
“Not at all,” my mom laughed. “She’s the spitting image of her mother. You should see her, Beth. She has the most beautiful blue eyes.”

My Brother's Collection: Text
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