Many years ago, Cain put his toy soldiers in a tin lunchbox and buried them in the yard, directly under the tree he and his brother used to climb. Abel comes home from college and puts his suitcase down in the hall, looks out the window at the branches swaying in the wind, and wonders what war is being fought there, still. Wonders what else he would find if he dug the box up.
In the field, yes, the field, surrounded by decaying wooden fences Adam never replaced, the story ends as it always does. Death, like a snake, slithers through the dry grass and lies in wait.
But before they were dead, they were children.
Cain, the elder twin, was tall for his age, freckled and angry, and was always blamed for the dropped glass or forgotten chore. Abel, the younger, was soft in the eyes and slow to speak, hands well-trained in how to restrain his brother. Neither of them were gentle. Both of them choked on the words ‘I love you’.
Twins speak a language even God can’t understand. In the breath between Cain’s “come out into the field” and God’s “where is your brother”, Cain takes Abel in his arms, cradles his face between his hands, and feels their bodies tremble in the same way. Nothing needs to be said out loud. Abel can hear Cain’s words in his mind.
“Where is your brother?” God asks after the deed is done, but the boy who remains doesn’t know; neither brother got out of that field alive.
Two brothers die in the field and someone else picks himself up, dusts off his jeans, and faces the day with a square, bruised jaw.
Adam, who always prided himself on distinguishing between his twin boys, does not know which one of them comes back to the house that evening. He does not address him by either name for fear of getting it wrong, calls him ‘son’, doesn’t ask about the split lip or the expression on the boy’s face that he cannot name.
God tells him to be a fugitive, a wanderer, so the man who isn’t Cain puts on his sunglasses and heads for the coast. He drives away with Eden in his rearview mirror, puts a hand to his chest and thinks
Good riddance, thinks I’m sorry, thinks I am in fact my brother’s keeper -
A rare goblin shark, caught by a commercial fisher in January off Australia’s southeast coast near Eden, was recently handed over to the Australian Museum. It’s only the fourth specimen of this kind to ever be collected by the museum.