Marion’s brother is dead.
Marion slouches to the department store––slanting rain; it’s rained for weeks––and buys little screws, the smallest files on offer, little hammers and copper wire so fine it looks like hair. It’s a start, but it isn’t nearly enough. Marion takes the train to the city. He stares at lonesome landscapes drowning in the deluge, and spends all of his savings at a jeweler’s store. That same night, when cars splash through the avenues and their headlights turn spray into fireworks, he breaks into that same store because all of his savings weren’t enough. He fills a bag with minute springs, titanium cogwheels, a little bar of silver and two emeralds of exactly the same size. He leaves everything else where it is, and returns home. To silence.
Marion can sometimes be seen at the old chicken pen behind the house. He deposits failed attempts, turns it into a junkyard. As the rain continues, the pen becomes a pond. While most of the things in it remain submerged, you can see bits of silver leaf floating on top, cut into something fibrous, like vanes.
Marion’s brother died two weeks ago. It was already raining then. He was eleven years old and had eyes the color of buds on a beech tree. Running up and down the house, running through the garden, dancing along the street, sometimes lying down in the uncut grass to admire the clouds, leafing through books faster than anyone else could read them, and then summarizing them to Marion breathlessly: that was his brother. The memory makes Marion sob. “Did you know that in the Permian and Triassic Period, insects used to grow much bigger than they could nowadays, because there was so much more oxygen in the air? Did you know that an alpaca’s spit contains so much acid that you’ll go blind if it hits your eye? Did you know that you can see gray herons at the brook behind town every day of the year?” Now, there is already a thin layer of dust on the books scattered around the house.
Marion mostly lives on toast and canned beans these days, and on an endless supply of instant coffee. You wouldn’t like him if you saw him: his eyes are red, his face unshaven, and he has a feverish glow about him. You won’t see him very often, though, because he spends most days and nights down in the basement by candlelight, filing and hammering away. From outside, through the sheets of rain, you could barely tell that anyone still lives in the house.
Marion’s brother didn’t mind the rain. He had a shiny green raincoat, and it kept him dry down to his knees––when he came back in, only his left sock would be drenched, because there was a hole in one boot. The only thing he’d complain about was that the rain emptied the world: “There are no insects at all with all this water in the air! Why can’t we travel anywhere where they have alpaca’s, look at them from a distance? I want to see alpacas, or insects, or birds! Why …” He put on his green raincoat, his boots with the hole in the left one, and went out into the downpour while Marion was in the basement, disassembling a grandfather clock.
Marion tries and tries and tries––there are band aids on three of his fingers, and blisters on the others. The air smells of burnt metal. In the flooded chicken pen, you can see stacks of paper dissolve. They are filled with notes, graphs and cross-sections and calculations, through of what you couldn’t tell. They’re already soaked through.
Marion’s brother was found downstream two days after he’d disappeared. Perhaps he had slipped. Perhaps he had wandered into the brook and underestimated the current. Perhaps his boots had slipped in the mud. Perhaps … Perhaps … Perhaps …
Marion’s brother had wanted to see birds.
Marion steps onto the porch and lets the rain drench his hair, his flannel shirt, the object in his hands. He is smiling with water in his eyes. The fever has disappeared. He reaches for a key and starts turning it, on and on and on. Springs tighten. Clockwork sings. The object he carries, the final attempt, is a life-sized heron with feathers of silver leaf, with elegant copper legs and a polished beak and the key right where its heart would be. Its eyes are two identical emeralds. The water rolls off its metal plumes. As Marion releases the key, everything about the heron comes alive. There issues a sound like a bell being struck from its beak, and then its wings unfold, and then it pushes itself off Marion’s chest and soars, its reflection soaring thousandfold in the pools and puddles around.
Marion watches the bird disappear in the rain. It’s impossible to make out his impression, but let us imagine that he imagines the bird flying on and on, flying forever, clearly visible for anyone who looks up to the sky, silver and emerald green.
Andrin Albrecht is a writer, musician, and PhD student from Switzerland. He grew up speaking German, later became infatuated with English in school, and has since studied literature and creative writing in Zurich, Colorado, and Singapore. His short fiction and poetry in both languages has appeared in a number of publications, among them Rougarou, The Foundationalist, and Literaturhaus Zürich: Texte des Monats. Currently, he is writing his dissertation on American postmodernism at Friedrich-Schiller-University, Jena, and plays electric guitar in the German alternative rock band TRACK 4.