The Inheritance

The mortician covered the self-inflicted gunshot wound in my brother’s chest so we could say goodbye to his face. When they turned him to ashes, I expected charcoal-like fragments and chunks of bone, but instead received a plastic bag of him powdered and fine, like white sand. My father had already instructed my brother and I to scatter his own ashes in his hometown river, and I suppose my brother inherited the idea from him. So half of him went into a Catholic burial and the other half blew into the water behind our old farmhouse.


Even as a teenager, my brother’s skin had gone rough and gray. He was handsome and kind. But his eyes sunk from cigarettes and jail. I last saw him during a full moon before Halloween when he shared a bowl of weed with me on our back patio. When he died, he left a stash of stems plucked bare in his desk drawer, and I appropriated his paraphernalia and smoked the stems out back alone until I could taste nothing but the lighter fluid I used to burn them. What came was a weak hallucination of his presence: one second he was standing right there; the next, he wasn’t.


After my brother committed suicide, an urgent order of business was repainting his teenage bedroom walls from their oppressive midnight blue to something light, like what a real-estate agent would choose in a house flip. We admitted no overnight houseguests until we colored his walls over beige and bland, swapping his discomforting blackout shades with tan curtains that glowed renewedly in the western sun.


Later, I dated someone with my brother’s name. My then-boyfriend brought this up only once to ask, “Is that weird for you?” Only in the world of nomenclature was it weird. So, yes.


A dealer my own age remembered my brother by his exuberant CD mixes, all of which, de facto, went to me. My brother would turn his tiny silver car into a thumping den of music on winding joyrides. The dealer offered me a discounted gram in exchange for a specific mix he wanted, but despite my searching, I couldn’t find it. I ended up delivering him a handful of scratched discs, diaristic mixes that, in a stack, darkened from thudding buoyancy to death wishes, like an ombre stain. My brother’s last mix, which he left in the home speaker unlabeled, was something of a suicide note. I held onto that one, listening to it once, then twice, before losing it among others in the car that he bequeathed to me.


To those who knew him, I do not avoid his mention. But to those meeting anew, I refuse ownership by way of not mentioning. “Do you have any siblings?” they ask, and I say, “Just an older sister.” A refusal.


He left his clothes, too. He had always dressed remarkably well, with a sensitive eye toward textures and layers. In my inheritance of his clothes, I defiantly removed some of the buttons. I wore his baggy flannels and jackets to school and parties and received compliments on their fit, cut, and appearance. “Thank you,” I’d always reply to those whom I never shared the details of his life with. “I have such nice clothes. What a shame I found them damaged.”

Andy Gottschalk is a writer and artist from Kansas, living in New York. His films have been exhibited at the Yale Student Film Festival and GIPHY Film Festival. His prose appears or is forthcoming in Rougarou, Sage Cigarettes, and Post Road, among others.