two brothers dreaming

 Once upon a night, a seven year old boy named Cain dreamed about flying in the sky above a strange and beautiful land of tangerine hills, marmalade skies, turquoise oceans, deep emerald forests and sacred living mysteries long forgotten. The dream was so lovely and made the little boy feel so happy that he decided to wake up his younger brother Abel asleep in the next bed so that they could fly together through the sparkling golden air of that magic dream world and stare in amazement and delight at the colours and music unfolding beneath them like a mysterious tapestry of joy.

Cain woke up the next morning feeling a little peculiar, not quite with it, off balance. He felt happy and excited, as if he had discovered a wonderful secret that would change everything. But he also felt edgy and resentful that he had to get up and go to school. He wanted to continue the magical dream journey, and he wished it wasn’t day time but rather night time so that he could go back to sleep and resume the journey. (It was one of those funny moods when you feel good but you also feel bad, and you don’t know why or what you need to do to sort it out).

His younger brother Abel woke up that morning feeling hot and dizzy and not very well at all. Their mother, Eve, took one look at Abel’s pale sweaty face and said “no school for you today sweetie, you must be coming down with something.” Then Cain said, “he’s fakin’ it, it’s not fair…” and Abel said, “am not” and Cain said “am so” and they had a fight which distracted Cain so he forgot to ask Abel about whether he remembered the magical dream or not.

The day went from strange to worse for Cain. Nothing seemed to go right, whatever he did seemed to be at odds with everyone and everything else. In Language Lessons, for instance, he was the only kid in class who couldn’t answer the comprehension questions (mainly because he wasn’t concentrating on his schoolwork, he was too busy thinking about the dream and about how unfair it was that Abel was allowed to stay at home in bed).

Over the years, the lives of the two brothers took very different directions. The younger brother Abel found love, happiness and success. He had many friends and a satisfying career. He married a woman whom he loved and who loved him. Together they created children and the whole family lived together in a large comfortable house in a very salubrious suburb.

In contrast, the harvest of Cain’s life was loneliness, poverty and misfortune. He never married, never held down a job longer than a few weeks, never found his feet in the world.

He often thought about the magic dream journey, and whether he had really woken Abel up and whether Abel remembered anything about flying through the air above that mysterious landscape.

As the years went by and they went their separate ways the two brothers saw less and less of each other. And when they did, Cain would remember that he wanted to ask his brother about the magic dream journey. But somehow something always got in the way and he never got round to asking Abel about that night.

For Adam and Eve, the misfortunes of their eldest son were a source of much sorrow and discussion. They would sit and talk about how Abel had settled into life (“…like he’s enjoying a long hot bath,” Eve would say) while Cain on the other hand was always on the move (“…like he’s always running away from something,” Adam would say).

“Maybe he isn’t running away from something,” Eve would say, “maybe he’s running towards something, except he doesn’t know what it is or where it is or how to get there.”

“I don’t know dear,” Adam would reply, “it sounds like mumbo-jumbo to me. I think I’ll give Abel a call and see how’s he’s getting’ on…” (He couldn’t call Cain because Cain had no fixed address or contact details of any type. You didn’t get in touch with Cain---Cain got in touch with you, and only if he needed money.)

Truth be told, a lot of the time Cain’s mind was given over to the fog of alcohol or drugs, and it usually wasn’t very productive to try and hold a conversation with him. Or if he wasn’t drugged or drunk he’d be sleeping it off in a gutter somewhere. But on those rare occasions when his mind was relatively clear, his thoughts would invariably turn to the events of that night.

What had really happened? Had he soared like a golden bird in the sky above that wonderful mysterious land where you heard colours and saw music ---happy and free for maybe the first and last time in his life?

Whenever the world pressed too heavily on his soul, which was frequently, Cain would think about that night and wonder: “Did it happen at all? Was it only a dream? Did I wake him up? Seem to remember… wanted to… wanted him to come with… But did I? Must ask him next time…”. He would make a mental note to ask Abel about it, but would soon forget or something would happen to get in the way, and he never got round to asking the question.

And yet it tormented him not to know what had really happened. The desire to confirm the events of that night gnawed at Cain’s soul, drove him from one disaster to another. Which was a source of great pain to his younger brother, Abel, who loved Cain fiercely and it hurt him to observe the pain and troubles and ill fortune that plagued his elder brother throughout his misbegotten life. He tried to help Cain whenever and however he could, with money and in other ways. But bad luck hung over Cain like a black cloud and nothing worked out the way it was supposed to. Helping Cain always seemed to end in disaster, with the situation even worse than before.

On the other hand, good luck and success followed Abel like a hungry bear follows the Pope into the woods. Not only material success (he was a wealthy man with lots of houses, Swiss bank accounts, share portfolios and ocean going yachts) but also success in other fields as well---social, emotional, sexual, intellectual.

For instance, as a young man Abel went to University and studied subjects like Politics and Sociology and Psychology and Cultural Studies. Cain on the other hand, had dropped out of High School three years before any of the other kids in his cohort.

Abel did very well at University. He got lots of degrees and built a reputation as a leading thinker---a “metaphysicist” as he liked to call himself.

And at his beachside mansions and penthouse apartments, Abel held lavish parties attended by the glitterati---leading designers, famous poets, cult actors, supermodels, Nobel prize winners, award-winning novelists, singers, dancers and various bearded activists (some of uncertain gender).

There were no parties for Cain, only the occasional sullen sharing of cheap wine with a junkie whore in the bushes of a threadbare park.

Abel was famous as well as rich. He was often in the news. His name and face and achievements and philanthropy were the subject of much fawning publicity across the global media.

Abel loved well and was well-loved in return. He was and open and free with his love. Cain on the other hand was introspective and bitter and twisted and full of hate including self hate. Abel saw himself as generous and kind and loved himself for that. Cain saw himself as a failure, a loser, and he despised himself for that, and he hated and envied Abel for his success and joy.

Having been to University and obtained many degrees, Abel considered himself to be very smart. To tell the truth, he bragged about it a lot, to both friends and family, including Cain (when they did see each other on the odd occasion every couple of years or so). This bragging about his intelligence was a flaw, his friends would admit, but a small one at that, and they forgave him for it.

Unfortunately, Abel himself was blind to the flaw. In other respects his personality was much to be admired and emulated. For instance, he was generous, forgiving, humble and yes even modest (except about his self-proclaimed ‘brilliant mind’). If he had been aware of the bragging, he would have been sincerely horrified. But he just couldn’t or wouldn’t see it. Even when well-meaning friends told him about it to his face, he laughed it off, brushed it aside, rationalised it, denied it.

With his dying breath he would have denied it.

Now Cain and Abel both liked to drink. And on the odd occasion when they got together, they would go to little known dark and seedy bars in the low places of the City (where Abel would not be seen by his rich and famous friends) and drink beer and whiskey together into the early hours, and talk.

They avoided talking about their lives and personal circumstances, because the differences were too great, the contrasts too stark. It would have been embarrassing and humiliating for both of them. So mainly they talked about sport, or sometimes politics (they stood diametrically opposed on most issues and ideologies). When they were very drunk, they would have long rambling arguments about the meaning and purpose of life, the universe, god, stuff like that.

It was at times like those, in the small hours in the small dark bars in the low places of the City, when their hearts were suffused with the warm glow of alcohol, and the rancour that Cain felt toward Abel had subsided to a dull ache, that it would occur to Cain to ask the Question about the magic dream journey.

But something would always get in the way---the phone would ring, or the bartender would start closing up, or someone would interrupt, or the mood wasn’t quite right, or there would be a power failure and the Question would remain unasked, and unanswered.

Always, it was there, at the back of his mind, so that the beautiful memory became a source of pain to him. But was it even a memory? If only it was a memory! Or was it simply the product of an overactive imagination? Sometimes he felt that his whole life would have turned out differently---better, much better---if he could just confirm the truth about the Magic Dream Journey, whether it had or had not actually happened. He felt that if he could know for sure, then he could begin to live his life properly, decently, joyfully.

Now one of the bitter ironies of this story is about who died first. Not, as you would expect, the mad bad sad brother… the penniless, petrol-sniffing, garbage-eating, schizoid bum living on the streets brother…

No. Funnily enough it was the well loved and well-loving, regularly-exercising, sensibly-eating, high self-esteeming brother who died first. And yes, it was at the hand of Cain that Abel died.

It happened one night in the very small hours in a dark alley behind a seedy bar. They were heading toward the parking lot, Abel walking a little unsteadily, Cain stumbling and falling and bellowing drunken abuse: “…your fucking money, your friends, your fucking beautiful family, think you so much fucking better me, don’t you, you sodding cunt!”

“Sorry brother,” said Abel “truly sorry”.

“And you think you so fucking smart, clever little cunt, don’t you? And don’t you love braggin' about it, your …brilliant fuckin' mind, you piece a shit!”

“No, that’s not true,” said Abel softly, and it was this bald, blind denial that sparked Cain to a murderous rage. A lifetime of disappointment, frustration, anger and hatred reached critical mass and he exploded, striking his younger brother with a savage blow, and then another, and another… until bruised and battered Abel lay on the pavement dying.

A sudden bliss arose behind his eyes and he murmured “the colours Cain, look at the music… the golden land…” and then died.

His face contorted with rage and grief, Cain gave a low ugly growl which turned to a grisly wail: “Wait… I wanted to ask…”


A few months before Abel’s death, an envelope dropped into the mailbox of a cheap and nasty rented room that had been Cain’s last known fixed address before he had taken to living on the streets.

Inside the envelope was a letter, in Abel’s handwriting. The letter spoke of many things, including Abel’s sorrow at the misfortune and troubles that had followed Cain throughout his life. And at the end of the letter, Abel had written:

“…despite everything, there is one thing that has bugged me all my life, something that I think happened when we were kids, something really cool. But I have always somehow been too embarrassed to talk about it with you face to face. Maybe if we had, things would have worked out differently between us. My beloved brother, I’ve waited years, decades, to ask you about a night when…”

But you know what? Cain never got the letter. He was already living on the streets by then.

Good night.

Copyright © S R Schwarz 2007. All rights reserved.

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