For all the people we could not save
by Peter Andrews-Briscoe
Though he would talk and laugh, and surround himself with company, he always seemed alone to me. I would catch him staring at a wall just a moment too long, or he would stay in work a few hours too late, and I would know. I cannot tell if he appeared to others as he did to me, or if I knew it simply because he was my brother. Or perhaps I didn’t know it, only seeing his solitude after it had killed him. Perhaps I could have saved him, could have told him that I loved him more; I could have told the party what I saw, and had them help him. Or perhaps not. Perhaps his flaws where as deep as his genetics; the sins of his father, perhaps, and the sins of mine, too.
After his death, I received a communication from the Moscow director, a video meeting so she could pay her respects. She was the oldest director, and had known both me and my brother almost our entire lives; I suspected she was the reason I had been fast-tracked onto the director’s programme in the first place, although I had never asked her why.
That conversation had been like all of our conversations, with the aloof informality that lies between familial care and true friendship.
Before the conversation had ended, she gave me a look that always reminded me of the child I used to be. “You are the object of my last remaining bond, and even one friend can be considered one too many in our line of work. I fear that you understand why your brother decided to take his life more than you care to admit.” She stared at me a few seconds longer, making sure that the words had sunk in. “Be careful, old friend. I need you. We all need you.” Finally, she averted her gaze, and severed the video link between us.
I worked harder than ever in the weeks that followed, hoping that my duties would distract me from my grief. It was almost spring, so it was a busy time of year; spring was when people were hopeful about the future, and we had to make sure to utilise this. We went through the language being used in newspapers, TV broadcasts, public speeches, and altered the semantic structures and word densities, subtly making the population more optimistic, more loyal. Hope has always been necessary to the plan, and the duty fell to us to foster it.
In the quiet moments I could steal, I would sometimes catch my reflection, and see my brother. I feared that his fault was a hereditary one, a decimal point that should have been rounded off centuries ago. I feared that it was a trait I shared.
I am not like him, I would tell myself, I am not flawed. Still, though, in the times between wakefulness and sleep, I would dream of his death, but it would be me instead.
I found a journal of his, so long after the fact. At first, I did not want to read it, scared that it would show me someone who was too similar to myself, but curiosity forced me to look at what he had written. Here, in excruciating detail, was his soul laid bare. “Do they suffer as I do?” he wrote one day. “Do they pretend as I do? Do they hope, like me, that the simulacrum of happiness can one day replace the real thing? Or am I unique, the anomaly in an otherwise successful genetic experiment?” Here he was, in a most honest sense; here were the brooding ruminations, the twists and turns that eventually wear down the machinery of the mind, the endless, exhausting reflections that in small amounts is indistinguishable from the symptoms of love. And as I read these words, I wandered to myself, how could I have not said anything, or even tried to save him?
It was already spring when the Moscow director came to visit Washington. I greeted her at the plane, and took her to the national park just outside the city.
“Can you tell me something?” I asked her, as soon as I felt the time was appropriate.
She nodded, as if giving me permission, already knowing what I wanted to ask.
“Did we…know about my brother? Was it his genetics that made him kill himself?” I asked.
I could feel her hesitating, considering carefully the words she was going to use. “Yes. We knew your genetics, and knew that you and he had the potential for this disposition.”
“Then why did you let our genetic line continue? Why let this flaw exist?”
She looked at me then, with an expression that belied neither understanding or confusion, but somehow both at once. “Because it is no flaw. It is what Camus, and Sartre, and a thousand others who advanced human civilisation had. How much of the human spirit would we have destroyed if we had prevented you and your brother from coming into existence?” She was silent as she tilted his head up at the sky, finally looking away from me; as I watched, I could see her tracing the constellations with her eyes. “Take some time off,” she told me, finally. “Your health is suffering. Maybe it’s even time for retirement.”
“But I haven’t found a replacement,” I answered, not even protesting that her health was worse than mine.
“We never expected you to,” she said. “The plan is slowly advancing, old friend, and we are becoming superfluous. Now that you are gone, we will only have three directors, and, when I am gone, only two.”
“Someday,” she replied.
That spring, I experienced what life was like on the outside of the party. Days merged together, lacking the discipline I used to find in my work. I drank more, and spent my nights with people I didn’t know. When I looked in the mirror, I saw my brother’s features written plainly across my face. Sometimes, I would imagine him watching me; I would smile at the mirror, and he would smile back.