Love Thy Neighbor, or, The Juvenile Delinquent Brothers of the Third Floor


Brass knuckle Amnon and crooked jaw Cain were Irish twins, fifteen and sixteen years old, the spitting image of their mama. She was a young, black widow, a venom sharpshooter, a thirty year draught. They were my neighbors. We lived in the third floor of the same concrete apartment building. Our doors stood at a perpetual face-off. Cain’s bed and mine were barely separated by a timid wall he often bruised with the sound of my name punching through his teeth as he abused himself; the sound was so wretched, there weren’t enough songs written in the entire world to drown it out.

When walls were not present Cain became a shifting shadow with a clamp heart, squeezing the life out of anything he loved. He would hide in the rafters and kidnap old man Methuselah’s doves, press them between brick and jaw until he heard their lungs crack like glass. He would then stick their bloody feathers under my door like love letters.

He wrote me so many love letters. He made sure I found them everywhere. Snatched from my hair ribbons inside my slashed bicycle tires. Guillotined butterflies in the hinges. A rabbit’s head thrust in the threshold.

One time he climbed up the rain gutter like a draught, just to push my only dress to suicide, plunging it wet with fear from the third floor clothesline down into the dusty courtyard.

He only knew how to love a thing when it was dead like a father.

Amnon was a mute mountain of mean, with hands twice the size of his body, brass knuckle snares where I once got
caught in the no-man’s-land between our doors. One time, he pressed a nine millimeters’s tongue on my neck as
he tightened his left hand around my green plum chest. I had better sense than to fight him. I fixed my eyes on
a curious crack on the wall, growing with each bang of Cain’s head on the other side, weeping like a trapped beast. It made me feel less alone to know he was torturing us both.

The day war broke out and all the men and boys in the neighborhood rushed to kidnap rifles and guns, brass
knuckle Amnon and crooked jaw Cain came riding through the neighborhood on a stolen army tank, like serial killer cowboys, high on blood thirst and sniffed glue, playing marksman’s games with my humble window.

Through the war years I survived them by the grace of God, with a King James Bible and an old typewriter. I punched keys with crooked jaws to the rhythm of their weapons writing poems about love, forgiveness, and things too much alive to die at their hands. I fortified the wall between Cain’s bed and mine with pages from the book
of Psalms.

“Great peace have them which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them”.

The day I left to come to America, Cain shot every single flower pot on every window ledge in the neighborhood, howling like a betrayed wolf. I did not turn around to look at him. I wished them both dead.

Years later, when word of their simultaneous death reached me in America in a stifling hot Southern afternoon, the son in my womb churned, as I went running in the backwoods, weeping ferociously at the thought of them, before brass knuckles and crooked jaw. I thought of when they were two naked infants on a cold tile floor. How they begged with lament for the breasts of a mother shrouded in death and anger. How she concealed milk and love beneath a heavy, black dress, locked fanatically by an unforgivably long line of bone buttons, running from her venomous throat all the way down to her bare feet. How she murdered them to avenge her loneliness. How they loved me mean, like a mother.

“For as a man hath destroyed his enemy; so hast thou lost the love of thy neighbor.”


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