The Whole Brain

My brother and I used to stuff pebbles into our heads. By that I mean, we’d trek into the woods behind our backyard holding hands, and we’d scour the ground together pointing out tiny pebbles that had come free from the larger rocks around us because of millions of years of rain and dew and glaciers and erosion, or that’s what my brother told me, and we’d put them in each other’s coat pockets.

Then, we’d sit next to each other on a rock, the biggest rock we could find, one circled by a big pile of leaves so if we ever got bored we could take turns jumping off the rock into the pile. It was his idea and I thought it was a good one so I told him so. “Of course it is,” he told me. We’d sit on this big rock and I’d tweezer a pebble from my coat pocket, and stuff it into my ear, just like that, pushing it all the way in there until I felt like it would stay, no matter what, even if I jumped as high as I could into the pile of leaves and got pretty shaken up. Then, he’d do the same. It was sort of a competition.

He’s my younger brother, but I couldn’t beat him. He’d jam pebble after pebble into his head, and they’d make a noise like a giant maraca because there was still room in there, and he’d laugh at me when I’d try to shove one into my head and hold it in there with my pointer-finger and it’d just pop out a second later. He’d get so many in there after a while that when he’d fold himself in half with laughter at my expense, he’d have to use the whole of his person to get his big head back on top of his shoulders.

He told me once that some people can’t get as many pebbles in their heads as other people. I told him that wasn’t fair. I got mad and said it didn’t matter how many pebbles I could fit into my head. He started laughing through his teeth, sounding like a snake.

“You’re stupid,” he chuckled.

I thought maybe I could force the pebbles out of his head, so I pushed him off the rock into the pile of leaves below. I jumped in after him, dug through the dirty pile and found a black, rotten stick and I broke it over his head. The stick dented like a cardboard sword and barely splintered off strands of soft, foamy wood. I slapped my hands to either side of his gigantic head, and I tossed him out of the pile. He rolled down a slight incline, deeper into the woods, and tried to stop himself by digging his nails into the earth. But his head was too big for the rest of him. He kept rolling until his head rammed into a boulder and stopped his momentum.

I walked over to him as he lay there crying, blood coming in dribbles from a cut in the middle of his forehead, down the bridge of his nose. He wiped his face with his arm, and with his blood stained sleeve rolled himself over and sat against the boulder, leaning his massive head back for support, stretching his neck like a piece of salt-water taffy.

“Do you know what just happened,” I asked him.

“You hit me with a stick and gravity pulled my head down that little hill and into this rock here and now I’m bleeding.”

“You hurt my feelings. You laughed at me.”

 “I don’t care. You hit me with a stick.”  A pebble fell out of his ear. He picked it off the ground and pushed it into his head. It fell out again and he let it roll away.

“Yeah, but that didn’t even hurt.”

“Now, I’m bloody though. Mom’s gonna get mad at you.”

“No, she’s not. You’re only bloody cause your head’s too big and you couldn’t stop yourself. Do you know how you made me feel?”

“It doesn’t matter. You’re stupid. Stop asking me that.”  Pebbles fell out now in a cascade. He picked up a few and stuffed them into his pockets but most rolled passed the boulder and into the woods. He pulled his legs into his chest, crossed his arms about his knees, and his big head, now half empty, rattled as he laid it on top of his hands. Blood and tears dripped through his legs and were absorbed into the ground.

Sunlight rained down through the trees’ arms, speckling the earth, moving like a kaleidoscope as the wind blew through the woods. I saw him clearly then. He looked up at me and wiped a tear from his cheek, streaking mud over his eyelid and thickening his brow. He’d stopped bleeding.

“Mom told me before I left the house, she said, ‘Your head might be small but it’s full,’.” I dug into my ear, pulled a leaf out by the stem and shook my head so he could hear the silence.

He planted a hand in the earth and lifted himself off the ground, standing in front of me he laughed again, the dried blood on his forehead cracking into flakes. He knelt down, picked up a pebble, and with it nestled between his thumb and middle finger he dug it into the cut on his forehead. He twisted the pebble deep into the gash and silently stared at me as he grabbed a handful of pebbles saved in his coat pocket and widened the wound until it look as if he was jamming his full fist into his mouth. Crushed bone and ragged skin.

I wish he’d screamed out in pain because my calls for him to stop floated into the air alone, evaporating like a light rain that had come and gone and never mattered in the first place. He fell facedown onto the ground from the pain and from the loss into a pool of his own life, and I fell by his side and turned him over and picked the pebbles out of his flesh and replaced them with leaves to stop the bleeding, and I began pulling him home by his arms, his head carving a crevasse into the dirt like a glacier, leaving behind the blood that wore his face a mask.