Tea spills across the parchment, a cataclysm of earl grey. The fine tendrils of dark liquid slither serpentine, leaking trails of putrid ochre like cursive runes. The liquid seeps through the fibers of long-lost trees as its flow begins to stall, inching through the souls of might firs felled by false friends.
“There is beauty in strange places,” the boy says as he picks up the paper. He tilts it slowly, exactingly, entranced by streams of tea. “Laws of physics meld patterns for only the scholarly to see. Momentum allows these beads to travel toward the right, diverting as minor permutation in the lay of the fiber curves the flow, but by adding a more extreme angle, the pull of gravity reverses the path.”
He looks up at me suddenly, setting down the paper. His hair is askew and unwashed. He has pencil marks on his nose and tea splatters on his cheeks. Such mere minutiae of prosaic existence fade from importance as I meet his eyes. His eyes bore into mine like diamond-encrusted drills, engineering to pierce the mantle. “Bees see near ultraviolet light, did you know? Imagine the colors of a meadow when another is added to the scheme.”
He passes his hand in front of him, painting a scenery only he can see. However, I see the reflection of color in his eyes. They glisten and glow like cathode ray tubes as he takes in every exacting detail of his fantasy.
His mouth twitches and jumps, whispering secrets to the recalcitrant neurons who refuse to listen to electrical conduit of his brain. He suddenly jumps to his bookcase, just barely clearing a pile of papers and a half-complete model of the Globe Theater built out of rubber bands and chewing gum wrappers.
He pulls a book from his shelf, thumbing through with unrestrained excitement to reach a page. I can feel the shudder of his heart as it earnestly pumps blood through his veins to let him survive this vigor, with hopeful yearning for a break. It is always disappointed.
The boy’s eyes focus like lasers onto the page for half a second before he throw the book down to join the jumble on the floor. The patchwork volumes are like trampled flowers beneath his feet. He picks another before he tosses it aside like the first. It sputters at my feet, its tired pages laying open in fealty to its ever-demanding master.
I carefully pick up the volume as the boy leaps to his easel. It is a volume on optics, well-picked over and denoted severely in pencil. Intricate drawings canter about the seams and thread through sentences, and equation and words fuse, tango, and foxtrot across the pages in a complex dance of which only he knows the motions. I place it back on the shelf.
I turn to find a splash of yellow on the canvas, arching from one edge to the other. His brush charges hastily and passionately through the yellow, cutting upward and downward seemingly at random. He points and thrusts like a fencer, facing the canvas like an enemy to be conquered. Each stroke is victory, and he calls out his success.
A moment later he collapses onto his bed with a sigh of exhaustion. He wipes the sweat from his hairline with his brush, leaving a stroke of red intermingling with his follicles.
The explosion of color on the canvas is supremely familiar yet foreign. It is frightening to look at, yet invigorating. I can not quite place it, so I stare longer at its entrancing display of pigments. I lean closer before the meaning rushes into me in moment, like a cavalry at the charge.
“You recognize it then?” he asks, leaning up on his elbows. His skeletal chest heaves like a boat at sea, still exhausted by the effort. The sails are puffed with naught but wind, but with that hot air, he bravely plows through oceans unseen by humankind.
“Yes, I do.” I say. “The colors.” I pause, examining the strange splashes here and there that seemed so out of place. It was as if he distorted color frame, as if he had stretched and expanded it. “As a bee would see it.”
“Yes. Yes!” he exclaimed. He flopped over so that he lay on his stomach, looking up with eager eyes of a child. “Do you remember the bees? Do you remember when we used to run outside with them? Do you remember when you used to show me how to find their hive? Do you remember how it use to be, dear sister?”
“Before this-” I cut off, biting my lip.
He uses his hand to bat away my worries in a careless gesture. It reminds me of how he used to beat away bees when they would buzz too close to our examination of their flowers. I would usually spend the next few minutes brushes the stingers out of his arms.
“Madness and genius are mostly the same. It’s what they call it when your mind works differently. When you're a mutation, a genetic aberration, with a unique set of neural controls which don’t correlate well with the thus established status quo,” he says. “The strange thing about status quos are that they encourage people to meet them, even when they are far superior to such lowly standards as set by weaker minds.”
He looks at me without reservation. He sees everything in a glance, but he holds my gaze longer and longer with the slightest hint of a frown. I know his expressions well, and I feel the sting like bees attacking my heart, pulling into my vena cava and out my aorta.
“I bought a house, Dorian,” I say quickly. “One, up in the mountains, with a meadow and a pond nearby. Like Grandma’s and Grandpa’s. You can work on your math and your art there without so many people. Just the two of us.”
He continues to stare. I continue to speak. “I got a job. I graduated, you know, and I was offered a good position at this firm. It pays enough, enough so you don’t have to be here.”
He stands suddenly and faces me. I see my reflection in his eyes, the contrast of twins separated by forks in a road. We are alike in so many ways. The same nose. The same eyes. The same hair. The same mouth. The same mind. Decisions and mistakes have driven us apart. I see in that reflection my own longing, my own desperation, when his eyes betray nothing of the sort. They are calm and steady, like a pond on a warm summer day.
“Things can be the same again, Dorian.”
He grasps my wrist and pulls my arm up to his eyes. He traces the fine threads of silk with a finger blistered and spattered with paint. Little marks of red, like poppies, bloom as he inches his way up to my elbow then up to my shoulder.
He violently rips the sleeve down, baring my blistered arm where burns never quite healed. Like the flames from whence they came, they lift upward in spikes and swirls, shredding once smooth flesh into canyons and crevasses.
His eyes speak fire. I remember yelling at him when his matches took to the curtains. I remember the smoke in the hallway and how the flames cackled like witches. I remember looking for a door when there was no door to find. I remember how the small windows towered tall above us like uncaring sentinels waiting our deaths. I remember clutching him in the corner of our room, a towel thrown beneath the door to ward off smoke. I remember the tears when the fireman rescued us. I remember the funeral thereafter where two coffins sat side by side, with only one me between them. They had taken Dorian away by that point.
“Things can never be the same again, Leona.”