Sebastian sat alone in the kitchen the day he got the letter. Tapping his pencil on the wooden table, his mind was racing as to what to put on the blank lined paper before him. His Thursday assignment from the university was to write about someone they deeply care for using figurative language. His thoughts immediately went to the tattered photograph in his leather wallet of him and his younger brother Donovan. He felt a sharp pain pulse under his shoulder-blade when he thought of “Donnie”, not knowing if he was nothing more than a corpse in a field or if he was still rolling away from the Reaper in his tank. Sebastian lost sleep some nights, wishing they had swapped places. He was supposed to protect Donnie, not the other way around. That was the way it always was as their wrathful drunk of a father, belt in hand, pacing the hall, screaming their names to punish them both for an empty carton of milk. Sebastian always made Donnie hide under the bed and he would go into the lion’s den, the sting of each lash becoming more tolerable than the last. He never wanted Donnie to shed blood for him and Sebastian caught himself envisioning Donnie’s hand turning the doorknob to come back into his life, into this home he was forced to leave through the draft.
Sebastian slowly laced the date together with the ink of his pen on paper. April 12, 1945. Donnie had been stationed on Asian soil a few days after his 18th birthday in February. Two months was a long time during the war, especially for Sebastian. The pen bleeds a black splotch on the page and the pain in his shoulder begins to throb again. His eyes felt a burning sensation of tears he could not bring himself to shed, not while Donnie is still out there wanting him to stop worrying about him.
The three knocks on the door startled him, He read the time on his watch, knowing it was too early for mail delivery. His heart pounded as he took steps towards the door. He could see the faces of men in navy uniforms, one holding an envelope in his gloved fingers. He hesitated, his fingers grazed the gold-faded knob he was so afraid to turn. He knew that if the door opened, He may kill his constant dreams of Donnie coming back. He had to face the unbearable truth.
“Mr. Sebastian Crane,” one of the men inquired with an unwavering face.
“Yes, that is me, sir,” Sebastian replied, focusing intently on the white envelope.
“Your brother, Donovan Crane, has been severely injured while aboard his tank on Japanese lines. This is his Honorable Discharge letter and he is receiving medical treatment as we speak. He will be in full recovery at the San Francisco General Hospital. It was an honor to have your brother serve with our military. Good day to you, Mr. Crane.”
Sebastian felt his a cool chill trace down his spine, envelope in his clammy hand. He stood frozen, watching the men walk to their vehicle in such an orderly fashion, as though they knew his eyes were following them. His beloved brother, alive. Sebastian raced to the counter, grabbed the keys, and raced to his Dodge parked on the driveway, neglecting to lock the door behind him.
The halls of the hospital were illuminated in white overhead lights that made Sebastian forget night lurked outside. He reached the front desk, exasperated.
“Ma’am, could you tell me where Donnie, er, Donovan Crane is being held?” He could feel his heart trembling wildly under his ribs.
“Let me check for you sir. May I ask who is looking for him,” her facial muscles holding the question still.
“I am his brother, Sebastian. Please, ma’am. I need to see him right away.”
“Well we aren’t supposed to have visitors for a full 24 hours. They can’t be disturbed.”
He could not believe what he was hearing. His cheeks began to get a bit hotter and he felt his jaw clench.
“The only thing that is going to be disturbed around here is your little job up here if you don’t take me to him right now,” Sebastian demanded.
She looked down at her scuffed shoes and made her way around the counter.
“Right this way, Mr. Crane.” She led him past open doorways of quietly sleeping men in their white- threaded sheets. He tried to imagine his brother’s unbroken face and body, just in case the man he saw before him was an imposter to his eyes, his memories of Donnie. The woman’s shoes tap ahead of him to a room full of low-to-the ground beds with scarred, bruised, men, some with hoisted up limbs and some with missing ones. He passed the aisle of bandaged heads and bloodied towels. His eyes caught the glimpse of dark brown hair and a Michelangelo sculpted jawline. Sebastian knew the profile of this face and he rushed past the woman to Donnie’s bedside.
“Donnie! Donnie, I’m here, Bas is here,” soft tears beginning to make their way from his sky-blue eyes, ones that he and Donnie shared.
“Sir, you are disrupting him,” the woman’s voice bellowed behind him.
“Could you leave us alone please,” Sebastian coldly asked, hoping his slightly cracking voice wouldn’t give him away. He then heard the woman’s shoes slowly tap further and further away until they were inaudible. Donnie’s head slowly turned to face Sebastian. He languidly smile his soft, warming smile that would bring silence to a room of quarreling.
“Bas. Boy, am I glad to see you,” Donnie finally said, the black and blue bruising on his face being broken by his smile. Sebastian looked upon his brother, pained by his brother’s obvious agony he hid as though he only had a paper cut.
“I have missed you, Donnie,” Sebastian said softly.
“I missed you too, brother. If we get any sappier, people may think we’re lovers or something. We can’t ruin my reputation in the hospital, right,” Donnie joked tenderly.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Sebastian laid back in his seat, smiling. “Rub some dirt on it, Donnie.” They laughed together. Donnie began to shift in his bed using his hands. “So, what do they got you in here for,” Sebastian asked, not seeing physical injuries that could be worthy of honorable discharge.
Donnie patted the outline of his thighs under the blanket. “Well…when I was running back to the tank, a Jap put a bullet in my back. I fell and I couldn’t move my legs, so my boys had to carry me back into the tank. They’re the reason I’m alive, you know.” He paused, averting his eyes from Sebastian as he continued. “I was taken back to the medical ward and they managed to get the bullet out, but…I don’t know how else to put it. I have a hard time believing it myself…I…won’t be expected to walk again.” Donnie looked at Sebastian with a slight smile, “Don’t worry, Bas. It’ll all work out. Just have to get used to dancing in my wheelchair.”
All Sebastian could do was stare at Donnie’s immobile legs. His shoulder blade began to rage with a sharp pain that made him curse his father, the man that broke him with a bat, keeping him from taking Donnie’s place in the raining of bullets.
I could have saved him. This thought stirred in his mind, the beginning of a haunting he knew he could not escape.
(Donovan “Donnie” Crane, Sebastian’s brother)