Peter crouched in front of the attic window and gazed down on old man Mueller's cornfield. The plow, unhitched beyond the stalks, turned north like he meant to continue but got interrupted. Peter looked toward the barn, no sign of Mueller's horse and buggy. The Amish and Mennonite neighbors, with their peculiar ways kept to themselves. Mueller only talked to his pa when he accused Rufus of killing his chickens, or a year ago, the day his brother's mind broke when Gabe went screaming from the veranda twisting his ears as he ran into Muller's cornfield. That day Mueller shot out of the house, the top of his unsnapped overalls flapping as he sprinted after Gabe, Mueller's wife and five children dashed onto the porch, the boys still in their pajamas.
After that day, Gabe was never the same, and neither was Peter.
At fourteen, he felt all grownup. His childhood ended when his brother and best friend came down with a cold inside his brain. Ma said h'd get better. They just had to pray harder. Pa wanted to send him somewhere, to a place where they removed part of the brain or shocked it into normal. Peter listened as they argued back and forth, Ma blaming herself and Pa's eyes wet with tears, as they tried to decide what was best for their eldest son; feelings of helplessness sat like a centerpiece on the dining room table.
"How come I don't hear the voices, Ma?"
"Thank the good Lord you don't, son."
Gab's trumpet playing now sailed out of his window across the beauty of the corn and wheat fields, the notes drifting as new ones began over the vast cloudless skies of Lancaster County. Gabe played Taps, Taps in the morning, Taps in the afternoon, and Taps at night. Peter thought it must have to do with the sadness inside him, but once in a while Gabe scratched the air with a different kind of song; it would sail smooth, cut off, spiral and dip. In those moments, he thought his brother had talent, enough to make Peter enjoy the fantasies they provoked. He coaxed Gabe to take lessons, maybe play at the church, learn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, so people would like himthat part he left out. Gabe had scowled, and Peter fell quiet, afraid h'd make his brother go to that place where a chorus of devils shuffled his mind.
Peter learned to rake words the way he did leaves. Words like sure, and all right calmed him, but others like before, and used to, could bring on a fit.
The kitchen screen door slammed as Gabe came out of the house and stood on the veranda. He brought the trumpet to his lips and began to play. Peter bounded to his feet. Gabe had never taken the trumpet outside or played it in front of others. Peter hoped this meant h'd been healed, that his parents' prayers and his own were finally answered. Excited, he ran down the stairs wanting his parents to see. He passed the room he once shared with his brother until his pa separated them cause of the sickness. He jumped onto the landing and rode the banister sidesaddle down to the living room.
Peter ran through the kitchen where his mother's cornbread sat on the stove. He caught a whiff of its warm, sweet smell and realized his brother had stopped playing.
He pushed the screen door open, but Gabe wasn't there.
"Rufus, come here boy!" he shouted from the porch. "Pa?" Where was everyone? His eyes darted from the tether ball, to the lawnmower, to the Troyer's house. The late September day was as still as the sun. It was Saturday. Life always had something going on. It didn't just stop.
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