"How long do you plan to be in the United States, Ms. Toynbee?"
"Purpose of your visit?"
I don't know why I didn't just say "visiting relatives." Sometimes, when I'm this tired, I open my mouth and the truth comes out.
"I'm here to get my brother's ashes and take them back home for burial."
The customs agent doesn't lose his poker face, but his voice is a shade softer. "I'm sorry to hear that, ma'am. Do you have anything to declare?"
"No." They're damn well going to search my luggage in any case. The fact that Magneto threw Mortimer out for being insufficiently bloodthirsty hasn't kept him from using my brother's death as a pretext for more terrorist attacks.
Professor Xavier has a car waiting to bring me from the airport to his mansion. Their security's a good bit tighter than the airport's. This is my first visit, and I can't help but wonder how different it might have looked a year ago, or two years ago.
Agnes looks like she's aged ten years since I last saw her, when Hannah was 6 months old and they came to visit Mum and Dad. Hannah herself is the reason I'm here; Agnes can't travel with her any more, and she won't leave her, so that left me as the one most able to take care of the necessary arrangements.
At the moment, my mutant niece is in the throes of a temper tantrum. Not unusual for a two-year-old, though her ability to splinter the floorboards with the force of her kicks isn't something the baby books prepare you for. She screams just like any other toddler though, fury and indignation and unbearable grief all rolled into one. For a moment I wish I could get down on the floor and howl with her.
Fortunately, one of Xavier's people is there to help so Agnes and I can have a little time alone. Logan, as he's apparently called, scoops Hannah up with the ease of long practice. "Come on, squirt," he says, and he pins her flailing body under his arm and takes her outside. The sound of her furious "Nooooooo!" gradually fades in the distance, and I'm able to hug my sister in peace.
Peace. Funny word for what we're going through.
There's no end, no bottom to my grief for the brother I knew for just over two years. I suppose in part it's because his death has become a stand-in for all the other griefs: a world torn apart by intolerance and violence; a little girl who's now the only one of her kind; parents who will never be able to forgive themselves for abandoning their firstborn.
Prison was just like the outside world, only more so. Mortimer was stabbed to death with a bit of sharpened metal by a fellow prisoner.
Apparently when he turned himself in he just gave up entirely. He did whatever the guards told him to--I try like hell not to imagine what they told him to do--ate just enough to keep from being force-fed, spoke only when he had to, tried to stay out of everyone's way. It wasn't enough. They still hated him, and when he wouldn't fight back, that enraged them even more.
They told us he was stabbed in a fight in which he struck not a single blow, and that he died without a sound.
I can't do anything for Agnes, still less for Hannah. It hurts to look at her, both because I keep envisioning the life that lies ahead of her and because she looks so much like him. I leave as soon as I can. It can't be good for her to see people flinch at the sight of her, especially the people that are supposed to love her.
Eventually I'm back at the airport, feeling as though I just left it, opening the canister since it's x-ray opaque so they can see it's just ashes, no threat. Not any more.
Driving past the church on the way to Mum and Dad's, I have the sudden urge to stop the car and spit on the damned stone wall around the bloody churchyard. That priest, so solemn and sympathetic, telling us word had got out about my brother's death, and that because of his crimes and his--polite cough-- "unusual characteristics" there would likely be protests if we tried to bury him at the church, and "You don't want to expose yourselves to that sort of unpleasantness at a time like this"--fucking hypocrite, didn't want to expose himself to it was what he meant. And Mum and Dad were so worn out they agreed without a fight, so we're burying him tonight in a grove near the house, where no one can see us. Maybe someday, if things get better, Hannah can visit him here and remember when they used to climb trees together.
Mum and Dad take turns reading the burial service, spelling each other when they choke up, and I'm just frozen here, numb and stupid. Suddenly the words mean nothing, and all I can hear in my head is much older words, from that Greek play I studied back in school. God, who knew it would stick in my memory, who knew it would turn out to be more relevant than anything else I ever read?
"I am going now to heap the earth above the brother that I loved."
Author's note: In the years since Margaret read "Antigone" she's forgotten who translated the version she knows. But you can find someone else's version at http://classics.mit.edu/Sophocles/antigone.html
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