search
now reading: Two Brothers | Evgeny Schwartz
search

Evgeny Schwartz | from:Russian

Two Brothers

Translated by : Anne Marie Jackson

Introduction by Sivan Beskin

"Two Brothers" is a unique and touching children’s story written by Russian writer, playwright and script writer Evgeny Shvarts (1896-1958). Shvarts worked with the literary group Oberiu, which was active in Leningrad (present-day Saint Petersburg) at the end of the 20’s and beginning of the 30’s of the 20th century. Among the more prominent members of the group were poets Nikolai Zabolotsky and Danill Kharms. Oberiu was, in fact, an avant-garde group that was drawn to the absurd and grotesque, but the hard times compelled it to express itself, to a large extent, in children’s literature, where the group could go wild, what could not be done in adult fiction, that was censured to the bone.
Shvarts’ children’s story seems at first glance relatively traditional, mainly because of it great subtlety, but a sympathetic reader will find the signs of that daring and free avant-garde spirit which characterized the wilder members of Oberiu. This unique touch is found in the small details of Two Brothers, which tells the tale of one brother’s dedication to the other, a dedication which is put to the test, fails and then triumphs once again.

Read more

 Trees cannot talk and they stand as if riveted to the spot, but they are alive nonetheless.  They’re breathing. They keep growing for as long as they live. Even enormous old-man trees – they grow a little each year the same as small children.

Sheep are grazed by shepherds, and forests are looked after by foresters.

And so it was that once upon a time in an enormous forest there lived a forester by the name of Blackbeard.  He roamed up and down the forest all day long and he knew every tree in his sector by name.

The forester was always happy in the forest, but at home he often sighed and scowled. In the forest everything was fine, whereas at home the poor forester was aggrieved by his sons, Big Brother and Little Brother. Big Brother was twelve and Little Brother was seven.

But however much the forester remonstrated with his children, however much he pleaded, the brothers fought every day as if they didn’t even love each another.

One day, on the morning of the twenty-eighth of December, the forester called his sons to him and said he wouldn’t be putting up a New Year’s tree for them. Someone would have to travel to the city to get decorations for the tree, and if mama went she’d get eaten by wolves along the way. He himself couldn’t go because he didn’t know the shops. But they couldn’t go together, either.  Alone without their parents, Big Brother would be the end of Little Brother.

Big Brother was a clever boy.  He was a good student who read a lot and could speak persuasively.  So he began persuading his father that he wouldn’t do anything to Little Brother and that everything would be just fine until his parents came home from the city.

“Do you give me your word?” asked his father.

“I give you my word of honour,” replied Big Brother.

“Very well, then,” his father said. “We’ll be gone for three days and return the evening of the thirty-first at around eight o’clock. Until then you’ll be in charge here. You’ll be responsible for the house, but above all you’ll be responsible for your brother. You’ll be acting as his father. Mind that you do!”

Then mama prepared three lunches, three breakfasts and three dinners to last them for three days and showed the boys how to warm them up. And father brought in three days’ worth of firewood and gave Big Brother a box of matches. Afterwards, they harnessed the horse to the sleigh, the bells began to tinkle, the runners began to squeak, and the parents departed.

The first day went well, the second went even better.

Then came the thirty-first of December. At six o’clock in the evening Big Brother gave Little Brother his dinner, then sat down to read a book, The Adventures of Sindbad the Sailor. He had reached the most interesting part where above the ship the bird roc appears, huge as a thunder cloud and carrying a boulder the size of a house in its talons.

Big Brother wanted to find out what happened next, but Little Brother was hanging around, bored and wanting something to do. So Little Brother started asking: “Would you play with me, please?”

This is how their quarrels always began. Little Brother would get bored without Big Brother, who would turn on his brother pitilessly and shout: “Let me have some peace and quiet!”

This time it ended badly. Big Brother put up with it and put up with it, but then he grabbed Little Brother by the scruff of the neck and shouted, “Let me have some peace and quiet!” And he pushed him outside and locked the door.

But during the winter it gets dark early and already it was like night outside. Little Brother began to pound against the door and shouted: “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be acting as my father!”

Big Brother’s heart contracted for a moment and he took a step towards the door. Then he thought: “It’s all right. I’ll just read another five lines and let him back in. Nothing can happen in that time.”

So he sat in the armchair and began to read, and soon he was absorbed in the book. When he looked up at the clock it was already a quarter to eight.

Big Brother leapt to his feet and cried: “Oh no! What have I done? Little Brother is out there all by himself in the freezing cold, and he’s not even wearing a coat!”

And out he dashed into the yard.

It was a deep dark night and perfectly still all around.

Big Brother shouted out Little Brother’s name as loud as he could, but there was no answer.

Then Big Brother lit a lantern and searched in every nook and cranny in the yard.

His brother had disappeared without a trace.

The ground was freshly dusted with snow, but in the snow there wasn’t a trace of Little Brother.  He had disappeared into the unknown, as if abducted by the bird roc.

Big Brother began to weep bitterly and begged aloud for Little Brother’s forgiveness.

But it made no difference.  Little Brother didn’t answer.

The clock in the house struck eight. Just then, the tinkle of sleigh bells could be heard from far away in the woods.

“That’s our parents coming home,” Big Brother thought in distress. “If only I could turn back time two hours! I wouldn’t send Little Brother out into the yard and we’d be standing happily side by side.”

But the sleigh bells were getting closer and closer. Soon the snort of the horse could be heard, then the squeak of the runners, and then the sleigh entered the yard.  Father leapt out of the sleigh.  It was so cold that his black beard was covered with frost and was now absolutely white.

Mother followed father out of the sleigh with a large basket in her arms. Father and mother were in good spirits – they were unaware of the tragedy that had occurred at home.

“Why have you come out without your coat on?” asked mother.

“And where’s Little Brother?” asked father. Big Brother didn’t say a word.

“Where’s your little brother?” father asked again.

Big Brother began to weep. Father took him by the arm and led him into the house, and mother followed silently.  Big Brother told his parents everything.

When he had finished, the boy looked at his father. Although the room was warm, the frost on his father’s beard hadn’t melted.  Big Brother gave a cry. Suddenly he realised it was no longer frost on his father’s beard. Such was his father’s grief that his beard had turned white.

“Put your coat on,” his father said quietly. “Put your coat on and go. And don’t dare to come back until you’ve found your little brother.”

“Are we to be left completely childless?” asked his mother tearfully. But his father didn’t answer.

Big Brother put on his coat, took the lantern and left the house.

He walked and called his brother’s name, walked and called, but there was no answer. All around was familiar forest, yet Big Brother felt that he was now alone on earth. Trees, of course, are living beings, but they cannot talk and they stand as if riveted to the spot.

Besides, during the winter they’re deep in slumber. So there was no one for the boy to talk to. He went round all those places where he’d so often run about with his little brother. And now it was hard for him to understand why they had spent their lives arguing, as if they didn’t even love each another. He thought about how skinny Little Brother was, about the strand of hair that was always sticking out at the back of his head and how he’d laugh on the rare occasions that Big Brother joked around with him, and how happy he was and how hard he would try whenever Big Brother included him in a game. And Big Brother felt such sorrow for his brother that he noticed neither the cold nor the dark nor the silence. Only, from time to time, he would take fright and peer around like a hare. To be sure, at the age of twelve Big Brother was already a big boy, but next to the enormous trees in the forest he seemed very small. Now his father’s sector of the forest came to an end, and the sector began of the neighbouring forester who would visit every Sunday and play chess with their father.

Then his sector came to an end and the boy was walking through the sector of the forester who would visit only once a month. Then came the sectors of the foresters that the boy saw only once every three months, once every six months and once a year. The lantern had gone out long ago, but Big Brother kept on walking, on and on, faster and faster.

Then he came to the end of the sectors of the foresters he’d only heard of but never met.

Here the road began to climb higher and higher, and when day broke, he could see all around: as far as the eye could see were mountains covered in dense forest.

Big Brother stopped.

He knew it was seven weeks by sleigh from their home to the mountains. How had he managed to get here overnight?

Then the boy heard a faint tinkling from somewhere far away. At first he thought the tinkling was in his ears. Then he began to tremble with joy – weren’t those sleigh bells? Perhaps his little brother had been found and father was coming after Big Brother to bring him home?

But the sound came no closer, and he’d never heard sleigh bells that sounded so thin and even.

“I’ll go find out what that tinkling sound is,” said Big Brother.

He walked for an hour, then two, then three. The tinkling was getting louder and louder. Then the boy found himself in the midst of the most extraordinary trees – all around were tall pines that were transparent like glass. The crowns of the pines were so glittering in the sun that it was painful even to look at them. The pines swayed in the wind, branches beating against branches, and tinkling, tinkling, tinkling.

The boy went further and saw transparent firs, transparent birches, transparent maples. In the middle of a clearing stood an enormous transparent oak which droned deeply like a bumblebee. The boy slipped a little, then looked beneath his feet. What was this? In these woods even the earth was transparent! And disappearing into the depths of the earth, becoming darker and intertwining like snakes, were the transparent roots of the trees.

The boy went up to a birch and broke off a twig. As he examined it the twig began to melt like an icicle.

Big Brother realised that the woods around him had frozen straight through and turned to ice. And that these woods were growing in earth that was ice, and that the roots of the trees were also ice.

“If it’s so cold out, I wonder why I don’t feel it?” Big Brother asked.

“I’ve decreed that the cold should cause you no harm for now,” replied someone in a thin, ringing voice.

The boy looked around.

Standing behind him was a tall old man wearing a fur coat, hat and felt boots all of pure snow. The old man’s beard and moustaches were of ice and when he spoke they tinkled faintly. The old man watched the boy without blinking. This face, which was neither good nor wicked, was so calm and cool that the boy’s heart contracted.

The old man paused. Then, distinctly and evenly, as if reading from a book or giving dictation, he said again: “I Have Decreed That The Cold Should Cause You No Harm For Now. Not the slightest harm. Do you know who I am?”

“Would you be Grandfather Frost?” asked the boy.

“Most certainly not!” replied the old man coldly. “Grandfather Frost is my son. I curse the lout – he’s far too good-natured. No, I am Great Grandfather Frost, which is another matter entirely, my young friend. Follow me.”

And the old man went ahead, treading soundlessly upon the ice in soft felt boots that were as white as snow.

Soon they stopped at the foot of a high, steep hill. Great Grandfather Frost burrowed into the snow of which his fur coat was made and extracted an enormous key of ice.

A lock clicked, and heavy gates of ice opened in the hill.

“Follow me,” repeated the old man.

“But I need to find my brother!” exclaimed the boy.

“Your brother is here,” said Great Grandfather Frost calmly and coolly. “Follow me.”

They entered the hill and the gates swung shut with a ring, and Big Brother found himself in an enormous, empty hall of ice. Through the high, wide-open doors he could see into the next hall, and beyond it into another hall and another. There seemed to be no end to these vast empty rooms. Shining on the walls were round lamps of ice. And above the door into the next hall was a sign of ice etched with the number 2.

“There are forty-nine such halls in my palace. Follow me,” ordered Great Grandfather Frost.

The ice floor was so slippery that the boy fell twice, but the old man didn’t even look back.  He walked ahead at a measured pace and stopped only in the ice palace’s twenty-fifth hall.

Standing in the middle of this hall was a tall white stove. The boy was greatly relieved. He very much wanted to warm up.

But in this oven were logs of ice burning with a black flame. Black sparks leapt along the floor. And out of the oven doors came an icy chill.

Great Grandfather Frost lowered himself onto an ice bench beside the ice oven and held his icy fingers towards the icy flame.

“Sit here beside me. Let’s freeze a little,” he suggested to the boy.

The boy didn’t answer.

But the old man settled himself more comfortably and froze, froze, froze, until the ice logs were nothing but ice embers.

Then Great Grandfather Frost filled the oven with more ice logs and set them alight with ice matches.

“Now I’ll devote some time to conversing with you,” he said to the boy. “You Must Listen To Me Carefully. Do You Understand?

The boy nodded.

And Great Grandfather Frost continued, distinctly and evenly:

“You Drove Your Little Brother Out Into The Cold. You Told Him To Let You Have Some Peace And Quiet. Your behaviour pleases me. You love peace and quiet as much as I do. You shall stay here for ever. Have you got that?”

“But they’re waiting for us at home!” exclaimed Big Brother pathetically.

“You Shall Stay Here For Ever,” Great Grandfather Frost repeated.

He went up to the oven and shook out the folds of his snowy fur coat. The boy cried out in sorrow. Birds were spilling from the snowy folds onto the ice floor. Blue tits, nuthatches, woodpeckers and little woodland creatures. Dishevelled and dazed, they lay in a heap on the floor.

“These busy creatures won’t let the woods have any peace and quiet, not even in winter,” said the old man.

“Are they dead?” asked the boy.

“I’ve stilled them, but not all the way,” replied Great Grandfather Frost. “They need to be held before the stove until they become completely transparent and turn to ice. Do This Useful Job Right Now.”

“I’ll run away!” shouted the boy.

“You are not running anywhere!” replied Great Grandfather Frost. “Your brother is locked up in hall number forty-nine. For now you will stay because of him, but eventually you will get used to me. Now get down to work.”

And the boy sat down before the open door of the stove. He lifted a woodpecker from the floor and his hands began to tremble. It seemed that the bird was still breathing. But the old man was watching him unblinkingly, so the boy gloomily held out the woodpecker towards the icy flame.

First, the wretched bird’s feathers turned as white as snow. Then the bird became entirely transparent, like glass. The old man said:

“It’s finished! Now do the next one.”

The boy worked until late in the night, and Great Grandfather Frost stood motionlessly beside him. Then he carefully arranged the ice birds in a sack and asked the boy: “Are your hands frozen?”

“No,” he answered.

“That is because I’ve decreed that the cold should cause you no harm for now,” said the old man. “But remember! If You Disobey Me, I Shall Freeze You. Sit here and wait. I’ll soon return.”

And Great Grandfather Frost took the sack and went into the depths of the palace. The boy remained alone.

Somewhere far away, a door swung shut with a ring, its echo resounding throughout the halls.

Then Great Grandfather Frost returned with an empty sack.

“Now it’s time to retire for the night,” said Great Grandfather Frost. And he showed the boy a bed of ice in the corner. He himself lay down on a similar bed at the other end of the hall.

Two or three minutes later, the boy thought he heard someone winding a pocket watch. But soon he realised it was Great Grandfather Frost snoring softly in his sleep.

In the morning the old man woke him.

“Go to the store room,” he said. “The cupboard doors are in the left corner of the hall. Bring breakfast number one. It’s on shelf number nine.”

The boy went to the store room. It was as big as a hall. On the shelves was frozen food. Big Brother brought out breakfast number one on a serving dish of ice.

There were cutlets, tea and bread, and all of it was frozen and had to be either gnawed or sucked like an ice cube.

“I’m off hunting,” said Great Grandfather Frost when he had finished breakfast. “You may walk through all of the rooms and even leave the palace. Goodbye, my young disciple.”

Then Great Grandfather Frost left, stepping soundlessly in his snow-white felt boots, and the boy dashed off towards hall number forty-nine. He ran and fell and called his brother’s name as loud as he could, but the only response was an echo. At last he reached hall number forty-nine and stopped as if riveted to the spot.

Every door stood wide open except for one, the last door, with the number “49” above it.

This last hall was locked tight.

“Little Brother!” he cried. “I’ve come to get you. Are you there?”

“Are you there?” repeated the echo.

The door was carved from a piece of solid oak that was frozen straight through. The boy dug his nails into the icy oak bark, but his fingers slid and lost their grip. Then he began pounding at the door with his fists, shoulder and legs until he had no strength left. But not a splinter of ice broke away from the frozen oak.

Quietly the boy went back, and at practically the same moment Great Grandfather Frost entered the hall.

After a frozen dinner, the boy held the wretched frozen birds, squirrels and hares before the frozen fire until late at night.

And so it went, day after day for days on end.

Each and every day Big Brother thought and thought about one and the same thing: how to break open the frozen oak door. He searched every inch of the store room.  He pushed aside the sacks of frozen cabbage, frozen grain and frozen nuts in hope of finding an axe. At last he found one, but the axe glanced off the frozen oak as if it were stone.

And all through his waking hours, and all through his sleep, Big Brother kept thinking about one and the same thing.

The old man praised the boy for his quiet and peaceful demeanour. Standing beside the little stove as still as a pillar and watching the little birds, hares and squirrels turn to ice, Great Grandfather Frost said: “Yes, I was right about you, my young friend. ‘Let me have some peace and quiet!’ What magnificent words. People are always using these words to ruin their brothers. ‘Let me have some peace and quiet!’ One Day These Magnificent Words Will Establish Eternal Peace And Quiet On Earth.”

Father and mother and poor Little Brother and all the foresters that he’d met spoke simply, but Great Grandfather Frost spoke as if he were reading from a book, and his words made Big Brother feel the same distress as did the enormous numbered halls.

The old man loved to reminisce about those times oh so long ago when glaciers covered nearly half the earth.

“Ah, how quiet it was, how wonderful it was to live back then in the cold white world!” he would say, and his icy moustaches and beard would softly tinkle. “I was young then and full of strength. Wherever did my dear friends disappear – those peaceful massive giants, the mammoths? How I loved talking to them! To be sure, the mammoth’s language is difficult. The words of these enormous creatures were enormous too and extraordinarily long.  It took at least two days, sometimes even three to pronounce a single mammoth word. But We Had Nowhere To Hurry.”

But one day while listening to Great Grandfather Frost’s stories, the boy suddenly began to jump up and down like one gone mad.

“What is the meaning of this absurd behaviour?” asked Great Grandfather Frost.

The boy didn’t say a word, but his heart was pounding with joy.

When you keep thinking about one and the same thing, eventually you’re bound to come up with an answer.

Matches!

The boy remembered the matches in his pocket that his father had given him when he was leaving for the city.

The next morning hardly had Great Grandfather Frost left to go hunting before the boy took the axe and a rope from the store room and ran out of the palace.

The old man went to the left, and the boy ran to the right, towards the living woods that stood darkly behind the transparent trunks of the ice trees. At the very edge of the living woods was an enormous pine lying in the snow. He began chopping and returned to the palace with a large cord of wood.

At the frozen oak door to hall forty-nine the boy built a great fire. The match flared, the kindling began to crackle, the wood began to burn and up leapt a real flame. The boy began to laugh happily. He sat beside the fire and bathed in its warmth.

At first the oak door merely glistened and it shone so that it was painful to look at, but at last it was entirely covered with tiny droplets of water. When the fire went out, the boy could see that the door had thawed ever so slightly.

“Aha!” he said, and struck the door with the axe. But as before the frozen oak was as hard as a rock.

“All right, then!” the boy said. “I’ll start over tomorrow.”

That evening while sitting beside the ice stove the boy took a tiny blue tit and carefully hid it in his sleeve. Great Grandfather Frost didn’t notice a thing. The next day when the fire had begun to burn the boy held the little bird before the fire.

He waited and waited. Suddenly, its beak trembled, its eyes opened, and little by little the bird looked at the boy.

“Hello!” said the boy, nearly weeping with joy. “Just you wait, Great Grandfather Frost! We’re going to live a bit longer!”

He now began to thaw the birds, squirrels and hares every day. He built little houses of snow for his friends in the corners of the hall where it was darker.  He spread the little houses with moss that he gathered from the living woods. It was cold at night, of course, but the birds and squirrels and hares would store up warmth from the fire to last them to the next morning.

The sacks full of cabbage, grain and nuts now came in useful. The boy gave his friends all they could eat. Then he would play with them by the fire and tell them about his brother who was hidden behind the door. The birds and squirrels and hares seemed to understand him.

One day, the boy brought in a cord of wood, laid the fire and sat down beside it as always. But none of his friends came out of their little snow houses.

The boy was about to ask, “Where is everyone?” But a heavy, icy hand forcefully pushed him away from the fire.

It was Great Grandfather Frost, who had stolen up soundlessly behind him in his snow-white felt boots.

He blew upon the fire, and the logs became transparent and the flames black. When the ice wood had burnt out, the oak door returned to how it had been many days before.

“If I Catch You Again I’ll Turn You To Ice,” said Great Grandfather Frost coldly. And he took the axe from the floor and hid it deep in the snowy folds of his fur coat.

All day the boy wept. That night out of grief he fell slept like a dead man. Then, suddenly, he sensed something through his sleep: someone’s soft paws cautiously tapping his cheek.

The boy opened his eyes.

At his side stood a hare.

All of his friends had gathered around his ice bed. They had not come out of their little houses that morning because they had sensed danger. But now that Great Grandfather Frost was asleep, they had come to their friend’s assistance.

When the boy had awakened, seven squirrels dashed across the hall to the ice bed of the old man. They slipped into Great Grandfather Frost’s snowy fur coat and burrowed for something for some time. Then something softly tinkled.

“Let me have some peace and quiet,” mumbled the old man in his sleep. The squirrels jumped down to the floor and ran up to the boy.

Then he saw: in their teeth they were carrying a large bunch of ice keys.

The boy understood everything.

Keys in hands, he dashed to hall number forty-nine. Flying, leaping and running behind him were his friends.

They reached the oak door.

The boy found a key with the number “49”. But where was the keyhole? In vain he searched and searched.

A nuthatch flew up to the door. Fastening its claws to the oak bark, it crawled upside down along the door. Then it found something, and gave a low chirp. Seven woodpeckers flew to the spot on the door indicated by the nuthatch.

The woodpeckers pecked patiently at the ice with their hard beaks. They pecked and pecked and pecked. Then a square board of ice suddenly fell from the door to the ground and shattered.

And behind the board the boy saw a large keyhole.

He inserted the key and turned it. The lock clicked, and at long last the stubborn door opened with a ringing sound.

Trembling, the boy entered the final hall of the ice palace. On the floor were heaps of transparent frozen birds and animals.

And on a table of ice in the middle of the room stood poor Little Brother. He seemed very sad and was looking straight ahead. There were tears glistening on his cheeks, and, as always, a strand of hair was sticking out at the back of his head. But he was entirely transparent, like glass. And his face, and his hands, and his coat, and the strand of hair at the back of his neck were all of ice. He wasn’t breathing and he didn’t speak – he didn’t say a word to his bother. And Big Brother whispered: “Let’s run! Come on, let’s run! Mama’s waiting for us! Let’s hurry and run home!”

Without waiting for a reply, Big Brother gathered his frozen brother in his arms and ran cautiously down the ice halls towards the door out of the palace, his friends flying and leaping and running behind him.

As before, Great Grandfather Frost was sound asleep, so they managed to escape from the palace.

The sun had only just come up. The trees of ice were so glittering that it was painful to look at them. Big Brother began running cautiously towards the living woods. He was afraid of stumbling and dropping Little Brother. Suddenly, there was a loud cry behind him.

Great Grandfather Frost’s thin voice was yelling so loudly that the trees of ice were trembling.

“Boy!” he yelled. “Boy!”

Immediately it grew terrifyingly cold.  Big Brother felt his legs getting cold and his arms freezing and going numb. But Little Brother was looking sadly straight ahead and his frozen tears glittered in the sun.

“Stop!” the old man ordered.

Big Brother stopped.

And then all the birds snuggled around the boy like a cosy living fur coat. Big Brother revived and ran onwards, looking cautiously at the ground beneath his feet and protecting his younger brother for all he was worth.

The old man was drawing closer, but the boy didn’t dare run faster – the icy earth was so slippery. Just when he thought it was all over, the hares hurled themselves headlong beneath the wicked old man’s feet. Great Grandfather Frost fell. When he got back up, the hares brought him down to the ground again, trembling with fear all the while – but they had to save their best friend. When Great Grandfather Frost got up for the last time, the boy was already far below in the living woods, holding his brother tight. And Great Grandfather Frost began to weep tears of rage.

And when he began to weep, it immediately became warmer.

Big Brother could see that all around the snow was rapidly melting and the streams were flowing in the gullies. And down below, at the foot of the mountains, the buds on the trees were beginning to swell.

“Look – a snow drop!” Big Brother cried joyfully. But Little Brother didn’t say a word. He was still the same, as motionless as a doll and looking sadly straight ahead.

“It’s OK. Father can do anything!” said Big Brother to Little Brother. “He’ll revive you. I’m sure of it!”

Now the boy began to run as fast as his legs would carry him, holding his brother tight in his arms. It was grief that had driven him so quickly to the mountains, but now it was joy that made him speed along like a whirlwind. He had found his brother, after all.

Here ended the sectors of the foresters the boy had only heard of, and flashing past now were the sectors of the foresters the boy saw once a year, once every six months and once every three months. And the closer he was to home, the warmer it became all around. His friends the hares were joyfully turning somersaults, his friends the squirrels were leaping from branch to branch, and his friends the birds were whistling and singing. Trees may not know how to talk, but even they were rustling joyfully, for their leaves were coming forth. Spring had arrived.

Suddenly Big Brother lost his footing.

At the bottom of a small pit, beneath an old maple where the sun never shone, was a patch of dark snow that had thawed only a little.

Big Brother fell down.

And poor Little Brother hit the root of the tree.

With a sad tinkling sound he shattered into tiny pieces.

At once the forest grew hushed.

And from the snow came a muted voice, thin and familiar:

“That was my doing, of course! You Shall Not Get Away So Easily.”

Big Brother fell to the ground and wept more bitterly than he had ever wept in his life. There was nothing to console him, nothing to ease his suffering.

He wept and wept until out of grief he slept like a dead man.

But the birds assembled Little Brother bit by bit, the squirrels fitted each piece together using their prehensile paws and fixed them with birch glue. Then they tightly encircled Little Brother like a cosy living fur coat. When the sun came up, they all flew away. Little Brother was lying in the spring sunshine, which was carefully and gently warming him. The tears on Little Brother’s face now dried. His eyes closed peacefully. His hands grew warm. Stripes appeared on his coat. His shoes turned black. And the lock of hair at the back of his head grew soft. The little boy inhaled once, twice, then began to breathe regularly and evenly, the way he always used to breathe in his sleep.

And when Big Brother awoke, his brother was whole and unharmed and sleeping on a little rise. Big Brother got to his feet, opened his eyes wide and blinked, unable to understand. But the birds whistled, the forest rustled and the water gurgled loudly in the creek beds.

Then Big Brother came to his senses. He ran to Little Brother and took him by the hand.

Little Brother opened his eyes. And, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world, he asked: “Oh, is it you? What time is it?”

Big Brother hugged him and helped him to stand. Then both brothers quickly ran home.

Mother and father were sitting in silence by the open window. Father’s face was as stern and severe as it had been that evening when he ordered Big Brother to go and look for his brother.

“How loudly the birds are singing today,” said mother.

“They’re glad of the warmth,” replied father.

“The squirrels are leaping from branch to branch,” said mother.

“They’re glad it’s spring, too,” replied father.

“Do you hear something?” mother cried suddenly.

“No,” replied father. “What is it?”

“Someone’s running this way!”

“No,” father said sadly. “All winter long I too fancied that the snow was creaking beneath the windows. There’s no one running this way.”

But mother was already out in the yard where she began to call: “Children! Children!”

Father came out behind her. And they both saw Big Brother and Little Brother running in the woods and holding hands.

Their parents ran to meet them.

When everyone had calmed down a little and gone into the house, Big Brother glanced at father. “Ah!” he exclaimed in surprise.

Father’s white beard had become dark again before their eyes. It was once again completely black the way it used to be. And father looked ten years younger.

Grief will turn one’s hair white, while joy will make the whiteness melt away like frost in the sunshine. It’s true that this happens only very rarely, but it happens nonetheless.

From that time on, they lived happily.

It’s true that Big Brother would occasionally say to his brother: “Let me have some peace and quiet. But then he would immediately add: “Just for a little bit, ten minutes or so. I’d be very grateful.”

And Little Brother always did as he was asked, because now the brothers were friends.

The Short Story Project © | Ilamor LTD 2017

Lovingly crafted by Oddity&Rfesty