When I was ten, Anna and Max Pavic decided that they would adopt; they were
so utterly childless in their habits and lifestyle, so childish themselves
that neither I nor anyone who knew them could understand their motives.
As with most adoptive parents, they had insisted upon a baby but, when none
was to be had, they made do with a blonde ten year old boy. That Christmas,
Anna swallowed her dislike of Marilyn and invited us for Christmas for the
first time since my father's remarriage: I was instructed to befriend their
However, they didn't warn us that he had only been with them for two weeks
or that he locked the door of his room and cried. When he was forced out,
he would talk to no one: instead, he would sing like a bird; any question
was met with this response. I could tell that the boy already drove Anna
and my father crazy; Uncle Max was either resigned or amused and Marilyn
tried to politely ignore the child. Needless to say, I hardly saw him the
two weeks I was there.
Three Christmases later, Mika was abroad in Switzerland, in a correctional
boarding school. The house was quiet. Two summers later, the Pavics asked
us if we could take him on for the summer; they were going to Switzerland
and the boy did not want to go. My father was leery of it but Marilyn felt
that we couldn't refuse. The Switzerland trip was a last effort at saving
What's there to save, said Wystan.
This is why it was only when I was fifteen that I was properly introduced
to my cousin and saw, with a shock, that he was not a blond but a black-haired
child. The adoption agency, Anna recounted furiously, had dyed his hair.
She had been cheated: the boy was a changeling. When she said things like
this, Uncle Max would look at her coldly, curiously, as if she had taken
leave of her senses but this had no effect on her, she merely grew angrier
at the child.
After hearing this story, my father was very kind to Mika. Somehow the role
of the benevolent uncle made him astoundingly generous. All of us basked
in the sun of his kindness and not even Wystan questioned this contradiction
in his character. Mika, in turn, was deferential to the point of dissapearing.
I realized that this is exactly what my father had wanted from us. It was
so simple and we had never guessed it.
Strangely enough, it was also only on the second visit that everyone in
my family realized that Mika looked almost exactly like me. Perhaps faces
converge and diverge at different stages in life. At fifteen, ours had come
together into an almost perfect reproduction. Not only that, we were almost
the same age: only eleven months apart. Perhaps the only difference was
that he was slightly taller and that his eyes sloped downwards whereas my
sloped upwards. We also moved differently: Mika moved as if he was made
of steel and rubber: strange cagy movements that seemed unsteady but defined,
as though he had to think it out in advance. I, on the other hand, was restless,
fidgety, loped about.
But even before I had heard of Anna's account, I knew why he had been changed:
he had been sent to me, not to Anna, not even to Max. He was mine. Truth
will out: the Pavics sent him to our house every summer and he became a
child in transit, spending half his life in boarding schools, brief holidays
with Anna and Max, the summers with me and Wystan and Demeter. My father
loved him and even bought him a bicycle. None of us, however, were jealous.
It was somehow too disorienting and wonderful to see our father being kind
to anyone. We each, separately, began to love him in our own private ways.
Maybe he's even human, acceded Wystan once, looking at them together. I
didn't carehow much my father loved him. I only cared that Mika loved me
more. And he did.
He and I often abandoned my siblings and went biking to the farthest parts
of the town, to the junkyard behind the mechanics. Here were the rusted
out hulks of black Mercedes Benzs, bicycles, mountains of sand and springs
and stone. We would sit on the small dunes overlooking the junkyard and
eat our small packed sandwiches of honey, mustard and cheese, our jars of
barley tea. It was in the junkyard that we first discovered the elevator.
It was the elevator in some hotel long dismantelled. The cables hung about
it like strange entrails and the buttons were yellowed ivory with the numbers
stained in blue, except for the deep red glass button at the bottom.
We would lay our bags down and sit for hours in this elevator, telling stories.
Sometimes they would be stories of his foster homes, sometimes of Anna and
one day we told each other all the stories that we had heard from our parents.
I told him the story of how I got my name: John the Baptist was the cousin
of Christ; he washed Christ's feet. Later, he sent messages to Christ when
he was in jail. But Christ did nothing: he left him to die. John's followers
cursed Christ. John's head was served on a platter to Salome, then to Herodias.
Mika said that this story reminded him of the fairy tale of Falada, the
talking beast of burden who is buried beneath the wreck of some manor, the
tongue a dry violet root, delirious, clattering still. It was in the elevator
that he told me that he wanted to be an artist but he would only draw animals.
That is why Uncle Max nicknamed him St. Francis. He would draw Falada, her
mouth, the tongue wagging its prophecies. He would never draw human beings
at all and even his stories revolved around animals, particularly canaries.
Yellow canaries, throngs and throngs of yellow canaries that would swoop
and wheel above our heads like a canopy of gold. Birds that poured out of
Canaries, he would say, are the soul because their bones are hollow, and
from this hollowness comes song and color.
Song and color are things you can sense but cannot feel or touch. Song and
color. After he died, a strange thing happened to me. I couldn't tell colors
apart. I couldn't tell yellow from any other color. In other small ways,
I also fell apart in beating my wings, trying to fly after him, cursing
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