“Don’t make deals with dead men,” his mother might have advised, if he was this same kind of brilliant instigator as a child. He hasn’t listened to motherly advice in years, though. Not since he started to play with bombs and guns and secrets. Not since he started trading explosives and disarming words. Not since he killed a man.
She would have told him not to do that too.
She wasn’t there to see it, or maybe, like me, she would have turned away and winced and tried to convince herself that those weren’t his hands. Maybe, like me, she would have cried and hoped and waited for him to explain how this wasn’t a crime. She would have waited fifteen years to even hear him whisper that he’d done it.
Then, like me, she would have screamed at him. For killing a man, with no reason other than a desperate stretch for survival. For putting on that man’s name and life after shredding his own, easy as exchanging one coat for another.
And he would sit and listen to every word, because he believed he deserved it. I don’t know if that would silence her, but it silenced me. He begged, not one word for forgiveness, but a dozen heavy sentences to keep anyone from giving him the opportunity to lie, to spin this into something other than what it was. It was just a coward’s grip on life, just a killer’s instinct in a place he dug himself into. He begged to keep anyone from giving him the chance to be a coward again, to dig himself down to the same ugly instincts.
If I’d had a line of speech sharp enough to suit what he’d done, I’d have laid it into him and he’d have bled without a word.
He didn’t apologize, just sat still and explained the deal he’d made with a dead man: that he would get the name and the breath and the chance to walk another mile. The dead man would get the life, the choices, every day laid out the way he would have wanted it, every action calculated to who he had been. It was the deal he kept, without deviation.
It was what he wanted. He would have traded anything to make the same choices, walk the same lines, do the same good things he’d done for fifteen years under the name of a dead man, and call them his.