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On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother Thomas entered the Three Rivers, Connecticut Public Library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable. Mrs. Theresa Fenneck, the children's librarian, was officially in charge that day because the head librarian was at an all-day meeting in Hartford. She approached my brother and told him he'd have to keep his voice down or else leave the library. She could hear him all the way up at the front desk. There were other patrons to consider. If he wanted to pray, she told him, he should go to a church, not the library.
Thomas and I had spent several hours together the day before. Our Sunday afternoon ritual dictated that I sign him out of the state hospital's Settle Building, treat him to lunch, visit our stepfather or take him for a drive, and then return him to the hospital before suppertime. At a back booth at Friendly's, I'd sat across from my brother, breathing in his secondary smoke and leafing for the umpteenth time through his scrapbook of clippings on the Persian Gulf crisis. He'd been collecting them since August as evidence that Armageddon was at hand--that the final battle between good and evil was about to be triggered. "America's been living on borrowed time all these years, Dominick," he told me. "Playing the world's whore, wallowing in our greed. Now we're going to pay the price."
He was oblivious of my drumming fingers on the tabletop. "Not to change the subject," I said, "but how's the coffee business?" Ever since eight milligrams of Haldol per day had quieted Thomas's voices, he had managed a small morning concession in the patients' lounge--coffee and cigarettes and newspapers dispensed from a metal cart more rickety than his emotional state. Like so many of the patients there, he indulged in caffeine and nicotine, but it was the newspapers that had become Thomas's most potent addiction.
"How can we kill people for the sake of cheap oil? How can we justify that?" His hands flapped as he talked; his palms were grimy from newsprint ink. Those dirty hands should have warned me--should have tipped me off. "How are we going to prevent God's vengeance if we have that little respect for human life?"
Our waitress approached--a high school kid wearing two buttons: "Hi, I'm Kristin" and "Patience, please. I'm a trainee." She asked us if we wanted to start out with some cheese sticks or a bowl of soup.
"You can't worship both God and money, Kristin," Thomas told her. "America's going to vomit up its own blood."
About a month later -- after President Bush had declared that "a line has been drawn in the sand" and conflict might be inevitable -- Mrs. Fenneck showed up at my front door. She had sought me out -- had researched where I lived via the city directory, then ridden out of the blue to Joy's and my condo and rung the bell. She pointed to her husband, parked at the curb and waiting for her in their blue Dodge Shadow. She identified herself as the librarian who'd called 911.
"Your brother was always neat and clean," she told me. "You can't say that about all of them. But you have to be firm with these people. All day long, day in, day out, the state hospital van just drops them downtown and leaves them. They have nowhere to go, nothing to do. The stores don't want them -- business is bad enough, for pity's sake. So they come to the library and sit." Her pale green eyes jerked repeatedly away from my face as she spoke. Thomas and I are identical twins, not fraternal--one fertilized egg that split in half and went off in two directions. Mrs. Fenneck couldn't look at me because she was looking at Thomas.
It was cold, I remember, and I invited her into the foyer, no further. For two weeks I'd been channel-flipping through the Desert Shield updates, swallowing back the anger and guilt my brother's act had left me with, and hanging up in the ears of reporters and TV types -- all those bloodsuckers trying to book and bag next week's freak show. I didn't offer to take Mrs. Fenneck's coat. I stood there, arms crossed, fists tucked into my armpits. Whatever this was, I needed it to be over.
She said she wanted me to understand what librarians put up with these days. Once upon a time it had been a pleasant job--she liked people, after all. But now libraries were at the mercy of every derelict and homeless person in the area. People who cared nothing about books or information. People who only wanted to sit and vegetate or run to the toilet every five minutes. And now with AIDS and drugs and such. The other day they'd found a dirty syringe jammed behind the paper towel dispenser in the men's restroom. In her opinion, the whole country was like a chest of drawers that had been pulled out and dumped onto the floor.
I'd answered the door barefoot. My feet were cold. "What do you want?" I asked her. "Why did you come here?"
She'd come, she said, because she hadn't had any appetite or a decent night's sleep since my brother did it. Not that she was responsible, she pointed out. Clearly, Thomas had planned the whole thing in advance and would have done it whether she'd said anything to him or not. A dozen people or more had told her they'd seen him walking around town, muttering about the war with that one fist of his up in the air, as if it was stuck in that position. She'd noticed it herself, it always looked so curious. "He'd come inside and sit all afternoon in the periodical section, arguing with the newspapers," she said. "Then, after a while, he'd quiet down. Just stare out the window and sigh, with his arm bent at the elbow, his hand making that fist. But who'd have taken it for a sign? Who in their right mind would have put two and two together and guessed he was planning to do that?"
No one, I said. None of us had.I Know This Much Is True
Excerpted from I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
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