If I Breathe, You Will Break
by Sofie Bird
I can see it, finally, cradled against his chest: the gossamer outline of my brother Jasper's
glass hand. The flesh of his arm ends at his wrist with a neat tuck of skin, and glass continues the
curve of his palm, sweeping uninterrupted into the curl of his three remaining fingers.
He won't let the nurses near him. I walk him from the hospital ward to reception, and he
hunches forward to shield it, his other hand guarding against stray strands of my hair. The ghostly
shape barely obscures the blue weave of his jumper. Something silver-fluid pulses though.
I can't bring myself to say anything. So Jas, about that time where we all thought you cut
your own hand off and had you committed? Yeah, sorry about that. We chat about my newly-ex
boyfriend and the funding cuts to my research while the hospital staff finish the paperwork, and I
try not to stare.
"There's not much we can do," the doctor says. "Phantom limb syndrome is common with
amputees. We've given him something for the pain, but--"
Jasper snorts beside me. I glance down at the ghost-like shape at his chest, see the joke.
It's not even a good joke. Three months of this, and he can still laugh.
The doctor's voice turns sour and scolding; he slaps the papers on the desk for me to sign.
"As you can see, he's calmer, now."
I bite back my reply until I know what to do with it, and sign. My brother has an invisible
hand. The doctors don't know shit.
As we wait at the taxi rank, I blurt, "Why don't you paint it? At least then, people would
He says, "Paint doesn't take," before he's even really heard my question, and grabs my
arm as I reach for the taxi door. I squeeze my muscles still to keep any part of me from jostling
him. "You see it," he demands. "Rue, tell me you really see it."
His face ripples between emotions, tugging his mouth in different directions and straining
the skin at his eyes to keep the tears in check. I cup my hand at the nape of his neck and bend his
head down to press against my forehead, the way he used to when he was so much smaller than
me. I see what you see. We are our own private universe again, like we were as kids exploring
alien planets in our back yard. The only ones who understand.
The glass is more and more defined each time I look, on the way home. The creases of his
knuckles and palm are etched in ghostly silver, and his triangle of moles is now embossed. The
jagged stumps of his thumb and index finger wink in the afternoon sun, like crystal-cut facets. I
wince at the memory, my father's sneer still vivid, but Jas laughs at a song on the radio. His
misheard lyrics make the taxi-driver blush. He's irreverent as always, and I can't help but grin.