naranjoI’m eleven and my brother is fifteen, and our rooms are in the basement separated by one thin wall. My bed is against the wall and at night I can hear him listening to his music. He listens on headphones but the volume’s so loud I hear everything: the tinsel rain of cymbals and urgency of words. The music is hard and heavy with lyrics like poetry; he calls it heavy metal. I lie on my back, hands laced behind my head and eyes closed because I know that’s exactly what he’s doing. Sometimes he knocks on the wall, and I go to his room, and he shows me the records. I sit beside him and read about death and God and the devil and war and sex and hate and love. I know he’s sharing things with me that he can’t say out loud. He talks less than he used to.

I’m twelve, and the police are telling my mom there’s really nothing they can do. We’re standing in my brother’s room, and the window is shattered and he’s long gone. The floor is littered with broken records. A policeman picks up one of the smooth vinyl shards and rubs his thumb across the grooves. He glances at the album covers strewn across the bed and chooses one, flips it open, shakes his head. There’s this smile on his face, and I remember how, not long ago, I read my diary out loud to my brother, and he didn’t laugh once. I go back to my room where the carpet is red and cut into pictures of bricks. I hop on the bricks and play with my dolls—stuffed unicorns and bears and rabbits, all with the same tea-stained mouths.

He’s been gone for weeks, and I know this time he’s not coming back. But I have his records—the ones he didn’t break—and I study his music like an apprentice. There’s Metallica and W.A.S.P. and Queen and Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin; I put on the Led Zeppelin and play “Stairway to Heaven” over and over. I lie on my bed and close my eyes and think if I keep listening to this one song at some point he’ll be listening too. I know there’s supposed to be a backwards message and that it’s supposed to be evil but I don’t believe it. I think the messages are not hidden but that people fear what they don’t understand. I don’t understand either, but I’m not afraid.

I picture forests echoing with laughter and shadows taller than souls. I wish I knew what it meant but the song says if I listen very hard it will come to me. The song says there are two paths, but it’s never too late to change the road you’re on. So maybe when our separate paths lead us out of childhood, our roads will converge, and we’ll be together again. I listen very hard and press my hand against the wall.


Elizabeth Maria Naranjo lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband and two children. Her short fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in several publications, including The Portland Review, Hospital Drive, and Literary Mama. Elizabeth’s debut novel, The Fourth Wall, was published in June.

Artwork by Stephen Knezovich