When Homer went blind, Langley’s remedy was one hundred oranges a week. He carried the crates in on his shoulders, rolled fruit across floorboards to where Homer sat, fingers scrabbling in the shadows, head rested on his knees. “Please, Langley,” Homer whispered, “I need meat.” But his brother was persistent. “You’re blind,” he said, wedging a nail between pith and peel. He slid a section of fruit between Homer’s parched lips. “Rest your eyes, and the beauty burns brighter when you wake.”
As a child, Homer had searched the world for beauty, collected it in boxes stacked neatly near his bed. And now, to cheer him, Langley scavenged the streets for his brother’s collection. He dragged home carriages with metal rusted gold, broken clocks that rang symphonies, rotted wood that smelled of rain. Langley strapped the treasures to his back, hunched by the weight of their beauty, and carried them home: umbrellas, bowling balls, ropes, chains, rakes. “Look here, Homer,” he exclaimed. “An x-ray machine.” When his brother didn’t respond, Langley leaned in close as a kiss. “The skin, the light. Look inside, Homer. See with the eyes of gods.”
"It’s not working,” Homer rasped, his voice ashes and dust, his fingers searching the floorboards for a lost orange.
Langley collected all the newspaper he could find, ironed creases with careful palms, folded stories like handkerchiefs, perfect squares of creased edges. He stacked words from floor to ceiling, creaky towers of National Geographic arranged by continent. “You’re on safari,” he announced, a ringmaster center stage. “Feel the sand between your toes, the zebra stripes at your fingertips.” But Homer traced his hands wildly along the piles, milky eyes searching, lost in the maze of noise. “They’re chopping down the rainforests!” Langley wailed. “Lemurs cling to orphaned tree limbs.” But the whacking was a just a fist at the door.
Langley unlatched the chain. Through the crack, his sprout of white dreadlocks appeared. “Who’s there?”
The neighbor pressed hard against the door, silhouette bursting into light. “I knew it,” he hissed, wormy fingers pointed inside.
Through squinted eyes, Langley gazed at the tweed of the man’s jacket. The browns and yellows woven majestically together, thread upon thread upon thread.
“You’re endangering us all,” the man shouted. “The whole building. Your garbage is a hazard.”
Langley imagined the flames licking yellow into frenzied red. “It’s for Homer,” he said, bringing a finger to his eye. “One day he will see.”
After that, Langley boarded up the windows. He glued crushed glass on the windowpanes, strung tripwire across the doorframes. “Outside, they cannot see,” he pleaded to his brother. “Their eyes are too weak.”
He constructed a map of their island in his mind, scrambling up one pile, sliding down another, snaking through the rubble on his belly. “Be careful, the snare is here,” he said, guiding Homer’s yellowed hand through the maze. “We’re pirates protecting our treasure. You be Bootleg, I’ll be Smee.” When Homer slumped against a lever, bowling balls crashed from the ceiling. “Cannonball,” Langley cheered, but Homer did not respond.
Days passed as Langley rolled oranges one-by-one down gutters fashioned into a run: bridges, funnels, slides, whizzing gravity, jangling bells. But the flame-colored fruit piled like stones at Homer’s feet. Plunk. Plunk. Plunk.
The call came at 8:53, weeks after the crash. “The stench could stain curtains,” neighbors said. Officers threaded through the paper maze, the piles of rusty carriages, broken clocks, orange crates. They flipped over pallets of rotting wood in search of the bodies, opened the windows, carved out space. Outside, neighbors gathered by the hundreds, faces covered with white masks, white gloves, white handkerchiefs, to see what was thrown from the windows. Treasure floated through the air like ash, dirty snow piled by the curbside.
A small boy passing the debris picked up a horse’s jawbone and lifted it to his ear. Music xylophoned off the teeth, settled neatly in the ridges. “It’s beautiful,” he said. His mother, a lace hanky pressed hard against her nose, shrieked and the music went silent. Just the clatter of bone settling against curb.
Inside, the brothers lay as if to sleep. Breathless chests still. Homer, a pile of thin limbs threaded weakly together, died with his head rested patiently on his knees, one last orange rolled just out of reach. And Langley, who had sensed his quest had come to an end, wrapped himself in a blanket of paper, a cacophony of crackling, a cocoon. “Rest your eyes,” he had whispered, bathing one last time in the beauty. “Sleep well to see with the eyes of gods.”