“The road is long…” The Hollies sang; Martin switched off the radio. He hated “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”. It brought back memories of blasts and mud and death. Memories of Arthur, the brother who’d been so heavy Martin had buckled under his weight; so heavy Martin’s feet had dragged through the mud, surrounded by the deafening roar of bombs. Martin had tried to crawl, but Arthur had been so heavy…
Martin wiped off a tear and tried not to think about war things. The road was long and barren. He headed west in his 1969 Chevy and the sun was in his eyes, glaring at him, judging him for not bearing Arthur. He turned the radio back on, relieved the song had ended. The sun, harsh and unforgiving disappeared into the horizon. The first stars pierced the dark blue sky.
Martin turned on the headlights. Led Zeppelin was singing about going to California. He liked the song and turned the up volume. He too was going to California. More stars sprinkled the darkening sky as Martin drove on.
Up ahead, a figure appeared trudging alongside the road, head bent, as if weighed down by a great burden. Martin slowed down, deliberating whether to offer a ride or move on. As he approached, Martin distinguished a man in olive-drab uniform, much like the one he’d worn thirty years ago. Martin’s breath hitched, there was something familiar about the figure.
The figure stopped and faced the road as the Chevy crawled. Martin met the figure’s eyes and his heart skipped a beat. His first instinct was to floor it and get the hell out of there, but his legs disobeyed and hit the brakes instead. He watched, frozen, as the figure opened the door and climbed into the passenger seat.
“Thank you for stopping,” the man said.
Martin stared, lips quivering.
“I’m Arthur,” the man, no older than twenty-two, continued, “I’m heading home.”
Martin gripped the steering wheel and stared at Arthur, the Arthur, sitting beside him. Arthur had died thirty years before, yet here he was, as if not a day had passed.
“How?” Martin bleated, “How are you here? You’re dead.”
Arthur smiled a warm embracing smile, but Martin only saw resentment in that smile as the guilt and burden welled up inside him. A guilt he’d spent thirty years trying to shrug off his shoulders.
“I left you!” Martin sobbed, “I left you to die!”
Tears streamed down Martin’s cheeks and he repeated the same phrase over and over through his sobs, chest heaving, face buried in his trembling hands.
“You didn’t leave me,” Arthur replied, “I slipped off you, I was weighing you down. I’m home now, Marty, let me go.”
Arthur put a hand on Martin’s shoulder, the warmth passed through him, calming him, and, as Arthur removed his hand, he took Martin’s burden with him.
“Thank you,” Martin whispered.
He lifted his gaze; he was still on the long stretch of highway with the sun blazing through the windshield and The Hollies on the radio.