Which Came First?

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September 23, 2019 by The Citron Review

by Timothy Reilly


for Jo-Anne

My older brother preceded me by three years. He was the first born, and first to read big words. But he never used his advantage against me. He instead took me under his wing and tutored me in the mysteries beyond my grade-level. He taught me the phases of the moon and how to hypnotize our grandfather’s chickens. When he sensed my utter despair with the insipid clucking of Dick and Jane, he read aloud to me The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

He also read to me All About Dinosaurs, by the explorer and naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews. We learned that Andrews travelled to the Gobi Desert, in Mongolia, and was the first person to discover nests of fossilized dinosaur eggs. We pretended we were hunting for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert of our neighborhood vacant lot. Old pottery shards served as dinosaur eggs, and when the neighborhood bullies threw rocks at us, we pretended the rocks were bullets being fired by Mongolian bandits.

Later, as we were gathering chicken eggs at our grandparents’ house, our leg-pulling grandfather said he had a riddle for us.

“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

“The egg,” I answered confidently.

“Who laid the egg?”

“The chicken.”

“Where did the chicken come from?”

I threw in the towel on the Abbott and Costello routine, but my older brother never offered a try. He furrowed his brow and said he’d have to think about it. He was serious.

For weeks my brother was preoccupied with the chicken-or-egg riddle. He checked out books from the library but didn’t share them with me. He did, however, let me in on his thinking. He began asking me profound questions (he probably figured I would ask other people and thereby better his odds in finding answers). What was God doing before He created the heavens and the Earth? When did time begin? When would time end? Where does the past go? My brother attempted to explain to me “infinity” and “eternity.” He thought they meant the same thing.

One day he demonstrated something he’d discovered about mirrors. He hung one large mirror at the end of our narrow hallway and angled another mirror in front of the first.

“Look,” he said. “Infinity.”

I looked into the mirrors and saw an endless corridor. It was dreamlike and alluring. I felt as if I could easily step into this other world. But then my brother abruptly lowered the handheld mirror and broke the spell.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said. His face was drained of color and he seemed terrified.

I asked him what was wrong, and he said he saw something.


“I saw the end.”


Timothy Reilly had been a professional tubaist (including a stint with the Teatro Regio of Torino, Italy). He has published widely, including works in Iron Horse Review, Zone 3, Fictive Dream, and Superstition Review. He has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Jo-Anne Cappeluti: a published poet and scholar.


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