Brothers (story)

Mornings were the hardest time. He lay in bed far too long and that made it worse. Usually he forced himself to bound out of bed upon first awakening to avoid the dreadful malingering; otherwise, his dreams would hover over him interminably.

This morning, unfortunately, he could find nothing to get up for. Actually, he had gotten up to go to the bathroom, but had failed to take advantage of the opportunity to arise permanently, a tactical error for which he knew he would pay dearly. The effort had made the sweat run down his face. It had to be 100 degrees in his little sixth floor walk-up, and the fan he kept on incessantly did little more than swirl the sweltering air around. He couldn’t keep himself from pacing in the heat except when he slept or pretended to, so he forced himself to lie as still as possible, trying futilely to become oblivious to his wretched, drenched condition.

He was uselessly torturing himself and he knew it, but still he could find no reason to get up. He had a sheet strewn across his midsection, as was his habit. It certainly wasn’t for modesty’s sake, but rather simply to have something to hold on to and separate his sticky legs. As he spread it over himself with a wave of his hands, his cat dashed under the billowing sheet to crouch beneath it. The cat would often lie there for minutes at a time, and sometimes the lump under the sheet would move slowly. This time the cat just lay there, motionless, a few feet from his spread legs.

There was nothing to greet him this morning but the heat. He had come to expect that. But without work, and with him leaving town soon, absolutely nothing was compelling him to rise today. To pass the time, he tried to pull together the vague fragments of images lingering in his head from the night’s dreams. He was disappointed not to be able to trace a clearer picture in his mind and it stirred a quiet longing in him. He rolled his head to the side without moving his body in the slightest and shut his eyes.

He had been at a party at his parents’ house. It was very crowded, like it had been after their funeral, but people seemed to be in fine spirits. He consciously tried to avoid everyone he saw, all these people he’d known forever, people he’d played with as a child. He realized that he was supposed to know these people, but he was unable to draw their personal histories to mind. He knew he had shared things with these people, but now he just wanted to avoid them. He had some pressing things that he wanted to talk out with his brother, who he sensed was somewhere in the crowd. So, he excused himself repeatedly and walked sideways through the people lining those old familiar hallways and walls and floors. People seemed to be thrusting out toward him from every corner and he resented their insistent presence while feeling guilty for not acknowledging them. It would take a lot of effort to confront any one of these people and not one of them had what he needed to find. He had to find his brother. He had something to say to him.

He continued shrugging off the relentless series of faces being shoved at him like postcards from alien lands. Finally, from out of this tangle of unsatisfying images rose his brother’s face like a moon over a swamp. His face beamed forth and he was bathed in its warm yellow glow. His brother was busily entertaining a rapt group of female friends in his usual charming fashion. His brother stood above a pack of happy faces, as their upstretched eyes and champagne glasses twinkled.

He was proud of his brother and didn’t want to disturb his warm fun, but he finally managed to gently grasp his attention for a moment. As his brother drew near, he quietly said, ” I just wanted to say that you are….” But before he could finish, his brother’s attention was forcibly grabbed by the question of some gleeful party guest. The brothers turned to each and their eyes met with a sparkle of understanding and love. His brother had to be the gracious party host right now, but they would talk later.

He wandered away, as waves of party noise chirped and lapped all around him. None of the shouts and guffaws could enter his attention, as his heart and mind were wrapped in the warm yellow robe of light that his brother’s gaze had shed on him. He felt like Moses as he stepped briskly through the parting crowd, serenely oblivious to the vaguely familiar faces that lit up in surges as he passed. He felt choked up as came into his parents’ former living room, on those old floors and between those old walls and under that roof. He couldn’t talk to his parents anymore, but he would definitely talk to his brother later.

He was awakened from his reverie with a start. The cat, which had been a motionless lump under the sheets, suddenly attacked his knee, comically playing out some obscure instinctual behavior. He was first shocked and then dismayed to awaken, as ever, but he soon found himself smiling despite himself to recognize the cat’s familiar game. He repositioned his body to lie more directly in the path of the wan wind made by the fan. He was soaking wet.

The oppressive heat and his aggressive recollection of his dreams weighed upon him. He leapt up in irritation and immediately began pacing the tiny room. He would have to wait to find out about those job applications he’d sent out, but he was leaving town regardless and his bags were already packed. His brother was 3,000 miles away, phone rates were highest now and he didn’t want to speak to any other living soul. He shuddered to feel the waves of recollection roll over him, each with an image and an emotion subtly unique, almost unbearably clear and strong, and yet so unsatisfying. Soon all those faces would be so far from him and quite out of reach, except in dreams; already he felt the distance growing between himself and them.

Force of habit urged him to check the ice box, where he found a half-cooked breast of chicken. He mechanically grabbed it and tossed it into his perpetually greased pan on the stove and cranked the gas up to high. There was nothing to do but stare into the rapidly heating pan as the layer of grease liquefied and began to spit. He thought of Sunday brunches with his brother, back when their parents were alive. He thought of recipes he wanted to cook for someone someday. He thought of his last girlfriend. He saw the light, smooth, goose-pimply flesh of the chicken spattering noisily and it looked small in the largely empty black pan. Juice began running, boiling and crackling on the edges of the pale meat, mingling with blood. He pushed it down flat on the black pan and it gave back a louder, angry spattering sound. He squinted at the pan’s sizzling surface and wondered if it would ruin the pan to cook something on only a part of it. It was black to begin with so he couldn’t tell if it was burning. His mother had said that a good old pan needs no greasing because it’s been rendered permanently. He winced to think of her, swallowed hard and felt his own sweaty, sticky flesh where his armpits rubbed. He would have to find something else to think about or do after this chicken was done.

He took the fork and pushed down on the pale yellow breast. It spat back with ear-splitting sharpness. The way it spread out on the pan when he pressed made it sort of feel as if he were frying a frog. He watched intently, preparing to flip the breast, as he squeezed out a little juice, which boiled and spat and mingled with blood around a tip of exposed bone.

With startling quickness, the chicken leapt out of the pan and flew ferociously at his neck. Instinctively, he grabbed his attacker with both hands, one of which still held the fork as he wrenched the beast off his neck where it had savagely flung itself. Then he held the chicken breast in one hand with an iron grip, while it struggled mightily to free itself, and without a moment’s hesitation he thrust the fork directly through the heart at the center of the breast. His weapon plunged through, encountering no resistance from bones, and pierced clean through the chicken breast and into his own hand. He let out a momentary howl and then, shocked by the sound of his own voice, grimly clamped his mouth shut and bore the pain in silence as the wound gushed blood. He had succeeded in stabbing and stopping the beast; now he just wanted to clean up the mess and get on with his day.

Sweat mingled with his blood and made his injured palm sting ever more sharply, which cause him to momentarily consider going to the hospital. However, after cleaning and bandaging his wound, he found it quite easy to chalk up the injury as insignificant. It was just a little cut that wasn’t worth telling anybody about. No one but his brother would understand or care, so he might just as well get on with his life. “To hell with it”, he said out loud, enjoying the sound of his voice, “I’ll just go out to breakfast this morning.” He couldn’t waste any more time pacing the floor in this heat. As he locked his door and began skipping down the stairs, bouncing his bandaged hand along the banister, he couldn’t keep a smile from creeping across his face. He’d definitely tell his brother about this one and they’d share a laugh over it.

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