Tuesday, May 10

Brothers In Arms

We called it The Green and in the summer, when our games were at their height, we wore the grass down to rock-hard mud. It scabbed knees, that mud. The first homely shadows of late afternoon were descending on The Green when my brother was running for the goal with the ball. I could not catch him right; he was faster than me, more skilful, and twenty-months my junior. I timed it just right, so that as I shoved him – not much force required, his own inertia carrying him – he crashed headfirst into the lamppost. The ball went in, but he cried at me, clutching his eyebrow. I claimed innocence and it was believed.
He and I were always fighting, but always playing together. We were competitive. If it were not for the other, we would go insane, alone. One afternoon he and I were working-out in our living room, parodying a fitness video we had seen earlier. We were making the other laugh so much. Eventually I won, because he shat himself from the laughter, closed his knees and waddled off. I laughed and he laughed, although less.
He was always more popular than I. It ground on me during difficult years of my youth. I remember my mother stopping the car and asking me during a fit of rage—‘Do you actually wish he were dead?’
‘Then don’t say it.’
I wiped away my tears, she away hers.
At times I loathed him. Then we grew up. We are still not similar at all, but we like each other, and we are friends.
Down the pub on Friday I had a missed call from his girlfriend. Too loud to talk on the phone. Then a message from him—‘Give us a call when you can, mate, something to tell you.’
He proposed to her.
My brother is getting married.
It is strange to me, in a way that I cannot articulate, for him, my younger brother, to be engaged to marry. Ah, it seems that life passes so fast! so impossibly fast! so sadly fast! It is not too long ago that his infant hair was blonde instead of brown and my mother dressed us up together. It seems not so long ago that we slept on bunk beds, not three feet from each other. We would ask to share the same bed and, after an hour of arguing and fighting, we would be separated into our own beds. Then that one bittersweet day when we had our own rooms. That does not seem so long ago. How small and fleeting life is.
Really it should not strike me that he is engaged to marry. After all, he is a father himself now. I have no qualms with his fiancée, I like her very much; in her company I feel that she is like a sister, relaxed and incorporated, family. I am glad he is showing this commitment to her. I would like her in the family.
I phoned him up and struggled to hear him over the riff-raff of the pub garden. Finger in the ear, ‘Shut up!’, turning this way and that. After I hung up someone walked past me: a best friend from secondary school. Coincidentally, he and some other best friends from school were out on a stag-do. We caught up, many of them came over to chat, then disappeared. My friend said—‘Go over there and talk to them. I don’t mind. I’ll come with you. It’ll be a laugh.’
We went over.
There were three of them. One was married with a child and a second on the way. Another friend was married with a child on the way. The other was in a very long-term relationship and was living with his partner.
‘Do you want a drink?’ I asked—‘I’ll get the drinks. I ain’t seen you guys in ages.’ We kept drinking. We did shots. I became more and more drunk, not feeling good but drifting out of it; everything flowing loosely, intangible, a trifle distant. I wanted it to just be my friend and I again; these men in front of me were not who I had known. They had dulled. Their temples bore streaks of grey. Their conversation was not exciting or amusing; it bored me. It was sad that time had affected them so! In our youth we had such fun together! We were insane, best friends. All of that had passed and the gentlemen confronting me Friday evening were unrecognisable. How fragile the fire of youth! I cheers’d them and necked my drink. I bade them a good-night, and an enjoyable stag weekend.
I stumbled off into the night, alone, to another bar.
When I awoke, there was blood and come all over my bed. The two of them together were a twisted chemistry, at once sickening and arousing. I told her that I had an appointment and she left. I cancelled the appointment and got back into bed. There was period blood all over my fingers and under my nails. There was no energy for me to get up and wash my hands. The blood under my nails was turning black from red; dead from passion. Through the blinds I could see that the day was beautiful. In my bedded position, with my arms and legs drawn up toward my chest, the sheets off, the window open, I could smell the bloody iron on my fingers. Iron. It smelled like the zip on my childhood coat that I sucked as I waited for my brother to leave the house so we could play football.

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