You Never Had a Brother

A man's memories must deal with his brother's rejection of reality.

a short satire

The Wrong Sort of Stories - Front Cover    Included in the short story collection "The Wrong Sort of Stories".

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You Never Had a Brother

by Stephen Measure

“What’s wrong, Mom? Why are you crying? It’s my brother? What about my brother? What is he doing now? Please don’t tell me he’s gotten worse.”

* * *

He remembered a beautiful, warm day, blue sky above and the sun shining down as he and his brother ran through the sprinklers in their front yard, shirts off, feet bare, wearing only swimsuits.

“I’m first to jump over the center one!” his brother said, raising both hands high while jumping and then pumping them low after landing on the wet grass.

“I’m first to jump over the broken one!” he said, mimicking his brother in both jump and landing.

“The broken one doesn’t go as high.”

He ignored this challenge from his brother and chased instead, the two of them zigzagging through the yard, the grass soft and slick under their feet. Fluffy clouds floated lazily across the sky. There was a soft, quiet breeze and birds chattered cheerfully in the tall trees above.

“Let’s play the kidnapper game!” his brother said.

“Kidnappers in the rain!”

Their street was almost busy, almost busy for young boys at least. A car passed every minute or two. Now, whenever a car drove by, they stood straight, arms out, and pretended to be trees.

“They can’t kidnap us if we’re trees!” his brother had said when they first played the game months earlier.

But standing still can’t hold the attention of young boys for long, and soon the two were running around the yard again.

“Watch this!” his brother said and then flopped down on top of a sprinkler, bare stomach blocking the water’s flow.

“Uh uh uh uh uh uh uh,” his brother said, letting the spraying water sound a rhythm.

“Watch this!” he said and then sat down atop a sprinkler, the water pushing up on his blue swimsuit. Water sprayed out underneath him, bouncing the fabric of his swimsuit where it hung below his legs.

They both laughed, and then they ran and they chased and they zigged and they zagged, the sun warm, the water cool, the grass wet, the two brothers.

They slid on the grass for a moment, challenging each other to slide further. But they quickly stopped after noticing the pulled-up grass. Their mom hated it when they did that. That didn’t always stop them—they were young boys, after all—but today they were happy, and not sliding was a little thing, and maybe if they were good, just maybe, she’d let them have popsicles later.

A neighbor girl was walking past their yard with her dog. She was in second grade, older than he was but younger than his brother. And although he didn’t understand why, when he saw her, he felt embarrassed. She was walking along the sidewalk, her black terrier pulling at the leash to come and sniff them. He should say “Hi.” He should wave. But he sat on the grass instead, pulling his knees up and resting his head on them, eyes closed, the water from a sprinkler spraying onto his back.

“Hey!” his brother said to him, but he didn’t move.

“Hey!” his brother repeated. Then he felt water hitting his head; and, looking up, he saw his brother in front of him, hands cupped over a sprinkler, diverting the blue stream right at him. His brother smiled. The neighbor girl was gone.

“Stop that!” he said, and then he got up and rushed at his brother, tackling him with a giggle, the two of them rolling around on the wet ground, blades of grass sticking to their bare torsos.

Then they were up and jumping again, higher, always higher, competing against each other, just like boys do.

“Watch this!” His brother jumped over the center sprinkler, kicking legs to the side and yelling.

“Watch this!” He followed after, spreading his legs as he jumped, the water striking the bottom of his swimsuit.

They laughed together. Then they ran and jumped and ran and jumped, his brother always able to jump higher, his brother always able to run faster; and the whole time he followed, he the little brother, his brother the hero.

* * *

“No, we haven’t spoken in months. He won’t talk to me anymore. He says I don’t accept him. Accept him? I love him! He’s my brother! I want what’s best for him! I can’t just sit back and see what he’s doing and not say anything. But what about his counselor? Didn’t you encourage him to see one? Isn’t that helping?”

* * *

He remembered being in the backyard with his brother, the neighborhood outside their fence full of the whir of lawn mowers and leaf blowers, the two brothers standing side by side, both giggling as separate streams of pee arced up and onto the bush behind their house.

“Mine is higher!” his brother said, pee almost reaching a yellow sunflower that rocked lazily in the slight breeze.

Higher. That’s how it always was between them. Higher. Faster. Stronger. He thought of an earlier year. He thought of two boys running bare-chested through the sprinklers. Higher, always higher. He had to get higher. He had to match his brother. Higher. But he was shorter, and he hadn’t drunk enough, and his stream was lower, already starting to spurt out.

The warm yellow sun was high overhead. They had been playing; they had been laughing; they had needed to pee, and now they were. No reason for it. They both knew better. No reason for it at all. No reason beyond being stupid boys. They would be skinned alive if they got caught. Of course, that was half the fun. And if his brother was doing it, he was going to, too.

“I’m gonna make it. I’m gonna make it,” his brother said, yellow stream reaching higher, higher, and then—yes!—striking a leaf of the sunflower, which bobbed to the flow.

Higher, always higher. They both laughed.

* * *

“His counselor is encouraging it? What? That’s malpractice! What if he thought he was Napoleon? Would his counselor encourage that too? I can’t believe his counselor is encouraging it. It’s not reality! He’s not Napoleon. He’s not anything else. He’s my brother. My brother!”

* * *

He remembered sitting on the stairs as he looked through the railing, feeling green with jealousy as he watched his brother stand by the fireplace next to the neighbor girl, his brother in a prom tuxedo, the neighbor girl in a tight green dress. Of all the girls his brother could have asked, his brother had asked her.

He stared at the neighbor girl. He had had a crush on her for years. Maybe if he had told his brother about the crush, his brother wouldn’t have asked her. But he hadn’t told his brother, and now his brother stood there next to her, a boutonniere pinned to the tuxedo’s jacket, the neighbor girl looking amazing, bare feet in the lush carpet, high heels in her hands, shiny jewels in her hair—not real jewels, but to him they shined like they were.

Higher, always higher. Two boys peeing in the bushes. Two boys jumping over sprinklers. Higher, always higher. Yes, someday he would be standing there too. Maybe not with the neighbor girl but with someone, someone just as pretty, someone who had said yes to his invitation, someone who would smile just as much, who would laugh at his jokes, just like the neighbor girl was laughing at his brother’s jokes. Higher, always higher.

Sitting there on the stairs, he watched his brother. His brother seemed so happy, so excited. His mother was taking pictures on her cell phone. Nowadays, everyone saw each other’s dresses before they even saw each other. His mother was wearing a dress too, not going anywhere but wearing a dress anyway, wearing a dress to take pictures, pictures that would be sent so everyone could see what they were wearing before they even saw them.

His father had put on a green tie and was standing there behind his mother, being corny. That’s what fathers were for. His brother was laughing, an arm behind the neighbor girl’s back. Everyone looked so happy. Everyone except for him.

* * *

“He’s mixed up! Are they going to just leave him like that? What do they expect us to do, just go along with it? It’s a lie! We can’t pretend it’s not a lie!”

* * *

He remembered sitting in the stands at his brother’s college graduation, the students a sea of black caps and gowns, his mother next to him. She held his hand tightly as they watched his brother walk down the aisle toward the stage, his brother looking so proud, multiple tassels tied to a black cap. He and his brother had grown distant after his brother left for college, an unsaid weight resting between the two of them. He didn’t know what it was, but there was something his brother wasn’t telling him. However, now wasn’t a time for worries. Now was a time to celebrate his brother and his brother’s accomplishment—because they were brothers. Higher, always higher. Soon it would be him walking down the aisle to collect his diploma. Higher, always higher. How did his brother get so many tassels? What did that mean? He’d have to find out. He couldn’t have less when he graduated. Higher, always higher, like prom dates, like peeing on bushes, like jumping over sprinklers. Higher, always higher—because they were brothers.

It was crowded, the stands full of families there to celebrate the accomplishments of their loved ones. The rules called for quiet until the end, but you still had the occasional outburst from people who ignored the rules, rude noisemakers filling the air with their annoying blare. And sound wasn’t the only thing filling the air. Someone nearby was wearing way too much perfume. Probably the old woman who sat in front of them, her dyed-black hair gigantic, rising in a beehive above her head.

“Now that’s some Texas-sized hair,” his mother had whispered after the woman sat down. It was so high his mother had to lean to one side in order to see the students below. But that was before and now was now and now they were watching his brother walk proudly forward to collect a diploma.

“I wish your father could be here,” his mother said.

“I’m sure he’s watching,” he told her. “He’d want to be here for his son.”

* * *

“What? He can’t do that! We can’t let him do that! That’s not some stupid tattoo. That’s not some stupid body piercing. That’s permanent mutilation! That’s a mistake he can’t take back. What? You’ve got to be joking. He’s going to change his birth certificate too? How can he do that? It’s a lie! We were there!”

* * *

Blue was the sky as they ran through the sprinklers, bare-chested, laughing, jumping over this sprinkler, sliding under that one. They were playing follow the leader now. His brother had led him in circles around the sprinklers, both of them turning so much they became dizzy. Now it was his turn.

Tired of running, he sat down on a sprinkler, positioning himself to completely block its spray.

“You sit on that one!” he told his brother, pointing to a sprinkler close to him.

His brother said nothing.

“Sit on that one!” he repeated, pointing again.

His brother still said nothing.

“It’s my turn to be leader,” he said, turning around to see why his brother was ignoring him.

But his brother wasn’t there.

He leaped to his feet, confused. His brother had been right behind him a moment ago. Then he saw the hole in the ground where his brother had been, not a sinkhole, not a real hole, just a hole—a hole in reality itself, like a giant eraser had come down and rubbed his brother out of existence.

He looked at the hole, his eyes wide, his chest tight. This is wrong.

And a sprinkler next to the hole turned its head to face him, metal grooves bending, forming the crude outline of a pair of eyes and an empty mouth.

“What are you looking for?” the sprinkler asked. “There is nothing there.”

“I’m looking for my brother.”

“You never had a brother.”

* * *

“Why is the world feeding into his delusion? Why are they encouraging it? Do they expect everyone to embrace the lie? We were there!”

* * *

Yellow were the streams as they peed on the bush behind their house. I’ve got to reach the sunflower, he told himself. If his brother could do it, then he had to do it too. He pushed harder; he raised himself higher; but he couldn’t reach as high as his brother did.

And then his brother’s stream was gone.

Confused, he looked to the side; but, where his brother had stood a moment before, there was a clear wall of nothing, a thin arc of nothing extending from the wall of nothing to strike the leaf of the sunflower, the sunflower still bobbing to a flow that wasn’t there anymore.

He blinked his eyes, not believing what he was seeing. It was like someone had ripped a page, like someone had torn his brother out of reality itself.

Then the sunflower started to move, turning toward him. He watched as a crude pair of eyes formed within the flower’s center, an empty mouth below them.

“What are you looking for?” the sunflower asked. “There is nothing there.”

“I’m looking for my brother.”

“You never had a brother. You never had a brother.”

* * *

“They can’t just pretend reality isn’t reality. He is what he is. He was born what he is. We were there!”

* * *

Green was his envy as he watched the neighbor girl smile at his brother, the not-real-jewels sparkling in her hair, his mother taking pictures, his father being corny. He looked at his brother standing there with an arm around the neighbor girl’s back. Why couldn’t that be him?

Then there was a loud snap and a bright flash. He blinked his eyes and was shocked to see his brother’s tuxedo standing there empty for a moment before crumpling slowly to the floor. Grasping the rails, he leaned forward for a better look. What had happened? No one else seemed to notice. The neighbor girl was chatting happily with the air beside her, his mother was still taking pictures. What would the pictures show?

Then the empty pants moved, a pant leg curling up, forming a crude pair of eyes above a wide empty mouth.

“What are you looking for?” the pants asked. “There is nothing there.”

“I’m looking for my brother.”

“You never had a brother. You never had a brother. You never had a brother.”

* * *

“You’ve got to talk him out of it somehow. Won’t he listen to you? You’re his mother. He has to listen to you. He won’t listen to me, but he has to listen to you. This is a mistake. It’s a mistake he can never take back. Talk to him. Talk him out of it. Talk him into waiting at least. Maybe we can find him a different counselor, a real counselor, a counselor that will encourage reality instead of make-believe. We have to talk him out of it. This is a mistake he can never take back!”

* * *

Black were the caps and gowns as he watched his brother walk down the aisle toward the stage. His mother sat beside him; his father long gone. Someday it would be him walking down that aisle. He counted up the years before that date as he watched his brother draw closer to the stage. Soon his brother would be shaking the hand of the college president. A formality, but that meant college was officially over. His brother walked so confidently, so proudly.

Then his brother was gone.

He leaned forward. Where was his brother? Where was the aisle? The crowd of students sat shoulder to shoulder where his brother had been. The aisle itself had vanished. Except, it hadn’t. In front and behind where his brother had been, the aisle was still there, and other students continued their march toward the stage. But where his brother had been, students sat instead. And the non-aisle moved, keeping the same pace his brother had kept, the aisle collapsing and then reopening, seated students becoming shoulder to shoulder before jumping apart again.

Then, in the row in front of him, the woman’s large beehive hair began to move, the strands shifting their place, forming a crude pair of eyes above an empty mouth.

“What are you looking for?” the hair asked. “There is nothing there.”

“I’m looking for my brother.”

“You never had a brother. You never had a brother. You never had a brother. You never had a brother.”

* * *

“We have to stop him somehow. We have to talk him out of it. We can’t let him do this to himself. I have a brother; no matter what he does. I have a brother; no surgery can change that. I have a brother; no fraudulent birth certificate can steal that away from me. I have a brother, not just a sibling, a brother! I have a brother!”

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Status: Released September 2014 by Silver Layer Publications.