Back to Issue Nineteen.

the brother

BY MARYSE MEIJER

            Girls overrun the house like rabbits, or maggots, or weeds. Bianca, Veronica, Angelica, Janine. He calls them by the wrong names on purpose, reaching out blindly, Biancaveronicaangelicajanine whichever one you are come here a minute. He butts their flat stomachs. They crawl over him like puppies. We are always out of diet soda. Which is what I drink, or drank before all these girls pushed in with their elbows and their shrieking and their Victoria’s Secret bodywash. Even if I’m in another room, another house, another city, I can see him making up to those girls, their faces spangled with makeup, his fingers tracing their hipbones. They all share the same cigarette, lying beside the pool, hands flicking ash, each mouth waiting to embrace the lipglossed butt. My brother will jump from the nest of towels and cannonball into the water, spraying the girls, who shriek, their bodies curling like pill bugs. One by one he pulls them into the pool, and their legs grow together under the water.

            So he likes women, my dad says to my stepmom. I don’t see how that’s a problem.

            The one I want is Bianca, the small one, the one with an overbite and the prettiest hair. I don’t want her because she is good-looking, though they are all good-looking. I want her because she seems to like him the most: she looks at him longest, laughs the loudest, wears the most provocative clothes. She is a link in a chain I want to see busted, and I don’t want to wait for him to do the damage himself. Why should I? The hearts my brother will break are, for now, unbroken; and I want to break hers first.

 

            The girls stand in line at the stove while my stepmother forks French toast onto their plates. They are wearing terry shorts in neon colors, tank tops, plastic bracelets. My dad looks at their thighs while he chews; he looks from one set of legs to another. My brother is at the end of the line, whispering to the girl in front of him. She giggles. They take their plates into the den and eat, draped over the couch. I can see through the doorway that he has two of them on his lap. They watch cartoons. The one I like is sitting on the floor between his feet; I can see her foot, curved around the side of the couch.

       What are you looking at? my stepmother asks.

       What are you looking at? I echo. My father slaps my elbow off the table.

       Knock it off, he says. I press my fork into my French toast, squeezing out the syrup through the little holes in the bread.

       Aren’t you eating, Anita? my father asks my stepmother. She’s drinking coffee. Her plate is empty. On the counter is an egg carton full of cracked shells.

       There wasn’t any bread left.

       My dad snorts. Buy two loaves the next time. You know we have teenagers in the house.

       I didn’t know they’d be staying over.

       Really, Anita. Get with the program, my dad says, his eyes following mine into the den. My brother has a lapful of ass. My stepmother bangs her cup on the table.      

 

            We’re not even related. People look at us and don’t think brothers: friends, maybe. Or just boys standing next to each other by accident. And yet.

 

            My brother resists a hierarchy. It’s against their religion, he says. Their spiritual beliefs. There is no best girl, no top girlfriend. They’re all about equality, he says. Free love. Like hippies, he says. You mean like Charles Manson, I reply. Whatever, he says, and I can tell he has no idea who I’m talking about.

            I’m in the hallway, listening, when Bianca breaks ranks on the equality shit; she wants him to go to a concert with her, just her, for her birthday.

            Just for one night, she says, standing between his knees at the end of his bed.

            My brother sighs. That wouldn’t really be cool.

            Why not?

            Because it wouldn’t, like, be fair. 

            It’s just one night.

            How about I get us all tickets? Front row! And dinner afterward, Olive Garden. Salad and breadsticks.

            I can see, through the slit in the door, Bianca trying to take her hands out of his; he tugs her in for a kiss, but she turns her head.

            Maybe I should have someone else take me.

            He smiles his beautiful smile. What? You got four people to take you already, girl.  

            She looks at him out of the corner of her eye and smiles back. 

            You’re such a pig, she says, heatless.

            Come here, he says, and kisses her.

            They are free. Free to tell him to kiss their ass, to shove it, to stop fucking around. What is he, a prince? But they don’t want to break up. They want to paint each other’s nails, then paint his nails. He isn’t callous or rude or a fuck-up or an asshole; he likes them all. He gets them little presents, silver charms and sexy t-shirts with words like Hot Bunny Mama dripping over the chest. Girls fall for all kinds of tricks. Is it his James Dean hair? His skinny six-pack? The little gap between his front teeth? If you ask him about the girls he holds his hands up like you have a gun on him: absolutely innocent.

 

            After the girls leave I slip into my brother’s room, sit on his bedspread, wait for him to finish taking a piss. When he sees me he shakes his head.

            Why are you always hanging around, man, he says, and I get up so he can sit down.

            I heard you arguing with one of the groupies, I say. She want to jump ship?

            Naw, he says.

            Sounds like she was pissed.

            He shrugs. Not really.

            I start flipping imaginary hair over my shoulder. You should like me best, I say, in a high-pitched voice, rolling my eyes up.

            I do, baby, he croons back, and kicks my ankle. I embrace him, hard, an arm locked around his head.

            Enough, he says into my stomach, shoving at my hips. I turn away, thumb through a skateboard magazine, push over a small stack of CD’s with my foot. Tugging his algebra quiz from a textbook, I read the red ink: 68, a D+. I smirk.

            What’d you get? he asks, defensive, almost afraid. He doesn’t like it when I smile. 

            68, I whisper. Duh.

            We have the same teachers, take the same tests. I know the mistakes he would make. We both write with our left hand. He’s looking at me, wondering what it means; it doesn’t mean anything. He can go fuck himself. I drop the test on the desk and make a sound like a bomb dropping; when it hits it explodes. He lies back on his bed, one knee up, trying to act cool.

            Better luck next time, I say, and depart. I close the door and stand outside it. He gets on the phone. I listen.

            The boardwalk, he says, and I can hear, faint but distinct, the shriek of their combined Hell yes! I know his hand is slipped under the waistband of his shorts. I slip mine down, too. I smile when he smiles. Am I human, or envy in a human shape? Their sandals slap the steps. He opens the front door. From my spot in the hall I can see the shadows of their breasts on the wall. They use the bathroom, grab snacks, yelp when the dog licks their knees, and then they are gone. My brother’s car shoots down the street, hair streaming from its windows. They could die, I consider. He drives too fast. But then I would die, too, so I cancel that wish. Let them live! I sing to myself. My stepmom looks up from her talk show.

            What, Kenneth?

            Nothing, I say, and grin.

 

            They come home, full of beer, half asleep. I’m pulling on Bianca’s hair, the one I like, both hands deep in the hot blond sheet of it. She goes on wiping peanut butter off of a knife and onto a piece of bread. One girl is petting the cat with her toes and the other two are slung over the back of the couch, all legs and ass, and my brother is looking at me.

            What’s your deal, he says.

            I don’t say anything, I just look at him as I touch the girl’s hair, combing, combing.

            Seriously man, stop it.

            You stop it, I say.

            No you, he says, blinking. I’m not doing anything.

            I look at him like, oh? The girl presses the sandwich together, takes a bite. My hands slip through the bottom of her hair into space. She turns to my brother, chews, pins her hip to the counter.

            Who’re you talking to, she says.

            I smile behind her.

            Nobody, baby, he says, flipping me off with one hand while reeling her in with the other. The kiss he gives her smacks through the room, hits me in the mouth.

 

            I take boxers from the pile at the foot of his bed; I take shirts, jeans, socks, and fold them into my own dresser, pulling them on at night, sitting in the dark in his favorite jacket like a snake in a stolen skin. Their perfumes rise from the fabric, having been smeared into it by their glossy heads, their restless arms. And his smell is there too, I’m sure, but I can’t smell it anymore, because it’s mine now, too. I don’t want to take the jacket off. So I leave it on.

 

            I’m fucking her standing up in the kitchen. It’s dark and her back is pressed against the doorknob of the pantry. It’s hurting her. In fact technically I am raping her, but she isn’t trying to stop me, she’s just hoping I’ll hurry up. I watch the kitchen clock and time myself—they did it for eight minutes and thirty-six seconds the last time. So at 2:42 I come. We can hear the other girls in his room, laughing, and his voice, making them laugh.

            Close your eyes, I tell the girl, the one I want, the one I am fucking the way my brother fucks.

            No, she says.

            I put my hand over her face.

            Jesus Christ, she says. Cut it out, Kenneth.

            The other girls make excited yips. I know they are all in a heap on his bed and he is slowly peeling their clothes from their bronze skin. They go breathless, like lights turning down.

            You keep drinking my diet cokes, I say to the girl.

            So? she sighs.  

            Aren’t you going to do anything? Scream or anything?

            She yawns. Not right now, she says.

            You don’t care?

            I’m drunk, she says. I thought you were Mike.

            You did?

            She giggles.

            I press the girl’s waist beneath my palms. He’s going to dump you someday, I say.

            So? she says.

            I stare. My brother and I are endangered; we are nearly extinct.

            I withdraw. She wipes her thigh with a paper towel, tosses the towel onto the counter, then goes down the hall, opens his door, closes it. I listen for their voices. My brother says something and she laughs. I hold the paper towel in my hand and laugh too, the way he does, but quietly, a whisper, my eyes wide in the dark.     

 

 

Maryse Meijer is the author of Heartbreaker (FSG, 2016). Her work has appeared in The Collagist, The Conium Review, Joyland, Meridian, The Portland Review, 580 Split, and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago. 

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