↑ Return to CONTENTS 2013

HELEN HEATH

I ate my brother

 

1.
I ate my brother. I was always fond of him, looked up to him. He was older than

me. I measured myself against him. We stood back to back. At first I only came

up to his shoulder, and then I realised in that instant we’d fused.

 

It wasn’t easy, he had to throw a coat over me so he could play with his friends.

We’d bike off to the dark places children play. I’d be quiet so as not to cramp his

style.

 

Then I began to grow and one morning, instead of him throwing a coat over me,

I threw a coat over him and walked out the door.

 

I’d hear his voice in my ear sometimes. At first he wasn’t impressed but he soon

realised it was just easier this way, with me taking the lead. I was good at it.

 

As the years passed he became the size of a monkey on my back, an endearing,

small lump, a strange surprise revealed to lovers. By the time I’d married and

had children he was the size of a pygmy marmoset.

 

The children liked to play with him but eventually he became nothing but a

calcified lump. A recent X-ray revealed three teeth and a shadow of fur.

 

 

2.

Mum would tuck us into our beds – divans with two drawers underneath. The

layers were: mattress, blanket, sheet, child, sheet, blanket, candlewick

bedspread. When we were tucked in it was hard to move, like caterpillars in a

cocoon – sometimes comforting, sometimes claustrophobic. The candlewick

was pale lemon, something to stroke if you could get an arm out from under the

covers. If I was careful, I could slide out of bed the next morning and it still

looked made.

 

At the foot of my bed was a threadbare dog, pale pink with a zip up its back.

Inside, the lining was a cool-to-touch satin – also pale pink – for putting your

pyjamas in apparently. Its head was solid because inside was mechanical music.

You wound up the key on the back of its head to hear ‘Twinkle, twinkle’. It was

pretty ugly really, but the novelty aspect made it strangely attractive.

 

Leaving was the thing. We were loitering, waiting to get away. While I waited I

practised my sneer, reading The Face magazine, listening to The Cure, Jesus and

Mary Chain and The Violent Femmes. My brother was listening to Iggy Pop and

the Stooges, Motörhead and Peter and the Test Tube Babies.

 

My brother would leave without leaving; he’d go bush any weekend he could,

first tramping then hunting. He made himself a bed up in the attic where he kept

his home-cured goat skin that smelt so rank no one came up the ladder to check

the state of his room. Cunning. He started leaving in his mind, growing pot up in

the hills and smoking big bags of cabbage like it was Pocket Edition.

 

My parents gave him the old Mini and he left home to live with a bunch of

greasy guys with motorbikes in Stokes Valley. He said the Pigs thought they

were starting a chapter of White Power, and laughed. They were too cheap to

buy toilet paper, they kept newspaper in the dunny so you could read then wipe

– dual purpose. Cunning. One night they smashed up the old Mini with an empty

beer keg because it was crapping out. Not long after, I left home for Wellington.

 

The distance between us grew; we reacted to our mother’s illness and eventual

death in different ways. We’d catch up sometimes and he’d tell me all about who

was currently out to get him: bankers, politicians, old friends, his father-in-law.

People were a constant disappointment to him, people were never what they

seemed, never measured up to his hopes and expectations. Each year more

people were out to get him. We worried he was too isolated living on the farm

down south, that culling was too lonely a job, the guns.

 

Sometimes he told me stories about hunting, like when he tracked a goat for too

long and by the time he’d shot it the dark was falling. He’d left most of his gear

back at the hut; in his pocket was a candle stub, smokes and a lighter. He

skinned the goat and wrapped himself in the stinking billy pelt. During the night

he occasionally lit the candle, more for state of mind than heat. As dawn came,

he made his way back to the hut.

 

We write our own mythologies, our own truths. Our memories become re-

remembered, re-imagined. There were times when we were kids that I felt like

my brother’s other half. I adored him.

 

He has stopped returning my calls, the answerphone is a nameless, synthesised

voice. I’m starting to think that maybe I never had a brother. Perhaps he has

always been a figment of my imagination, an imaginary friend? Somehow this is

all my doing. Oh brother, where are you now?

 

 

3.

On the scree slope you are alone. The thar walks along the top of the ridge, its

kid trailing behind. There is just the smell of your wet Swanndri and the sound

of your own breath punctuated by the squeak of boot on scree. You pick your

way closer to them, the wind is in your favour. You lift the rifle, butt to shoulder,

eye to sight. Breathe out slowly. Squeeze.

 

Bloody hell. You’ve taken the bottom jaw off the nanny, her tongue lolls out

grotesquely and she skitters down the scree. Quickly now, a second shot and

she’s down. The kid stands over her body calling for years. Maaaaa, maaaaa,

maaaaa.

 

 

 

Contents | Previous Author | Next Author | About this Author

Permanent link to this article: http://4thfloorjournal.co.nz/past-issues/4th-floor-2013/contents-2013/helen-heath-i-ate-my-brother/