My Brother’s Keeper. Eve Chancellor

My Brother’s Keeper. Eve Chancellor

https://t.me/one_story

I

    My brother's name is David. Our parents called him that because it means "beloved," in case you didn't know. In the Bible, the story about David and Goliath is one of the best ones, when that kid slings a rock at the giant's head and kills him dead.

    My name is Matthew. Most people call me Matt.


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    'Matthew,' Mum says, lighting the Christmas candle. 'Would you like to say Grace?' Mum always puts the posh plates out when we have guests round. Now I guess we have to treat my brother like a "guest." Mum got out the candle cos she's trying to be fancy, even though we always forget to light it on the first day of advent.

    'Go on,' Dad says, offering my brother a beer.


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    I guess that's a thing. I guess my brother drinks alcohol now he goes to uni, even though Mum never let him when he went to parties at school. Sometimes he would get in really late and wake me up and be well moody the next day, so I sort of figured he was hungover. Anyway, David says no to beer and helps himself to wine.

    Grace raises her eyebrows at me across the table. So this is a thing, me and my sister making fun of David behind his back.

    Grace is the middle child. She doesn't talk to anyone in the family - apart from me.

    'Thank you, God,' I say, bowing my head and closing my eyes, 'for bringing my brother home from uni and making sure the trains were ok.' Mum was fretting that David was gonna get stuck cos of the snow. 'And for giving us lasagna. Amen.'

    I open one eye. In my head, secretly, I pray that my sister will eat something.

    'So,' Mum says, once we all open our eyes. 'How's Hannah?' Honestly, my brother's been home for literally five seconds, and she's already starting in on him about girls.


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    'Yeah, fine,' David says, taking a swig of wine.

    Hannah is my brother's girlfriend. They met at uni. David hasn't really told me much about her, but I reckon they're doing it.

    I'm fourteen, and I've never done it. I don't really have a girlfriend.

    'Seems like a nice girl,' Dad says, trying to be all chummy. 'Must have good taste. Hang on to her, mate.'

    I hate the way our dad talks. He talks like this more when we're in front of people, or David has his mates round, or something. He goes on about how he's "self-made" and "self-employed," and how he left school at sixteen, and look at him now. Then he made us go to a grammar school, so I've no idea what that's about.

    When David got into Durham, Dad went really quiet for ages. I think he realised he'd run out of stuff to say.

    Dad just ignores me most of the time. I flick a pea across the table at my sister, and she smiles. Dad catches me and gives me a look.

    We have to be on our best behaviour cos David's here.

    'She was more than welcome to come here for Christmas,' Mum says, trying not to sound all offended. But there's that guilt-tripping edge in her voice. 'It would be nice to finally meet her.'

    David presses his lips together tightly. He does this when he's stressed or thinking. 'Mum, there's not enough room. You know that.'

    Me and my brother shared a bedroom growing up. David never lets me touch his things, and he used to get annoyed when I was practising my violin, and he wanted to revise. David acts like he's more important than me just cos he's the oldest.

    When David moved out, I took his side of the room. Now I have to go back to my corner.

    'Grace has space in her room,' Mum says, making everyone feel worse. One, my sister likes her own space. Two, her room is full of weird cut-out pictures of girls from magazines.

    I think my sister might be a lesbian, but I'm not sure. How do lesbians even do it?

    'Matt wouldn't mind moving downstairs.' Dad winks. 'Give you kids some space.'

    Why is everyone suddenly obsessed with my brother getting married and having babies?

    'No,' I say. 'Why do I have to sleep on the couch?'

    'Matthew,' Mum says in her tone. 'David is an adult now.'

    Grace snorts and covers her mouth with her hand. David gives her a funny look. He doesn't get her like I do.

     'Mum,' David says, running a hand through his hair. 'Hannah doesn't want to come down to Peterborough for Christmas, alright?'

    Everyone goes quiet. What's wrong with Peterborough? Just cos my brother thinks he's all posh now he goes to uni...What's wrong with us?

    'Why didn't you come to my recital?' I pipe up.

    'What?' David says, looking at me like he'd forgotten I was there. 'For God's sake, Matt. Does it really matter?'

    What he means is, do you really matter? I'm mad at him cos he didn't come to my school concert to see me play, even though he only had to come back a day early and Mum was really excited cos she likes things like carol concerts. David is the smart one, and Grace is the only girl, but I have my music. That's the one thing I have.

    And David doesn't even care.

 

II

 

I'm trying to get to sleep when David comes to bed. He's been watching TV with Dad, and they have the volume up really loud cos Dad's basically deaf. David shuts the door quietly and starts getting changed in the dark.

    'Matt?' (He can tell I'm pretending).

    'What?' I turn over in bed. This is how I used to sleep when I was a kid, with the wall on this side.

    'I'm sorry I didn't come to your concert.' David switches on his bedside light and charges his phone.

    My brother is one of those people who never really sleeps. I sort of got used to it, but every time I used to wake up in the night, he'd been wide awake, looking stuff up on his phone. I had problems getting to sleep when David moved out.

    'No, you're not,' I say. My brother's never really cared about me. Not really. I'm just a piece of furniture that gets in the way.

    'Matthew.' Sometimes David calls me Matthew. 'I didn't know it meant that much to you. You should've said.'

    What's the point in saying anything in this family when no one ever listens? Just cos I'm the youngest, people treat me like a baby. But I see things they don't.

    'You were too busy with your Durham friends.'

    David switches off his bedside light, and we both lay there in silence. I open my eyes, and I can still see the glare from his phone.

    'It's not that great, to be honest,' David says finally. 'It's just like school, only more cliquey.'

    David was always popular in school, in the way that everyone knew about him cos he was always top in everything and won loads of awards. When teachers see my name on the register, they just say, Oh, you're David Harris' little brother. Then they're always disappointed when I'm just moody and don't really talk much.

    'You like school,' I mumble.

    David doesn't say anything. He always had loads of friends in school, but they were always the smart, nerdy kids, not cool people. I'm not really cool enough to fit in with cool kids, but I'm not a geek, so I don't hang out with the David types either.

    'Me and Hannah split up,' David sighs. I don't know why he's telling me and no one else.

     Why was he lying about her all through dinner?

    'What happened?' I can't tell if my brother is sad. I'm not really good at stuff like that, like when Dad makes Mum sad for no reason. I just go up to her and give her a hug or something, and that seems to make her better.

    'We just work better as friends,' David says. 'Don't tell Mum and Dad, yeah? It's just…I'm waiting for the right time to tell them.'

    Why does he have to keep it from Mum? She'll be mad if she finds out he lied to her. The Bible says it's wrong to tell lies.

    'But I thought she was fit?' I say.

    'Yeah, well, it's more than that.' You can hear Dad's footsteps stomping upstairs, and my brother lowers his voice. 'Please, just…I don't want to make things weird at Christmas. I'm telling you cos I trust you, yeah?'

     My brother trusts me. I am the keeper of my brother's secrets. I am my brother's keeper.

    'I kissed this girl,' I say, closing my eyes and breathing in the dark.

    'You what?' David whispers. 'Matt, do you have a girlfriend?'

    'She's not my girlfriend,' I murmur. 'We just kissed.'

    'Do you like her?'

    'She's alright.' I try to picture Kate's face. She's not really pretty or nothing. But she has an interesting face, and I get this feeling in my belly.

    'Who is she?' David's making fun of me.

    'She's just this girl from orchestra.' My eyes start getting tired. 'David, how do I ask her if I want her to be my girlfriend? What do I say?'

    'You just ask her.' David yawns.

     III

 

My brother wakes me up with a shake. I burrow down further under my duvet and try to get back to sleep. 'Matt? Matt?'

    'What?'

    'Wake up, mate.'

    'Piss off.' People are only allowed to wake me up if the house is burning down. I make a loud groaning sound that comes out like a snore.

    David switches on the bedside light. He's mental.

    'What time is it?'

    'Early,' he says, checking his phone. 'Come on, get dressed.'

    The light is too bright. Why does my brother have to be such a weirdo?

    I swing my legs out of bed and find an old hoody on the floor. It's still basically night-time. David tells me to be quiet so we don't wake anyone up.

    'What's going on?'

    'We're going out,' he says.

    'Where?'

    'Driving.'

    I get up and shove some clothes on over my pyjamas, then follow my brother downstairs. He's already wearing a tracksuit, and he grabs Mum's car keys from off the side and pulls a beanie hat down over his hair. My brother has been promising to teach me how to drive since he was seventeen, but Dad says I'm too young.

    Outside, it's that cool, quiet time between night and morning. Everyone is asleep, and we are the only two people awake in the whole world. I get this feeling like anything could happen. Me and David could go anywhere, and no-one would ever know.

    You can still see the moon, big and hazy, and it reminds me of this piece of music by Beethoven called 'Moonlight Sonata.'

    I hum to myself as we get in Mum's car. Dad drives a white van, and David's only been behind the wheel of it a couple of times. Once he picked one of his mates up, but he didn't ask Dad first, and they got in a row about it, and Dad said he wouldn't get David insured. David said that he would go out and do what he wanted anyway, and it was not his fault Dad's a miserable old git.

    David checks the mirrors. Then he winds down the window and takes a packet of cigs out of his pocket. He lights one. 'Don't tell Mum and Dad, or I'm scratching all your CDs.'

    'When did you start smoking?'

    You can tell from the way my brother leans his head back and inhales that he's done it before.

    'Just at uni on nights out,' he says. 'Want to try?' David holds out the fag and presses the button to wind down my window, letting in all the cold air.

    'I've done it before.'

    'When?' he laughs, but it comes out more as a cough.

    'With Kate.' I take the cigarette to show him. I've only done it once, but I can still remember how to do it. Loads of people say that smoking tastes bad, but it just tastes like going to the football with Dad, and how Grandpa used to smell.

    'You're a dark horse, Matthew Harris.'

    I don't know what that means, so I don't know if it's a bad thing. Sometimes David comes out with weird stuff.

    David finishes his fag and flicks the ash out of the window. Then he finds an old crisp packet on the floor and stubs it out in there, so Mum won't know. He takes us out onto the road, and the tarmac glistens with frost. It looks like someone's sprinkled Christmas everywhere, fairy lights twinkling in the trees, the sky thick and heavy with snow.

    David drives us out of the cul-de-sac and around a few of the neighboring streets on our block. It's been strange not having him here. Empty.

    After a few streets, he pulls over. 'Matthew, I'm gay.'

    'Since when?'

    'Well, I've always been gay,' he says. 'I just didn't know until Hannah and me…I guess, I realised I wasn't feeling the way I should. It's complicated.'

    'It's not that complicated,' I say.

    'No,' David says. 'I guess you're right.'

    'I think Grace is a lesbian,' I say, pulling my cuffs down over my hands.

    'Don't be daft.' David snorts.

    'How come she has all them pictures of girls?'

    'I dunno, Matt,' he says. 'She's a sixteen-year-old girl. She's a mystery.'

    Maybe I don't know my sister as well as I thought.

    David gets out of the car and tells me to climb over. I scoot across to the driver's seat, and he shows me about all the pedals and stuff.

    'We'll just go slow,' he says. 'I'm here. There's no-one else on the road.'

    I put my foot down on the pedal and started driving. I try to pretend I'm Dad, driving his van. But me and Dad are too different, and I can't get into his head. I wish that I could get into David's head, and now I know him better, it makes a bit more sense.

    'Concentrate,' David tells me.

    I think of all the times the teachers ignore me at school. All the times that Mum and Dad picked David's side over mine.

     Does it really matter?

    I keep going, and a turn comes up at the end. David warns me to indicate and start turning, but that's too many things to do at once when you are trying to keep your eyes on the road. I stall it, then push forwards.

    Then I hit left too hard, and the wheel skids on the ice - and we go bump onto the pavement - straight into a signpost.

    'Fuck!' my brother says. 'Fucking hell, nice one, Matt.' He rushes out of the car to take a look at the damage. When he gets back in the car, my brother doesn't say anything. Then he says, 'That looks expensive.'

    'Sorry!'

    'It's alright,' he says. 'It's my fault.'

    I want to ask David how it's his fault, but my throat dries up.

    When we get back home, the lights are on downstairs. Mum opens the door before David even has a chance to get out his keys.

    'Where have you been?' Mum sounds mad. She's wearing a dressing gown and slippers, clutching her mobile phone.

    I turn to my brother. This is where Mum starts crying, and Dad has a go at me and makes me spend all my pocket money on fixing the car.

    This is where Mum and Dad act like I was just a mistake, even though they pretend that I'm not when everyone knows they wanted to stop at two.

    This is where, actually, my brother steps forward and says, 'Mum, I'm sorry. I just wanted to take Matt out for a drive, cos I couldn't sleep, and I didn't really think about the ice. The car slipped while I was driving, I'm really sorry…'

     My brother is lying for me, I think. Maybe he's my keeper after all.

 

*cover design by Alice Aulich


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