by S J Mannion

He visits us a lot, my husband’s brother. Especially since his episode. He comes to see us even more now. I say “us” but I don’t really include myself in that. He does not come to see me. He comes to see my husband and the children. I am just thrown in with them, we are a job lot. He hides in the foliage of family life. I think he finds it comforting. The routine, but also the mayhem. The children love him and their random, undiscriminating demonstrations of this are a balm to him. I think he likes the sheer noise of them too. He lives alone now but he was brought up in a loud cheerful house, and I see him warming himself by the fire of their enthusiasm. They don’t know about his episode. They do not see he is not as he was.

But I know and see, and I am a little frightened and a little repulsed. I am ashamed and saddened by this reaction. Why is it that those who most need love are often hardest to love? I cannot give him love. Even with my children, my love is supremely conditional. Still, an affection of sorts has grown. He is my husband’s brother. I love my husband. He is also my children’s uncle. I hope it is not genetic? Whatever caused the episode, that is. He has never been “quite right” though. And in particular, he has never been good with women. Always awkward and brash in their company. He was always trying too hard. To be liked. I think that would have been enough for him. But he is unattractive, his voice high pitched, his body short and fat, his face grey and pasty. Thus, not very likeable. Not to most people anyway.

Since his episode, he has developed a dull and sly sort of misogyny. Or at least, it is more obvious now. He blames the women in his life for his ills. His mother, his sisters, his long gone fiancée. He blames me. I took his brother, his playmate and minder, and made him otherwise occupied. So, he is lonelier now and the loneliness has made him confused and angry. He has a gentle but brittle soul and it has been splintered and fractured, by rejection and indifference.

Now, though I welcome him into our home, I would prefer he was not there. I believe he is too broken and damaged and cannot be fixed. I believe the medication will not cure, only mask. When I look at him, really look at him, his eyes skitter away from mine and his body folds in on itself, defensively, and I am reminded of an animal in pain and I am reminded of how dangerous that is. I am reluctant to turn my back on him when I make tea. I hear his breath, raspy and shallow, behind me and I almost flinch if he moves suddenly. I have even told my husband, his brother, not to leave me or the children alone with him, not ever. I believe it is best not to, since his episode.

SJ Mannion is a Dubliner, middle aged, married-with-three, desperately doing domesticity. When she can, she writes, when she can’t, she reads.