by Matthew Cook
My older brother Gary and I used to share a bunk bed. He had the top, I had the bottom. This arrangement was established after much fighting and experimentation, and we finally learned to be happy. The bed was made from plain wood, pine or some such, and creaked like a sailing boat each time either of us moved the slightest bit. In his sleep he gulped air, like a hungry man eating. Sometimes I dreamed of the slats breaking and his body crashing down on top of me.
When the weather was warm, our bed oozed sap from its various knots and creases. Bulbous, golden ejaculations that fascinated and appalled us. It was too magical a thing to suddenly emerge in so ordinary a place, it didn’t seem right. We told dad, who angrily denied it was happening at all, as if we were insulting his craftsmanship. But he had only bought it in a cardboard box and screwed it together, without much thought at all.
Gary was my superior, until the year he turned 11 and all his teeth began to fall out. He tried to blame mum’s cooking, but we all knew lackadaisical brushing was to blame. He got bored so easily, first one hand becoming tired, and then the other. I once watched him play the piano for a full half hour just sucking on the bristles. His new artificial teeth were expensive and we went on holiday to our grandparents’ house that year. From then on we were equals and nothing was the same.
I began feigning sleep around the house to spy on him more easily, and discovered that he had a habit of scratching deep inside his ears with whatever was to hand. I often saw swirls of ballpoint pen around the soft rifts of his ear hole, disappearing into the darkness inside. I pointed this out to him and his best-friend Avon one day when we were walking home from Church. Without speaking, Gary shoved me on the ground and tried to ram a twig into my ear. He would have done it too if Avon hadn’t kicked him in the balls.
I ran home and demanded my own room. Mum agreed right away. She had noticed me sleeping in the daytime and was concerned I had a fatigue problem. I was given dad’s office, and my own bed made of curved metal pipes. Smooth and silent. Dad was relocated to the dining room, which may well have had an impact on a great many things in the long run.
Some time later, I caught sight of Gary in our old room, scratching deep inside his ear with the hooked end of a coat hanger. He made a high-pitched noise that I felt behind my eyes. I did my best not to notice.
He has a daughter now. I tend to forget her name.
Matthew Cook has been a hospital porter, a script consultant and a retail snoop but is currently a freelance writer based in Liverpool. His fiction and reviews have appeared in Oblong, Number Eleven, Small Doggies, PANK, Tusk, Imbroglio and Cooldog. You can sometimes find him on twitter @mattjohncook. Website: hellomattcook.com.