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50/50 Exercise #24: Siblings

My brother calls me a collaborator, a traitor—and worse. I ask him what he would do if he were the one responsible for our mother’s care. But he’s not responsible. What good are his principles when she is near starving and I don’t have the money to buy the medicine that might quiet her pain?

I take responsibility for the choices I have made. I accept the rations that they give me, although it is not enough for three of us. My brother lectures me on the subject of sacrifice. When he comes to visit us on a moonless night, he invokes the name of our father. I don’t need to be reminded of what was taken from both of us. I don’t want to hear his stories of heroism.

I remember a time when my brother still admired me. He would follow us everywhere, my friends and me—down to the bend in the creek, where we fished for perch from the mud bank. When I brought him home soaked nearly to his waist in muddy water, my mother, her face a mask of fatigue, asked me, “Jesse, what have you done to your brother? I told you to keep Marco out of trouble.”

Or when we rode our bikes under the highway overpass to the abandoned mill, he pedaled as hard as he could, trying to keep pace. I would hang back to give him a chance to catch up. My friends raced ahead to throw rocks at the unbroken windows along the crest of the roof. They had no younger brothers.

I can’t fight my brother’s battles. I can’t fight my brother. I have only so much strength. There is only so far that I can stretch our meager resources.

It is a matter of time until they find the man I have hidden behind the pantry wall. But my brother doesn’t know about our guest. He can’t know that I have sworn to keep this man from harm.

Note: The assignment was to write about siblings, either birth-siblings or chosen-siblings. My last foray into sibling memoir is still a sore spot with the sib in question, so I decided to go with fiction this time.

© 2008 Edward F. Gumnick

3 comments to 50/50 Exercise #24: Siblings

  • Gayle Goddard

    This has such a sense of despair about it. The narrator seems desperate and bitter and overwhelmed. It was almost painful to read, really. What an excellent job of sketching this character’s state of mind. I wonder what this story would be about – another entry in the world overrun by aliens, from a prior exercise? Captivating read.

  • efg

    I’m not sure who the enemy is. I wasn’t thinking of alien invaders when I started writing it, but a connection to the “Resistance” exercise crossed my mind.

    I was also thinking about the story of the good Samaritan, and the question “Who is my neighbor?” and by extension, in the spirit of the assignment, “Who is my brother?” The narrator (at least as the story now stands) seems to have concluded that the man who needs his help is in some sense more of a brother to him than his biological sibling is.

  • Barbara Carle

    Great beginning. I keep wanting to hear more. I get hooked on these characters and I want to know what happens next. All 24 pieces are such high quality I can see myself reading book after book. Now you just have to choose which one to start first.

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