Archive for June, 2012

Vowels

June 5, 2012

“For how long?” I ask.
“Two weeks.”
“Come on, Harry, that’s too much. How about one week?”
“How about three weeks?”
“A week and a half?” I offer.
“Four,” he counters.

I was getting nowhere fast. I knew this game too well. I knew how it was played, where it was going, and who was going to lose out.  I decided to change tactic.

“Harry, please, let me use it. I’ll pay. How much is a text?”
“Nothing. They’re free.”
“Your texts are free and you still won’t let me use it!”
“Why should I?”

This was my brother through and through. If there was nothing in it for him, there was nothing in it. But he has a phone and I don’t. Desperately, I try appealing to his emotions. If he has any, that is.

“Come on, Harry. For me. For your little brother.”
“You can use it,” he replies.
“Thanks,” I say, relieved.
“If you do my washing-up for 4 weeks.”

He clearly doesn’t. Reluctantly, I agree to his terms.

*             *             *

My brother is not my favourite person in the world. I’m not his either.  He’s 15. Two and a half years older than me. Two and a half inches taller too. Our relationship consists mainly of bargaining. Pretty much as a rule; the longer I stand my ground, the less well-off I come. It’s just a question of at which point I wish to give in. I’ve learned a lot from this ritual of ours, so that these days I concede almost immediately. It’s easier in both the short and the long run.

We used to get on much better. We did lots of stuff together; kicking a football, or playing video games in one of his friends’ houses, or swimming in the pool near the mill outside town. He’d let me tag along if he was going off somewhere with his friends. I never said much, and wasn’t any good at sports, but he didn’t mind. I stuck close to him by choice, and he would never let me get too far off anyway.  But that was when we were younger. In the last couple of years, we’ve stopped hanging out so much. It began happening less and less when he started secondary. And when I started too, it stopped altogether.

I remember walking out the door with him on my first day in St Martin’s. Mam had given us lunches in plastic wrap, instead of in a lunchbox. I was growing up. No longer a child. My sandwiches were wrapped. Just like my dad’s were.

“Look out for your little brother at school.”
“MAM!”  I say, embarrassed.
“I will,” says Harry, as we close the front door behind us.

Secretly, it was good to hear though. I had been apprehensive about going to secondary.  So, as we walked down the hill to the stop, I was looking forward to being brothers again. It was exciting: to be entering his world, and not to be surrounded by a school full of kids. Still though, I did feel anxious, when I thought about starting the new school. Having my big brother with me meant a lot. It was reassuring.  As we were getting nearer to the church parking lot where the school bus picked us up, he began to speed up. So, so did I.

“Stay behind me!” he calls back at me.
“What? Why?”
“Just ‘cos,” he answers, speeding up even more.

I try to go faster too, but can barely keep up without breaking into a run. I look at him racing ahead of me, with his head down and hood up, and wonder why he is so angry with me. What had I said? What had I done?

Then, turning back at me, he adds, “Don’t stand near me at the bus stop either.”
“Ok. I won’t,” I agree. Both confused and saddened.
“Or at school. Or anywhere.”
“But…” I begin to whimper.
“You don’t know me, ok?”

I suppose I didn’t. Not right now anyway. I give up trying to keep up with him, and let the distance between us grow. I couldn’t understand why he was doing this. It felt like a small hole had appeared in my belly and had started growing. My lip began to quiver, and I fought back the tears. I wasn’t going to cry. I cried on my first day of primary, but I was a baby then. I couldn’t cry now. I bit down hard, and kept them in. I walked on and got to the stop and stood away from Harry. I glanced over at him for a moment. He was talking with his friends, and he wouldn’t even look at me. They were laughing together, pushing each other around. His anger had completely disappeared. As if by magic.

*             *             *

Harry lent me his phone for an hour in exchange for a month of doing his chores. I put these future consequences to the back of my mind, and felt a surge of excitement. I ran up to my room with it, and put in Mary Jo’s number, and selected ‘send message’. A blank screen appeared on the phone. I stared at it. For a very long time. Equally blank. What should I say? How should I say it? I wrote two lines. I deleted one of them. I wrote two more and deleted the first one I had written. I added another line, and then I deleted them all. This wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

I looked at my watch. I had already wasted fifteen minutes just staring at the thing.
‘Oh damn it’ I say to myself. Just write something.

‘Hi, Mary Jo. It’s Glasses. How are you?’

The ‘message sent’ icon appears. I stare at it anxiously. My heartbeat quickens. I hope she responds before my hour is… The phone bleeps: ‘1 new message’

‘hola muy bien wot u up 2?’ it reads.

I don’t quite get it. I know the words. The Spanish at least. Plus the word ‘up’. The rest takes a while for me to decipher.

‘Nothing much. Just starting my homework. You?’ I respond.
‘me 2 u wanna c 1 of my cartoons’
‘I’d love to. Did you make it on your DS?’
‘no drw wd my BFF snap & gif.’

I’m in over my head here. What does any of that mean!? Where are the vowels?

BFF:  Is that her Big BoyFriend? My heart sinks.
I hope not. Is a BFF is some new electronic device? Who knows?
snap: Is that her boyfriend’s nickname? My heart sinks further.
gif: Does that mean her girlfriend? My heart… I don’t know what it does. But it moves.

The phone bleeps again. ‘1 new message’. I press it. It reads ‘Play’. I press that too.

A cartoon appears, playing in a loop. There is a big rabbit playing basketball. With other baby bunnies. But there is no ball. The big one is using the babies as the balls. The little bunnies hop and bounce all over the place, as the big one tosses, dribbles, and slam dunks them around the screen.

‘That’s funny. You’re very talented.’
‘tnx do u draw stff 2’
‘I’d like to, but I’m absolutely rubbish. I can’t even draw the curtains.’

‘rotfwl its ez ill tch u’

Her rottweiler is ill!? She’ll touch me!? I am confused. I am excited. I am lost. My brother comes in and tells me that my hour was up ten minutes ago and I owe him another week of dishes. I plead with him to give me a minute longer. He agrees. For another month of the washing-up.

‘I have to go. This homework won’t do itself.’
‘lol c u @ school 2mrw’

I pass the phone back to Harry. He takes it from me grumpily and walks out of my room. I lie back on my bed and stare up at the hole in the ceiling. What does ‘lol’ mean? Is it ‘lots of love’? Was she sending me love? I’m not sure. Maybe it does. Maybe she loves me?

*             *             *

It means ‘laugh out loud’. Apparently everybody knows that. So, I guess she doesn’t love me. But I think she might like me. A bit anyway. We have become text-friends. Even if now I am now doing Harry’s dishes for the rest of my life. I don’t really care though. It’s still worth it. We have become real friends too: Mary Jo and I. We started to hang out at school, and spend our small break together, and chat to each other between classes in our home-room. She makes me feel relaxed and excited at the same time. For two weeks since, we’ve talked every school day. I’d never been able to talk to a girl as easily as I could with her. She made me laugh all the time. Sometimes intentionally. Sometimes unintentionally. Sometimes both. I got up in the morning and looked forward to school. Everything became brighter.

*             *             *

It was a Wednesday. Mam and dad were in the next room watching telly. I was at the kitchen table doing homework. My brother came home late. Almost ten o’clock. He had been at football practice. He walked in, went to the fridge, grabbed the juice, and poured himself a glass. I didn’t even look at him. He took a gulp and sat down beside me. I lifted my head from my schoolbooks.

“Do you like that girl you’ve been texting?” he asks.
“She’s ok.”
“I read some of the texts you guys sent.”
“Sorry.” I say, trying to concentrate on my homework. “I meant to delete them.”

We haven’t talked in a long while. My brother and I. I mean, an actual conversation. He pushes the glass around the table, and looks into it. I pretend to still be writing. I scribble in the margin.

“She rang me.”
“What!?” My doodling suddenly stopping.
“She rang me when I was coming back from training.”
“You mean she rang me!?”
“Whatever. Anyway, I answered.”
“Harry!” My heart begins its descent. That little hole reappears in my insides. I teeter near its brink.
“I didn’t know who it was! No name came up. So I answered.”

Why did I lie to her? And such a stupid lie too. I should have just told her that I didn’t own a phone. She wouldn’t have cared. She’s not that kind of girl. I know that now.

“So she knows it’s not my phone?” I ask anxiously.
“No. I lied to her.” He says. “I told her you were asleep.” This makes me feel a little more relaxed.
“What did she want?”
“She wanted help with her Spanish.”

I don’t do Spanish, but our mother is from Spain, so we were brought up speaking both languages.

“I should ring her,” I say. “Or do you think it’s too late?”
“There’s no need.”
“Why not?”
“I already helped her out.”
I look at him. There is a mischievousness in his face. The sound of the telly buzzes from the next room. We hear the cackle of the canned laughter. Our parents’ cackle quickly follows.

“You don’t like her, do you?” he asks.
“She’s alright.” I can feel the blushes running to my cheeks.
“Yeah, you do,” he says.
“No, I don’t.”

I try not to smile. Of course I like her. Harry must be really enjoying winding me up. But in a way, it was good to be talking to him. He used always tease me like this. I hated it, but at the same time I think I’d missed it too. Not the teasing exactly. But the interaction. We had become so distant.

“Really?” He asks.
“Honest.” I reply. My embarrassment showing.
“You really don’t like her?”
“NO!” I deny her for a third time.
“Good. Because I went round to hers to help with her Spanish, and we ended up kissing.”

I drop my pen, and stare at him in shock. He’s having me on. He must be. Or is he? His face is calm and serious. He does not smile. He is not joking. He was with her. My heart collapses in upon itself. My own brother! He’s kissed loads of girls. I haven’t. I haven’t kissed one. Why Mary Jo? Why did he have to kiss her? The only girl I feel anything for.

“Sorry, man. That’s life,” he adds, with a shrug of his shoulders.
“Cabrón!” I say, raising my voice. “You know I like her.”
“But you just said you didn’t.”
“But I do!”
“So why did you lie?”

I don’t know why I’d lied. Either to her, or to him. I just do. I feel stupid and angry. My brother sits across from me coolly. A cruel smirk forming on his face. That well inside me swells and swells. Rising from the pit of my stomach. Taking over. Till something inside me snaps. I stand up, kicking my chair back from under me, and throw my homework at his head. All my books. My pens. My notebooks. He deflects them to the floor with ease. I start to shout at him. Cursing and damning and swearing. As loudly as I can. I tell him I hate him and will never forgive him. I tell him I wish he was dead and that I never want to speak to him again. My parents burst in angrily and begin to shout at me too, but I storm out of the kitchen before they can give out, and I run upstairs to my room.

I slammed my bedroom door behind me and dove onto my bed. Everything I’d ever felt or hadn’t felt rose within my belly. I let it scream itself out of me; let it roar into the silence of the mattress. All the ‘aaaaaah’s, and ‘oooooow’s, and ‘uh uh huh’s. The million tears I’d fought back. I let them tear themselves out of me. And when I had finally finished, I turned and lay on my back, in despair. I wiped my cheeks with the back of my hand and stared up at the hole in the ceiling, and for the briefest of moments, I allowed myself to believe that it was in fact the leaking pipe above me that had made my face so wet. Which made me feel better. But only very, very slightly.