A slighter darker tone for this next short story. Come to think of it, it’s pretty macabre. So, I wouldn’t be letting any younglings read it if I were you.
SHALL I BE MOTHER?
© David Milligan-Croft.
I’ve always loved raspberry jam. Preferably the stuff with seeds in it. Hot, white toast, smothered in proper salty butter, (none of this polyunsaturate stuff), and a good dollop of Bonne Maman. I could sit and pick the seeds from between my over-sized teeth all day. My twin brother, Walter, on the other hand, finds this habit disgusting. So much so, he’s tried to kill me on several occasions.
Mother used to tell me that it was nothing to do with my habits, but because I am the ‘Good’ side of our birth and Walter is the ‘Evil’. I can’t say for sure whether she’s right or not, but I don’t think it’s helped Walter’s progress in life by actually telling him this repeatedly since he was a baby.
My brother gets out of prison today and has vowed to kill me. So I can understand why you might think it foolish of me to be driving there to pick him up.
Walter first tried to kill me when we were eight. We were playing ‘Houdini’ at the time. First, I tied him up and timed him to see how quickly it took him to escape. One minute forty eight seconds – a new record. Next, it was my turn. But I found Walter’s Alpine Butterfly knots a little too secure to break free of. Satisfied that I was well and truly trussed up, he proceeded to bash my head repeatedly against the side of Dad’s workbench. I passed out after about thirty or forty blows. I think the only reason I survived was because he got too tired and had to stop for a breather. He’s always had breathing difficulties ever since the doctors had trouble getting him out of our mother’s womb after I was born. They ended up using forceps on him. You should’ve seen the shape of his head! In old baby photographs of the two of us, Walter has this bizarre cone-shaped bonce. He looks like he was given birth to by an alien.
Eventually, Dad found me on the garage floor in a considerably large pool of blood. I had a fractured skull, twenty seven stitches and lost the use of my right eye. Social workers came and asked me a lot of questions but I just said that I didn’t remember what happened. They talked to Walter a lot too, he just said that I had slipped and banged my head. I know they didn’t swallow his story, but what could they do?
The second time he tried to kill me was when he harpooned me with an eel trident. We were about eleven I reckon. Harlington Creek was murky and warm. We stood like statues up to our knees in the greeny-brown water waiting for an unsuspecting eel to swim between our legs. We waited for quite a long time. Eventually, Walter said we should try further upstream. The farther we walked the more dense the forest canopy became and the slippier the rocks under our feet. It wasn’t long before I slipped and fell on my backside.
As I held out my hand for him to pull me up, Walter promptly speared me through the chest with his trident. I didn’t know what to say. I was shocked. I was also finding it a little hard to breathe as he’d punctured my right lung.
I don’t know if you know anything about punctured lungs, but apparently the trick is to lie on the side that is punctured. This is so the blood from the wound doesn’t pour out internally and fill up the good lung, thus asphyxiating yourself. Handy to know in such a situation. The only slight flaw in this plan was that I was up to my waist in water, so any attempt to lay on my side would have been totally futile.
Walter told the police and folk at the hospital that he had slipped on the mossy rocks when he was trying to help me up and accidentally harpooned me. By the time I had come out of my coma from blood loss the whole thing had pretty much blown over so I didn’t bother mentioning anything. Plus my memory was a bit hazy at the time.
Their was nothing wrong with my faculties when, for a third time, he tried to do me in. To be honest, I was getting a bit sick of it.
‘What have I ever done to harm you?’ I asked him just moments before he whacked me over the head with a replica samurai sword. I would have preferred it if it had actually been a real sword. At least then I wouldn’t have known anything about it. These replica types are about as sharp as a Peeler’s cudgel.
‘Ow!’, I remember saying. ‘What was that for?’
‘That’s for being my moronic twin brother!’, he hissed as he took out his zippo. Walter had started smoking on his 15th birthday. Partly because he thought it made him look cool, and partly to piss off our parents.
My vision was coming in and out of focus as a result of the blow to the head so I couldn’t really make out what he was doing. I thought he was lighting a birthday cake or something when he said: ‘Happy birthday, you little shit.’
It wasn’t until some weeks later that I found out that he wasn’t lighting a birthday cake after all, but a blow torch. As you can imagine I’m not a pretty sight when it comes to sunbathing on the Cote d’Azur. Fortunately, he did stay away from my face, so you can only really tell if I have a couple of buttons of my shirt undone.
Walter didn’t really have much of an excuse this time. He did try to tell Dad that he had been soldering a part for his motorbike when the torch slipped from his grasp as I entered the room and accidentally set me on fire. I think 80% first degree burns and a bit of ‘previous’ failed to convince the authorities this time.
That’s why he got 15 years for attempted murder.
I know it seems like a bit of a coincidence that they would release him on our thirtieth birthday, but sometimes life is like that. It’s not that I haven’t seen him in the past fifteen years, I went to visit him once or twice. Thankfully though, they did have two inch bulletproof glass between us, which I was glad to hear about after he wrestled a .45 off one of the guards and tried to put it to the test. They were going to let him out after eight years for good behaviour until that little incident.
Mam and Dad would be horrified to know that I was going to pick him up after all that’s happened. Unfortunately for them they aren’t around to see it. Mam and Dad fell foul of Walter when he was let out of prison as a goodwill gesture one Christmas. He’d only been inside for a couple of years and the authorities seemed to think he had been making good progress. I made sure I was as far away from festivities as possible. I didn’t want to put a dampener on things.
It wasn’t actually Walter’s fault as the coroner’s official verdict was suicide. But I get the impression from some of the conversations I’ve had with him since, that he tormented them so much psychologically over the festive period that they locked themselves in the garage to get away from him. They sat in their Morris Traveler and asphyxiated themselves by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Walter was actually quite traumatized by it. He said that he was only trying to show them how much he loved them. The authorities did try to convince him that love and rape were not exactly the same thing. He failed to grasp this.
I’ve brought a packed lunch for us today. I thought it might be nice to go for a picnic after I pick him up. I’m sure he’d prefer to be out of doors in the fresh air rather than being cooped up in a cafe or a bar.
I freshly baked some scones and brought a jar of raspberry Bonne Maman. There’s peaches, Italian salami, French bread, German sausage, Swiss cheese, South African wine, (Stellenbosch chardonnay to be precise). I also brought a punnet of cherry tomatoes; Walter so loves cherry tomatoes. So much so, that once when we were kids he ate two whole punnets by himself. When I tried to take just one he forced my fingers into the door jam and crushed them. I suppose that’ll teach me for trying to pinch his cherry toms. Think I’ll leave well alone this time.
There’s a lovely spot near to the prison which has an old dilapidated monastery with a river running past it and some stepping stones. There’s a waterfall too, which we used to dive off when we were kids. One summer, Walter, my parents and I went there for a picnic. We had an inflatable dinghy which we would generally frolic about in. Walter dared me to climb up to the top of the waterfall and jump off. He said he would wait at the bottom to make sure I was alright and pull me out if need be. I was a little nervous and suspicious, but after seeing him do it twice already and the fact that our parents were in such close proximity I couldn’t decline the challenge.
I crawled out along the slippery rocks and peered over at the gurgling white water swirling beneath me. Cautiously, I got to my feet and shuffled closer to the edge. I breathed in as deeply as my lungs would allow and pushed myself off. As the water rushed toward me so did the sight of the upturned oar of the dinghy. Fortunately, it was blunt enough not to impale me, but it did break four ribs and rupture my right kidney. Hopefully, things will be different this time.
‘Happy birthday, Walter,’ I said holding out my hand. He looked at me briefly, gave a half smile and got into the passenger seat. I looked at my trembling fingers and sensed that our reunion wasn’t going to be as easy as I had first imagined.
Walter looked different from the last time I saw him. Sure, physically he looked the same. Same hooked nose, same down turned mouth, same receding hair line, same hollow eyes. But now he seemed to radiate something. Something I can only describe as inner peace.
I put a tape into the cassette player and turned up the volume a little. I knew from when we were kids that he always liked the Bay City Rollers so I bought every tape I could lay my hands on. ‘We ran with the gang while we sang shang-a-lang’ boomed out of the tinny door speakers. I looked over at him from time to time to see if he was enjoying the music, but Walter just looked out of the window and gazed dreamily at the passing countryside.
His tranquil state put me a little more at ease. This was certainly not the Walter I knew and feared of old. He seemed much calmer. Perhaps, I thought to myself, he has truly changed his ways.
‘Stop!’ Walter shouted. I nearly drove into a ditch with fright.
‘What’s up! What’s the matter?’ My heart was racing fifteen to the dozen.
‘You nearly hit that fox.’
The fox scurried across the road and into a hedgerow. I tried to calm my breathing as I stared incredulously at Walter’s angelic profile.
When we eventually pulled up in the monastery car park things looked pretty much the same as they had done twenty years or so ago. Except that the monastery was missing a few more stones and the stepping stones across the river didn’t seem quite so daunting. I took the picnic basket and blanket from the boot of the car and headed down to a spot by the waterfall. Walter walked a little behind me and I couldn’t help glancing over my shoulder every once in a while to exchange nervous half smiles.
I unfolded the red and green tartan blanket at the foot of the waterfall just out of reach of its spray. I placed the picnic basket between us and began taking out the contents. I offered Walter the wine to open but he shook his head gratefully telling me that he didn’t drink but that I was welcome to do so if I so desired. I placed the feast before him and held out my palms for him to indulge. He looked down at the smorgasbord as if it was the first real food he had seen in a long time and a tear came to the corner of his eye. I took the punnet of cherry tomatoes and offered them to him. He stared into them as if surveying a miniature treasure chest filled with rubies and tiny emeralds.
He picked out one of the cherry tomatoes between his thumb and forefinger, drew it close to his eye as if trying to penetrate its skin with his gaze then thrust it toward me. Tentatively, I took it from him feeling the firm warm flesh beneath my fingers and popped it into my mouth. I crushed it against the roof of my palette with my tongue feeling the juice and seeds explode into a sweet frenzy as they glided down my throat. He smiled at me.
‘Exquisite, aren’t they?’ he said. I nodded slowly as he popped another then another between my lips. After he had given me about ten or twelve cherry tomatoes he placed the punnet on the blanket and crossed his legs beneath him.
‘You know, Wilt,’ he said with a grimace. ‘You know that I’ve wanted to kill you all of these years? And I know you know that I was going to kill you today on the day of our thirtieth birthday. To be honest, I’m surprised you turned up. I don’t think I would have. Knowing that my insane brother was going to bludgeon me the first chance he got.
‘It’s just that I’ve had a lot of time to think since I’ve been inside. And, with the help of the clergy and councilors and doctors I think I’ve changed. Bottom line, Wilt, is I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I did to you. I beg you to forgive me for the pain I put you and our parents through. I don’t deserve forgiveness and I will understand if you won’t give it to me. But it was just important for me to tell you.
‘Last year, I had a moment of clarity when I was polishing the vestibule in the chapel. I saw Christ up there on the cross with those nails in his hands and feet and the gash in his side and I wondered how much pain he was in at the time. Then I thought of you, older brother. And how much pain I have put you through. I thought of all the times I have made you bleed or scream in agony and I felt remorse. I felt guilt. I felt a need to atone.
‘The doctors call it something else of course. Primo-natal psychosis or something or other’, he said gesticulating quotation marks with his fingers. ‘Basically, they put my violent behaviour down to sibling jealously. The fact that I was born a full one minute forty eight seconds behind you makes them believe that I feel I was a mistake. That I wasn’t meant to be. Subconsciously I blame you for my oxygen deprivation. If you never existed I would have been okay and would have had a healthy relationship with our parents instead of them always thinking I was some kind of freak.
‘I’m not saying they haven’t got a point. Only that, whatever the reason, I am truly sorry and I beg your forgiveness, dear brother.’
Walter uncrossed his legs and knelt before me proffering his upturned palms for me to take. He gulped a little as if regurgitating something he had eaten earlier. Then a tiny trickle of blood spilled from between his closed lips and ran down his chin. He looked perplexed.
I looked at his blood dripping onto the back of my hand that was clasped around the handle of my carving knife. I thrust the knife up under his sternum and twisted it a full 180 degrees.
When he smiled, his teeth were crimson red and a great mouthful of blood splattered the cuff of my white shirt. The blade made a sucking noise as I wrenched it from his flesh. Walter fell forward banging his head on my shoulder. I moved to one side slightly so that he slumped onto the blanket. He lay there twitching for a few moments then stopped. I wiped the blood-stained blade on the shoulder of his threadbare black suit jacket then tossed it into the river.
I took two plastic teacups from the wicker basket and placed them on the blanket. Then I unscrewed the lid of the thermos and tilted it towards Walter’s prostrate form.
‘Shall I be mother?’