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A brief exchange between two brothers. Word count: 665
The brothers walked as twin shadows across the darkening field. The piercing drum of the cicadas vibrated around the pair. The elder, head and shoulders stooped with hands deep in his pockets, chewed at his bottom lip. Squinting his eyes, the younger brother stared straight into the sun.
“You know, Mama says, when she was younger, she used to stare into the sun until she couldn’t stand it anymore,” he said. “And, you know, she has near perfect vision.”
“Yea, well, Dad’s nearly blind.”
“That’s because he has astigmatism.”
The elder frowned. “We’re going to be late—”
“I don’t understand why you have to go to school during summer.”
“I want to graduate. Mom’s going to be mad.”
“I don’t understand the rush.”
“Because Mom still treats me like I’m twelve,” the elder said, “even though I’m twenty.”
“I meant to graduate.”
“Oh.” The young man sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve got a lot of school ahead of me.”
“You know, I don’t mind the way Mama treats me.”
“You said Mama still treats you like you’re twelve and you don’t like it.” The boy paused. “You know, I’m twelve,” he added.
“I know that.”
The boy looked up at his brother; his brother, frowning, stared ahead and then started coughing and sneezing. They walked without talking for a couple minutes before the boy, having stared into the sun until his eyes started to water, stopped and rubbed at the spots in his eyes. The young man turned back to his brother and, spitting out some phlegm and then chewing at his lip, waited.
When they started walking again and the boy started staring back at the sun, the elder said, “You’re going to burn your retinas.”
“Yea, yea,” the young man jeered. “Just don’t say I didn’t warn you when you’re my age and blind as a bat.”
“I eat a lot of carrots.”
“Mama says that carrots improve eyesight. So, I eat a lot of carrots.”
The elder shook his head and rolled his eyes.
“Think we can go to the arcade tomorrow?” the boy asked.
“I’m going back to school tomorrow.”
“But it’s a Saturday!”
“I have work to do.”
“I could help,” the boy said.
His brother shook his head. “Not with Organic Chem.”
“I don’t understand why you have to go back to school to do your work. You could do it at home, you know.”
“I can’t concentrate at home.” The young man, putting a hand to his face, coughed for a bit and then sniffled. “Damn allergies.”
“You get that from Mama.”
The elder glowered ahead and gritted his teeth.
“Why can’t you concentrate at home?”
“Because I can’t get a moment’s peace, that’s why.”
“Mama could help—”
“She doesn’t know a damn thing.”
“That’s not true!”
“Not about anything useful—dead languages, dead cultures, dead men, dead ideas—that’s all her head is filled with. And that’s what she’s been filling your head with, and you let her.”
He started coughing again and spat up more phlegm.
“And Dad lets her baby you—and do you know why?”
The boy stared down at the grass before his feet and shrugged.
“She tried to have another baby after you were born because she wanted a girl. But she was too old. And the baby died.”
“I knew about that,” the boy said.
His brother frowned at him.
“It was in her stories. Not directly, you know. There’s not a story about her directly, or about you directly, or me, or anything else. But, indirectly, yea. It’s all in her stories, you know.”
The boy turned back to the sun.
“I didn’t know,” the young man said. “I thought they were just stories.”
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