by Alex Thornber
My little brother Simon and one of his friends were in the kitchen, re-enacting the science experiment they had done in school. They had glasses and bottles lined up on the surface with different levels of water in each one.
Mum was asleep in the front room. Simon had already taken the glass from her hand and was creeping towards her in order to retrieve the gin bottle.
“What’re you doing?” I whispered loudly.
“We need one more container.” his friend said from behind me, peeking round the door. I turned round. “We accidentally smashed one,” he continued, holding up the cutlery knife they had been using and the broken glass stem.
“Sorry,” Simon said, returning with Mum’s bottle.
“Don’t worry, just-” I broke off and went to the take-away drawer. Under all the menus and promotional offers were at least a hundred pairs of sealed chopsticks. I pulled out two packets and handed one to Simon, one to his friend.
“Just use these,” I said.
Two minutes later the pair of them were trying to spin the chopsticks round in their fingers like teenage drummers do.
I shut the kitchen door and crept up to Mum. I listened to see if she was breathing.
My boyfriend Ben came out of my room as I was draping mum’s stained blanket over her.
“She all right?” he asked.
I could sense his tone. His knowing yet still mocking way of saying something he fully understood. Distancing himself, understandably.
“She’s just, tired…” I said. I knew we could both feel the lie lingering in the room.
“Oh sure, yeah. My dad’s been tired for eight years now,” Ben smiled. I didn’t.
He was used to it. I wasn’t.
Ben turned round and laughed again. Simon and his friend had tied tea towels round their heads like bandannas. They were drumming on the glasses, milk and gin bottles, plus the surface, for some bass I guessed.
Ben went back towards my room. I stole four of my mum’s cigarettes and then followed.
Ben was sat with crossed legs, surrounded by paper, at the foot of my bed. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was playing on the little TV. He had an essay due at college. We used to do them together. Taking care of Mum and Simon took over though, so I dropped out. He still comes here to do his work though. His dad isn’t as quiet as my mum.
“It is almost over,” he said, looking up from the screen. “The wizard guy is about to give his speech.”
“Why is he so special?” I asked.
I watched the characters on screen marvelling at the wizards emerald castle. I wondered if my mother had seen the movie.
I looked out my doorway to see Simon and his friend still drumming away.
“Why is it emerald?” I asked.
“Not sure yet,” Ben said. “Makes everything look so beautiful though.”
“Yeah,” I said.
I sat next to Ben, we shared my mum’s cigarettes and watched the rest of the movie.
When it finished we walked carefully passed my mum to the front door. I kissed him goodbye and he told me I kissed like I cry. I didn’t understand. He smiled.
I went to the kitchen to clear up all the bottles, making sure to only pour out the water filled ones. I took the gin filled one back over to mum. The blanket had fallen off her so I replaced it.
Ben looks beautiful when he is sleeping. Mum doesn’t. I’m always scared she won’t get up.
I held the emerald bottle up to my eyes, just to see.
Alex Thorber reads and writes short stories almost exclusively.