The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes - Brothers
As he sits waiting, he looks over the table, takes in the waste still sprawled over the surface. There is the fat of the meat, the bones, a screwed up napkin. There is a knife, its sheen dulled by the smear of fat, the sprinkle of bubbles where air has climbed in.
There are other things too, a fork with its prongs twisted to odd angles, a butter cup, half emptied, with a coin nestled in its centre. But what he notices most is the lipstick on the white china coffee cup. He wonders what words moved out of her lips, how she laughed, how the laugh would change between friends and lovers. How the smoke moved out into the air, slow enough to take all the time in the world.
The waitress comes over and starts to tidy away the clutter. She is weary and young and beautiful. She has blonde hair that he has never seen loose, but only ever tied back in harsh scrapes. He has been in this place with friends, with work, and has seen her from time to time. Being this close, he notices she has a scar just to the left side of her neck, which makes him fall in love with her a little more.
He says his thanks and looks away, trying to act distracted. He can smell clove oil around her and realises she must have a toothache. He wants to say something, but knows he cannot. He watches her hands as they skim the table, making dirty plates disappear. He catches a flicker of her eyes, green, as she looks to another table. She nods and moves away, brushing past his brother as she leaves.
His brother pats him roughly on the shoulder, smiles quickly and sits down. His suit is smooth and tight, as if he has only slipped it on an hour ago and the air is still settling in the sleeves. But he knows this is not true. His brother works day and night and treats weekends like obstacles to be sidestepped and dealt with.
“Have you ordered yet?” His voice is strong and definite. He is used to speaking in a way that cuts through noise or brief silences. He does not wait for a reply.
“Well let’s go full on, my treat. Business is good. I’ll pay, I’ll pay,” his brother says, as if to secure the deal he has just made. He puts out his words at a regular rate, filling in the silences before they can form. He is ten years older. Their father used to call him The Elder.
“You need to eat. Every time I see you, you look as if you haven’t eaten for a day and a half. ” He looks around, taking in the restaurant for the first time. “Like I say, on me.”
He orders two beers and asks for two clean menus, handing back the one with a slight trace of dried coffee on the corner. He talks to the waitress, clove, with such authority she seems to forget he is a stranger. She listens intently. She heads off as if she must remember to be prompt, clinical, and precise.
“I’d say you’ve lost four pounds since the last time I saw you. Six weeks ago? A month?”
Always in a restaurant far away from where he lives. Far away from his real life. A few hours spent in a dirty restaurant in a broken down city. Duty and distance.
“Maybe six or seven? Jesus!” He edges the chair back an inch or two, trying to get distance, to survey the wreck. “Thinner,” He says, pronouncing the word like a surname or a company.
The waitress brings the starters, a tray of chicken legs, dips, salads. She brings two more beers. There is no reaction in her face despite her raging teeth. She moves everything around the table as if it is tumbling in slow motion. Nothing spills, nothing froths, and it simply spills out in front of them.
His brother is muscle overlapping muscle. As they begin to eat he removes his suit jacket, to reveal a white shirt, navy tie. His neck is tight and thick, but he will not loosen the knot, the top button. His body pulses as he eats, almost like each piece of food is being sectioned off to the correct area. There are veins moving like ultra marine streams. When he talks, his teeth clamp down on each syllable, biting them off and then putting them out into the air.
The few silences are masked by swigs of beer. His brother talks, he responds. They order their main courses. They order the same, down to the dressings, though his brothers’ appetite is twice his. They switch to wine for the main meal, as if this will change the course of the evening. They order enough to fill three or four, but neither says a word.
“Your body is a shadow.” His brother says. He knows this. His body is unkempt and shaped in carelessness, yet it still holds. No looseness, no belly sinking over the belt. His tattoos, which his brother regards as smudges, as unnecessary bruises to the body, climb the top of each arm. There is a scar on his knee from when they were young, that has healed too tightly. There is a scar his brother does not know about, a secret seared across his back that feels like a weapon on his own, private skin.
His brother speaks of work. He speaks in short, tight sentences that leave no room for mistakes. He listens to his brother but also looks around the room, to see who else has been left behind in the world on a slow Wednesday night. There is a man who could be a salesman. He eats his food peacefully, but is unable to shake the sense of his position from himself. He drinks his coffee with too much precision, cuts his fish with the delicacy of someone who keeps unfamiliar company too often. It is only his tie, loose and uncurled by fingers fuelled by strong coffee, that reveals something else.
The food arrives in waves, plate after plate, until the entire table is covered. His brother smiles, as if the food is something to be proud of, and pours the wine. His brother moves around the table, pushing and pulling, allocating, until both their plates are full. As he watches his brother move he suddenly becomes aware of his own body. He feels the sharp bones in his elbows, jutting at angles, and the thinness of his forearms. He feels the prickled awkwardness of his shinbones, his ribs. He feels the low hum of blood in his feet. He feels the circuits, pulling his body through each moment, of breathing in and then out.
“Put it all away!” His brother says loudly. “Get healthy,” he whispers, his voice as quiet as it has ever been. His left eye flickers and they both look back to the food. He remembers the day his brother was wounded; he saw the girl’s nail gently glide across him, his brother’s eye slowly filling up with blood; what happened next. The sound of a room filled with confusion.
They continue to eat. After a while his brother’s forehead fills with a sheen of sweat. It makes his face glisten under the cheap lights, the fat and the grease and the salt all gathering under the surface of his body. His brother takes a napkin, brushes it over his face. He is exposed for being like anyone else. He sees this as a weakness.
He continues to eat at his brother’s pace. He eats vegetables, nicks the meat from the bone, raises heaped spoonfuls of coleslaw and potato salad to his mouth. He eats as if he was condemned. He listens to the sounds of their knives and forks scrapping together, separating. He pauses to drink more wine. His fingerprints wander all over the glass, each thick and full. He looks over to his brother. For a moment they both look to each other. They nod. He excuses himself and heads to the restrooms as his brother returns to the food left in front of him.
He stands in the restroom looking at the mirror. He doesn’t need to be in here. He wants something but does not know what. There is the faint trace of graffiti underneath the white walls, as if something was bearing down, trying to climb out. There are outlines of obscenities, traces of love. He looks deep onto the mirror, pushes his face against it. The food is piled up inside of him, yet he looks no different. There are a million words inside of him, but he can not summon them up to his throat. He knows he possesses a strong heart, a soul inside, yet all there is before him is skin, a skeleton, broken teeth, nails bitten to the quick. He runs his hands under the tap and pushes dirty water onto his face.
He returns to the table as his brother signs the cheque. The waitress looks up briefly, and then turns away. His brother nods and begins to pull his suit jacket back on. He reaches over and shakes hands. There is a silence then, one that lasts longer than any other. Then he edges away and in another moment is gone. He returns to his chair watching his brother’s figure drift away from the door, becoming little more than a stranger in the stream of the night street.
He does not want to leave yet. He orders a coffee and slips it slowly, the steam still rising. Another two months will pass until another time in another non-descript restaurant. He drinks his coffee. He thinks about what can change in the space of the next two months. He looks out to the streets, the restaurant now empty. The furniture, shorn of its customers, now seems to fill out somehow, spreading throughout a place where nobody now speaks.
© Chris Castle October 2010