My brother is a metal detector enthusiast. My mum used to say he was missing out by not looking up at the sky. But really, it doesn’t make much difference which way you look. The backdrop is still the same.
My brother invents things. My brother finds things.
When I pop round to see my mum, my brother is holed up in his room. This is the usual way. I go sit on his bed. He is 28 years old. He has never had a girlfriend. He’s quite handsome, but he looks about twelve, and he had a lot of issues when he was younger. I don’t think he successfully navigated puberty.
My brother’s room contains his whole life, from zero to now. My room got rented out six months after I went off to college. It’s now got more of my brother’s things in. He is gradually colonising the house.
My brother says, ‘What if you didn’t accept we all die? What if you fought against it?’
I tell him people are fighting against it every day, but they always lose.
‘They don’t have to.’ he says, simply.
‘Are you a vampire now?’ I ask him. I love my brother. I suppose he must look pathetic to the outside world. But I always admired his brain. He should have been some big scientist. But he had those problems. They found him dangling off a motorway bridge when he was about 15. He was a fingernail away becoming roadkill. Then there was the joyriding, and a few other bits and pieces. It wasn’t really his fault. God, I sound like my mum.
‘No, not a vampire.’ he says.
My brother has a job. He works in a lab. He looks at screens and through microscopes but he's far down the pecking order. He was so smart when we were younger. I must take after my dad, because I’m not as smart. Mind you, I am self-sufficient and quite unsuicidal, so it’s all relative.
My brother is an animal technician. Have you ever heard of such a thing? He works for a cancer charity, and he looks after the animals.
He looks after them in a way.
They are only rats, I tell myself, as if we never had Mr. Toenails as a kid, as if we hadn’t loved him like he was a kitten or a puppy. As if the photo of him in the tiny red scarf I knitted him wasn’t still pinned to the corkboard downstairs, my brother and I screaming with laughter holding him, frozen via Fuji film forevermore.
And what if he was just telling me it was just rats? What if it was cats, or dogs, or monkeys?
But he’s curing cancer. And Morrissey’s not right, animal experiments and meat-eating aren’t like the holocaust. No matter how convincingly he says it. Right?
Animal technician jobs pay awful. It pays sixteen grand, in London. My brother can’t afford to move out. Not in the credit crunch and not after, either.
I guess calling my brother an animal technician is like calling those dudes who administer lethal injections ‘after-life instigators’.
‘Come live with me if you have to,’ I say. ‘You can sleep on the sofa. The dog can come in with me. I don’t mind a bit of hair.’
‘I have a bed here, Melanie.’
‘Maybe mum wants some space.’ I say.
He looks at me pointedly, through grey-rimmed glasses. He has a healthy glow about him, despite his pursuits. He’s impish, boyish.
He’s right. Mum would keep him here forever if she could. Mum would keep me here forever if she could. She is probably hiding my car keys as we speak.
‘So do you want to live forever, or what?’ he asks, as if he’s asking if I want to watch a DVD or play a computer game.
‘Not really.’ I reply. ‘And what are you going to do? Just live forever in mum’s house?’
‘Well if I live forever I’ll eventually have enough money to move out, right?’ he says, sarcastically. He has a point.
‘Anyway, this is it.’ He opens his bedside drawer, and on top of the Fortean Times (no Razzle for my dear brother) is a small, see-through bottle, with a murky brown liquid inside.
‘Did you make this?’ I ask him, as he passes it to me. I lift off the lid, and it smells old, really old, and gross. ‘Is it poison? Do you want to test it out on your sis first? Thanks bro. I’m not one of your guinea pigs.’
‘We don’t do guinea pigs these days, as you well know,’ he says.
‘What is it then?’ I ask.
‘I made it out of animal bones.’ he says, smiling. I frown, peering inside it.
‘Not really. I found it about thirteen years ago at the castle. In a metal box. Do you remember when when we went there?'
I remembered a holiday and trotting round an old castle, yes. He'd had his metal detector, of course. I didn't remember him finding anything.
'Do you really I would have wasted all this time in my room otherwise? I knew I had time to kill. So I fucked about. I can get a girlfriend in the next Millennium. I’m more interested in reading stuff. I like helping cure cancer, despite the rats. I’ll probably go to university sometime in the next fifteen years. I’m not getting any older. You just think I am, because you expect me to. I’ll save up some money, read some more books. I’ve got time. I’ve got all the time in the world. I can do a hundred PhDs. I can cure cancer if I want. I just need a couple of decades.’
I look at my oddly-young looking brother. I look at this manky old bottle in my hand, at odds with my sugar-pink, high-gloss nails.
‘I figured you’d rather live forever being thirty than thirteen. Thirty is a good age. I messed up when I drank my share, but I didn’t know any better. You’ll get more respect than me. Not sure about the PhDs though,’ he says and chuckles.
I put the bottle down on his desk. ‘One. You’re mental. Two. I don’t want to live forever. Three, don’t you think it might be past it’s sell-by date?’
‘It was first made around 300BC. I think it’s got a bit of life left in it. You don’t even need to chill it.’
‘Thanks anyway, bro.’ I say. ‘But I’m quite bored enough by life, already. I’ll pass.’
I go downstairs, and chat with my mum some more, not mentioning the fact my brother is a mentalist as well as a metalist. After about half an hour he appears in the doorway, dinky, fetid bottle in hand. He lounges against the frame, casual in his pyjamas. He’s always been so casual, except for when he tried to kill himself a lot as a teenager. But then teenagers do experiment. But what had changed after?
‘She won’t drink it,’ he says to my mum. My mum sighs, and as her face catches the light from the window, I realise how young she’s looking. She really hasn’t aged much in the past... ten years.
I look at my fifty year old mother. She looks forty. I don’t mean she looks good for her age, she really looks forty.
‘You’re so unobservant, Melanie,’ My brother says to me, as he sees me seeing, for the first time. ‘Now, are you sure you don’t want a drink?’