The wine made my head spin and my stomach churn. I couldn’t be sick though. He hadn’t been sick yet. He would laugh. Not that he wouldn’t anyway. My brother was always laughing. Even when nothing was funny. Especially when nothing was funny. That frightened me sometimes, and nothing really frightens me. It seemed I was always competing with him. No matter how far I caught up with him, he was always further ahead: older, smarter, cooler.
We sat on the floor of our apartment drinking wine from the bottle. He doesn’t usually drink so it had been a surprise to find him there, drinking.
“Have a drink, Mungo,” he said in his expressionless voice. He reached into a bag beside him and handed me a bottle. I sat down on the floor and lit a cigarette before opening it and taking a swig. It felt strange to be drinking with him. I never had before. I wondered how long he’d been there. It’s hard to tell with him. Sometimes I think he’s drunk when he hasn’t been near the stuff. I was surprised that he’d asked me to join him. He usually doesn’t pay much attention to me.
“Are you celebrating?” I asked after a while. There was a lot of wine in that bag.
“No.” He was looking at me as if he’d never seen me before.
“Then why’re you drinking? You don’t usually.”
“No,” he agreed. “I don’t usually.” He was laughing at me and I couldn’t figure out why. He doesn’t make any sound when he laughs. He doesn’t smile either.
“I’m drinking,” he told me, “because I want to talk to you.” I was surprised. He doesn’t often talk to me. More than half the time I don’t think he even knows who I am.
“How come you have to drink to talk to me?” I was beginning to get confused. Talking to him often confuses me. He talks about stuff I don’t understand, or says things in a way I just don’t get. It makes me feel really stupid sometimes.
“I don’t know,” he said. I had never heard him admit to not knowing anything before. I thought he knew everything.
“Maybe I thought it would be easier. I don’t talk to you much, do I?
“It doesn’t matter,” I assured him.
“Yeah, it does.” He was looking at me again, but for once not laughing. He doesn’t look serious very often. Most of the time he has this little closed mouth smile on his face. It’s not a happy smile.
“We’re brothers,” he said. “We should talk to each other.” I couldn’t think of anything to say. Whenever he’s not here I can think of fifty million things I’d like to ask or tell him, but now, nothing.
I stubbed out my cigarette and lit another. My hands shook a little.
“Okay. We’ll talk.” I agreed. “What do you want to talk about?” He looked away, pursing his lips and nodding thoughtfully.
“I want to talk about you, Mungo,” he said, smiling without humor again. “I want to know you.”
“About me?” I looked at him, puzzled. “You know me. You’ve seen me practically every day of your life.”
“You’re wrong,” he said quietly. “I don’t know you any better than you know me.” I was totally lost now. What the hell was he going on about? I knew him. He was my brother. He was also the coolest guy I’d ever met.
“But I know you….”
“No. You don’t know me. How could you? I don’t know me.”
I leaned back against the wall and closed my eyes for a moment. I needed to think. I drank some more wine too. Drunk people often have very peculiar conversations. Maybe I just wasn’t drunk enough to follow.
“You don’t understand me, do you Mungo?” He shook my shoulder, making sure I was awake. I noticed for the first time the way he said my name, with a pause in the middle: Mun…go. It was the same way people said it when taunting or preparing for a fight.
“Sometimes I understand you,” I tried to explain. “But mostly I don’t. Right now I haven’t got a clue what you’re trying to say.” He was sitting in his favourite position, left knee bent, left elbow resting on his knee. His hand, holding a cigarette, cupped his chin and his fingers scraped absently across dark stubble.
“I want you to understand me,” he said finally. “But first I have to understand you.”
“I’m just like you!”
“No,” he stated. “You’re not like me.”
He looked at me again laughing once more. Suddenly I wanted out of there. It wasn’t comfortable anymore. I’d never been scared of him like most people were, but now I understood why they’d all been so frightened.
I stumbled to my feet. I had some idea about leaving. I didn’t like being in the room alone with him anymore.
“Where’re you going?” he enquired, not angry, just curious.
“I’m getting out of here.” I moved towards the door.
He sat there watching me go, amused as usual. Before I even touched the doorknob I knew I wasn’t going. He hadn’t really said anything yet and, even if I was frightened, I had to know what he wanted to say.
“Come back here,” he said, seeing my hesitation.
Reluctantly I did.
“Do I scare you?” he asked gently. “I don’t want to scare you.”
“Yeah!” I cried. “Yeah, you do scare me sometimes.” I looked away, trying to get myself back under control. He’s always so calm it embarrassed me to be cracking up in front of him. “Can I have a cigarette?” He handed me one without looking at me.
“Why?” he asked as I lit the cigarette and leaned my head back against the wall to smoke it.
“What?” I was confused again.
“Why?” he repeated. I shook my head, unable to comprehend. Why did I want a cigarette? Why did anyone want anything?
“Why,” he was persistent. “Why?”
“Why what?” I finally asked,
“Why are you afraid of me?” He stared intently at me, no amusement about him now. “Why, Mungo?”
“I don’t know,” I said softly. “I just don’t know.”