Several weeks ago Patti Abbott threw out a 1000-word challenge, as she likes to do. This time it was to have several authors pass a baton between us using the theme of jealousy and the little trick that the person who was the object of envy in one story became the envious one in the next story. The results of the first six rounds are here. A daunting task to be sure. My story is a bit of a reboot on what came before but I couldn't help run with the story once it came to me. I feel like I write about brothers an awful lot without having one (3 sisters. They don't get treated much better in my fiction)
Please enjoy and let's all look forward to what Nigel Bird comes up with next in the rotation. Without further ado - La Ronde, part 7:
by Eric Beetner
Gregory Rubinstein liked to tease his brother Adam. Greg reveled in pointing out that he was the true first born son. Greg beat Adam out by sixteen minutes but it seemed to be enough of a margin to give Greg the ammunition for years of torture.
By ten years old the dynamic had been established. Greg – the golden boy. Destined to follow in father’s footsteps through law school to district attorney, state office, maybe senate. Adam – the also ran. Forever chasing his brother’s tail. He’d make a damn fine prosecutor. Maybe even run Greg’s campaigns. Respectable, anonymous work.
Despite the house being a five bedroom gothic-style manor, Greg and Adam still shared a room. Even the bunk beds gave away the hierarchy in their way. Greg, one would assume, would be perched high in the top bunk but instead Greg chose the lower bed. In addition to his dislike of heights it let him come and go as he pleased at night, which he did quite often, being a fitful sleeper prone to minor bouts of sleepwalking. To keep Greg from banging his shins on the ladder to the top, once Adam assumed his perch, Greg kicked the ladder away, trapping his younger twin in the Siberia of the top bunk. If Adam forgot to pee at night he risked a broken ankle on the jump down and a pitch-black mountain climb on the way back up. Bladder-busting discomfort was often the best option, until he learned ways to dismount silently using body contortions Spiderman would have been envious of.
At their riding lessons Greg was the first to canter, the first to make his horse jump, the first to bring home a trophy. When Adam brought one home the very next weekend it sat next to Greg’s like a shrunken, sickly twin. Shorter, the gold more dull, the name etched in a smaller font. Adam stared at the two on the shelf, the symbolism not lost on him. Two of essentially the same thing, only one a little lesser than.
At first Adam played out subtle games of revenge. He put a scratch in Greg’s Spin Doctors CD. He fed Greg’s horse, Blade Runner, a box of ExLax before a meet. At the first water jump the team left behind a trail and fouled the water so badly they were forced to delay the competition for an hour while they drained the pool, lest someone fall into it.
Adam wished they’d been identical, not fraternal, twins so he could impersonate his brother and get him expelled from school. He compromised by writing notes to girls in Greg’s exact handwriting using words he’d lifted from the stash of Penthouse Forum columns they routinely looked at in Dad’s closet.
Despite Adam’s minor insurgency Greg seemed secure in his place. He called Adam nicknames like Dickface and Assmunch. He routinely told on Adam any time he did anything remotely against the rules and Adam seemed to suffer punishments more harsh and long lasting than Greg ever did. At the dinner table Greg sat at the right hand of Father, Adam a seat down, as forgotten and unnecessary as that extra fork that never got used.
At night was the only time Adam felt in charge. The nightmares, the whimpering and bed-thrashing contortions Greg would go through, let Adam feel that the cruelty Greg regularly dished out was eating him away inside. When Greg would walk around the room in his sleep Adam enjoyed spooking him awake and then pretending to be asleep, eyes shut and stifling laughter as he heard Greg’s heavy breathing and confused panic when he awoke – out of bed in a dark, foreign-feeling room.
Adam started plotting ways to put to the test the old myth that if you wake a sleepwalker they might die. When Adam would be roused by Greg’s kicking over of a toy or stack of books, he would rise and shimmy down the side of the bed, place something hard and solid at shin level in Greg’s way and climb back to watch from his crow’s nest as Greg jolted himself awake with a cry of pain.
It was report card day that Adam forged his most brilliant plan.
Adam’s GPA: 3.4 Greg’s: 3.8
Ten years old and Mr. Rubinstein had given Adam up for a life of mediocrity. Back-slapping praise was lavished on Greg while a series of questions about Adam’s B-minus dominated the dinner conversation.
Alone in their room at night, Greg said out loud what Adam assumed everyone had been thinking.
“Just give it up, man. You might as well drop out and learn how to wash cars or something.”
The words weren’t irrational to Adam’s ten-year-old ego.
That night he decided if Greg was so in love with himself, wouldn’t it be great if he scared himself shitless?
After Greg became locked in battle with his sleep demons, Adam descended the bunks. He took the full length mirror off the back of the door with the screwdriver he’d placed in his desk drawer after dinner. He leaned the narrow strip of glass against the lower bunk, right next to Greg’s face as he slept. Adam dismissed the consequences of his stunt. Seeing Greg frightened by his own reflection would be worth the punishment to come.
Adam climbed back to his perch. When he was settled and had stopped himself laughing he waited for Greg to begin a particularly fitful episode. He didn’t wait long.
When Greg let out a stifled cry Adam rocked the bunk and coughed loudly. Greg, on the verge of awake anyway, bolted up, saw his own reflection but had no idea who or what it was. Still half asleep, he screamed and lurched forward, pushing his face through the pane of glass and slicing a diagonal line from his scalp to his chin down over the bridge of his nose and across his wide-open left eye.
Blood rushed to the wound, nearly obscuring Greg’s face by the time Adam peered over the edge of the top bunk. A flap of skin hung down across his forehead like an open envelope. The wide stare of Greg’s right eye struck a stark contrast with the blood-filled cavity of his left. The bottoms of his feet sliced open as he stumbled around the room, still thinking he was trapped in a dream.
The ensuing chaos let Adam do a quick re-staging of events. The story was Greg, in the throes of another of his sleepwalking incidents, ran headlong into the door, shattering the mirror, slicing his face and blinding his eye.
The next day, Adam got his own room. His father began to talk about plans for attending his alma matter. He filled Adam’s ears with stories he’d heard before, but always with Greg’s name in the starring role, not his own. Bold predictions of the future and Adam’s destiny to be a great man.
Greg began home schooling. His face took months to heal, even then it appeared always at risk of sliding apart into two distinct halves. His glass eye, at eight thousand dollars, never sat quite right so Greg preferred the eyepatch.
Adam never played a joke on Greg again. He never felt the need.
The lessons of that night stayed with him. His aggressive technique as a lawyer made the old man proud. At a cocktail reception for his first victory in court, Adam heard his father telling a colleague, “Yep, I knew as soon as he came out first, Adam would be a real go-getter. Came out a good fifteen minutes before his brother. We knew he was something special right then and there.”