Siblings are important. We fight with them. We say things we could never get away with saying to friends, not without irreversibly damaging the relationship. We’re embarrassed by our parents together.
There’s nine and a half years between my brother and I. I grew up not just as his sister, but his mum too. In a single parent family, it falls to older siblings to sometimes step out of their role. I took my brother to school. I cooked him meals that were nearly inedible. Helped him with his homework. Tucked him into bed after reading him a story. Bought him a PlayStation3 one year when my mum couldn’t afford his big present. But we were also still siblings. I’ve screamed at him. He’s called me horrible names. We’ve played tag between the apple trees in our garden. He’s offered me his last starburst in a small, sticky hand. We’ve whinged about our mum together. We’ve whispered in the dark on Christmas Eve.
You share moments, probably very similar moments to many other siblings. And then there are the experiences that are just yours
Our dad left us together. We’ve been homeless together. We’ve been there for our dog’s last breaths together. There are more. Some more painful than these examples. Some much happier. Some I’ve told everyone, others I’ve kept close to my chest.
I came across this story a little while ago. I can’t remember the assignment, only that I wrote it in first year of university. I’ve left it untouched, unedited from the moment I found it.
Siblings are important. They’re your best friend, enemy, confidant, bully, secret keeper, and family. And this story is roughly taken from a moment in my past. I attempted to step into the head of my brother. My brother who was always playing pretend, who spent so much times with females he couldn’t understand how he was different to us.
When I’m a Mum
I had Striker right where I wanted him. I felt the blades slide from between my knuckles slowly. Blood dripped from my open wounds and ran down my fingers. It hurt every time, and it always would. For the first time, as I watched the fear sink into Striker’s eyes, I didn’t care.
I grabbed his throat with my free hand and –
‘DANIEL, WHERE ARE THE SPOONS?’
The grin slipped from my face. Ever since the last X-Men film came out, I’ve wanted to be Wolverine so much. I even asked Mum if I could change my name to Logan, but she said eight years old is too young to change your name. I’ll have to do it when I’m older then. The other problem is Mum and Dad won’t let me use knives for my weapons, so I have to stick spoons between my fingers.
‘Oh, for goodness sake, Daniel,’ she said when she saw me.
Mum took my weapons back into the kitchen and I flopped onto the floor with a sigh. There was no point in trying to continue now.
When Dad came home from work I was lining up my cars on the carpet. One of my lorries kept rolling backwards down the slope of the rug, which curled up at the edges. I gave up trying to weigh it down and made the lorry crash into it.
Metal and tyres shrieked and the driver covered his face as the windscreen shattered. He screamed out for help as the world danced in a blur around him. I spun the lorry in the air and fell with it onto my back as it returned to earth and exploded.
‘Daniel,’ Dad said sharply. He was on the phone and he pointed at it dramatically, as if I was stupid and wouldn’t understand.
I wasn’t allowed to do anything. I hit the lorry away and it rolled out of the door that Dad had left open. I could hear Mum in the kitchen making dinner. I hoped we weren’t having salad again tonight. Grandma had been staying with us all last week and she loved salad.
‘You know this is a girl’s toy,’ Dad said from behind me.
I rolled onto my back so I could see him. One of my toys had replaced his phone. It was the pink one with butterfly stickers on the sides that were peeling off in places.
‘This was Sophie’s,’ he said when I didn’t reply.
‘But Action Man fits in it,’ I said with a shrug.
‘I didn’t think Action Man would like a car like this.’
‘Because it’s a girl’s toy.’
I sat up. ‘Why?’
‘It’s for Barbies.’
‘But I don’t want a Barbie.’ I scoffed. William Glover in school played with Barbies. His big brother had told everyone and William got picked on by the older kids.
‘I know that. But this,’ Dad shook the car,’ is a Barbie car.’
‘So?’ I liked cars. My favourite show on TV was Top Gear. I liked it when they wrecked the cars the best, like that time they’d dropped a Mini from the sky and it had smashed.
Dad looked confused. After a moment he bent down and picked up one of my Hot Wheels cars.
‘This, Daniel, is a boy’s toy. It’s made for little boys. See its darker colours and the fire around the wheels and how small it is, so dolls can’t fit in it. Not like this, this is for Barbies.’
‘But I like both of them.’
‘Dad, leave him alone.’ Sophie, my big sister, sat beside me and gave me a perfume scented hug. Like Mum, Sophie always smelled nice. She was hugging me, but laughing at Dad, as he put the cars back on the floor, side by side.
‘I was just saying.’ He raised his hands in defeat.
I leaned out and rolled the car towards me. ‘So, shouldn’t I play with this then?’ I asked, looking from Dad to Sophie.
‘I don’t think that’s what Dad’s saying.’ Sophie ruffled my hair.
‘What are we talking about?’ Mum appeared in the doorway, a towel slung over her shoulder.
‘Dad has issues with my old Barbie car.’
‘Oh.’ Mum’s mouth quivered, like it did when she was trying not to laugh.
‘I was only pointing out that they’re for girls. And you’re certainly not a girl, are you, son?’
‘Stop being ridiculous,’ Mum laughed. ‘It’s perfectly natural. When you’re at work, who do you think Daniel spends his time with?’
‘Barbie and Ken?’ Dad asked and Mum threw her towel at him.
‘Ignore him,’ Sophie said. ‘You play with whatever you want to, Danny.’ She stuck my Action Man in the car.
‘He doesn’t drive,’ I rolled my eyes. ‘He’s Underwater Action Man.’
‘I have some Barbies in my room, I think. If Action Man wants I could –’
‘Something smells good,’ Dad interrupted Sophie. When he passed he picked me up and carried me in over his shoulder so I was hanging upside down. I wrapped my arms around his waist and squealed until he put me down.
At the table we each had our own place, except when Grandma visited. Grandma was Scottish and she didn’t really like travelling down to Oxford; she said she didn’t like English people. Even though I was born here, she said I’m not really English. Whatever that means.
I think Grandma’s a little weird most of the time. She smells like bleach and she always attacks mine and Sophie’s faces with baby wipes. Mum said she did it to her when she was younger, too, but she used to spit on a tissue instead of using a wipe. I didn’t complain as much after she told me that.
‘Bleh, carrots.’ I wrinkled my nose at the plate of food Mum put down in front of me.
‘I’ve not given you many.’
‘Vegetables are disgusting. I don’t see why I have to have any.’
‘Carrots help you see in the dark,’ Mum said without paying attention to me. If she had, she probably would have told me off for flicking one of my carrots so hard it rolled onto the floor. Only Sophie saw and she wouldn’t tell, she just laughed.
‘I don’t want to see in the dark. I want a skeleton made out of metal, and knives that come out of my knuckles. That would be cool.’ I stabbed a slice of carrot with my fork. ‘Can I leave some?’
‘Daniel, just eat them, please.’ Mum said simply, in that tone of voice she uses when I’m annoying her.
I made a face at Sophie, but Mum caught it, and I quickly picked up my knife to cut my chicken. Mum and Dad started talking about something boring that someone really boring had said on the News. I shivered and choked when I bit into a carrot by accident.
‘Stop being dramatic,’ Mum sighed.
‘If you leave them all to the end you’ll make it worse for yourself,’ Dad pointed out.
‘They’re disgusting,’ I grumbled.
‘You’re still eating them and if you don’t stop complaining, I’ll give you more.’ Mum pointed to the pot behind her.
‘Or maybe I’ll replace the one you dropped on the floor earlier with a big one.’
I gaped at her. ‘You saw that?’
‘I’m a mum, Daniel, I see everything.’
I shared a look with Sophie. Sometimes I believed Mum really could read my mind, or was some kind of superhero. Last week, when I was playing pirates in the living room she found the ornament I’d smashed and hidden behind the curtain. I’d stayed quiet in my room and everything, but she’d still found out and knew it was me right away.
‘And being a mum also means you have to make your children eat their fruit and veg so they’re healthy.’
‘You know what?’ I asked.
‘Don’t talk with your mouth full,’ Mum and Dad said in unison.
I swallowed. ‘You know what?’
‘What?’ Mum asked.
‘When I’m a Mum I won’t make my kids eat carrots.’
Dad dropped his fork onto his plate and groaned into his hands. ‘I really don’t believe this.’
Mum and Sophie laughed and tried to say something to Dad, but he didn’t resurface from his hands, so they gave up. I didn’t understand what was so funny, but old people are weird. They always laugh at things that aren’t funny, like each other.
I filled my mouth with chips and glared at my plate. I bet Wolverine hated carrots, too.