The Many Brothers and Me
BY SCOTT BROKER
He had over one hundred brothers, he told me. It was spring, the sky damp and valley soft. The brothers had scattered themselves nationwide for reasons both personal and political. There were two per state, approximately. We were on the porch, splitting a can of beer like teenagers. We were not teenagers. We were adult enough to long for dental insurance and marriage. He was talking about marriage, roundaboutly. He talked about many things roundaboutly. Like wanting my toes in his mouth. Like our respective waistlines.
The brothers, he said, meant everything to him.
Why, I asked, had he never mentioned them.
Between the two of us, I didn’t love you.
I tried to hide my hurt, having loved him for years.
I’m on the cusp of loving you now, he added encouragingly.
What do I have to do? I asked.
Meet them. He took my hand. Meet my many brothers.
* * *
I did not sleep well that night, trying to scrub clean his hazy terms. Over one hundred provided no upper limit; two per state was an approximate value. I fretted into my pillow while he slept lovelessly beside me, as he had finished the beer lovelessly, chewed his spaghetti lovelessly, and sucked on my toes lovelessly. Of course I considered leaving. As night stretched across the ceiling, I thought I could be anyone, do anything. I got as far as the bedroom door. It doesn’t matter. In the morning I still woke up where I’d been.
Before I left, he provided me a handwritten list of addresses. This should get the ball rolling, he told me, patting my shoulder. I’ll need you to collect something from each brother to prove you met. Would you like my oversized duffel?
Yes, I said. I loved his oversized duffel. He had once zipped me in it lovingly. Though perhaps, I thought as he yanked it from the closet, that was not actually true. He had once zipped me in it lovelessly, but not hatefully. When I was out of his sight, I breathed the bag in. It smelled like a mustier version of him.
* * *
No solicitors! the first brother shouted. He lived five blocks away. Given his proximity, and the general outline of his face, I thought at first I was being made a fool. Wasn’t this him, my loveless love, the one I’d only just kissed goodbye? I’d soon learn that all of the brothers looked alike, reprints of the same code, but at the time I struggled to gain bearing.
I’m supposed to take something from you, I said.
So you’re a solicitor and a thief. The brother clucked his tongue. I’ll pass.
This man, I thought, is a master of grimaces. My man was not. I relaxed, the scowl finally
distinguishing them in my mind. Your brother sent me, I said. He’d like me to meet his many brothers before he makes any decisions regarding our future as a couple.
That changes everything, the brother said.
No. He closed the door.
I stood for a moment, offended, then rolled up his welcome mat, set it in the oversized
duffel, and went on my way.
* * *
The cruelest brothers were concentrated in the north. For these, I often relied on thievery, intent as I was on my mission. While they berated me, I slipped garden gnomes, calculators, and songbooks into my bag. Their rebukes demoralized me during the day—what kin was this?—yet later, in my hotel room, I would call home and be comforted by him, or if not him than the voicemail recording of him. Sorry to miss you, he said. Leave a message please. That was my favorite part. His please.
The weather warmed in the southern states, and the brothers did too. Tanned and twangy, they invited me inside for sweet tea and photo sharing.
Here he is, one said, sliding a polaroid toward me. The image showed one hundred boys stargazing in a football field. Or I suppose more than one hundred.
Which one? I asked.
The brother shrugged.
Can I take this?
Please do. Family means nothing to me.
* * *
I carried on. Weeks passed, then months. The desert brothers were polite but curt. The far coast’s brothers believed in the powers of yoga, surfing, and the Tao. I took something from each. A comb. A lighter. A pillow embroidered with eyeballs. The oversized duffel became overstuffed. I reached Alaska and stayed with a brother for a week. Like the others, he was family-less and middle-aged. Unlike the others, he could not remember the brother in question. This saddened me while we went fishing at a nearby river, the water dark as a muscle. That night, chewing smoky salmon, I realized I should not be sad at all. This was the end of the road.
* * *
I returned home. It was spring again, the air damper and the valley softer than I’d left them. How quickly some years pass, I thought, hauling the bulging duffel up our steps. Inside, I found him sitting on the couch and covered in peanut shells. He leapt up.
Let’s see what’s inside! he said after kissing my cheek with salty lips. He unzipped the bag and the contents spilled across the room. Did you know, he continued, that my parents left us with nothing? Over one hundred children and absolutely nothing. The nerve!
I tried to look sympathetic, but was waiting for him to say it.
He beamed at the pile. You make your own inheritance, he said.
What about me? I asked. I resented my words for their meekness.
You? You’ve done well enough to earn a belly rub. He dragged me to his lap. Pick out
one thing you want, he said, rubbing me like a lamp.
My eyes were not fixed on the kaleidoscope—my eyes were nowhere, unlinking from the
present with the rest of me—yet he believed they were.
Anything you want, he said, except that.