This story is by Ray Kelly and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ian balanced the small stack of bed linen and clothing, while reaching down to twist the knob opening the door into his brother’s bedroom.
It was dim, and the curtains were not yet opened, as Mum always came in to draw them each evening. Untroubled by the lighting Ian made his way to the varnished pine clothes chest at the end of the bed, placing his bundle of laundry there before moving over to the window and tugging at the stiff, resisting fabric.
The morning shuffled in as the curtains begrudgingly conceded and Ian turned to enjoy the dust quivering across the shafted light.
He looked down at Peter’s neat, empty, eternally unmade bed and smiled at his sibling’s ability to sleep while hardly disturbing his bedding at all. A handy skill that Ian had not inherited in the family gene distribution.
“You big tidy shit.”
Ian moved to the window and strained at the panel until it crunched to halfway, where it always caught and refused to move further. A tranquil breeze shuffled the curtains and the warmth and taste of summer sauntered past him to negotiate with the spaces in the cool room.
Laughing quietly, Ian slipped into the chair at his brother’s desk and swivelled slowly around to take in the walls. The football teams he knew well but the Farah Fawcett poster was the sight that always purloined his attention.
“Dirty, dirty…” He murmured. Eventually moving past her pretty eyes and mouth to the shelf containing the football and swimming trophies. Ian had been a swimmer too and recalled the both of them getting up before dawn and driving to the pool with Dad. Poor Dad, always exhausted from his night shift at the plant, often dozing in the stands as his boys swam an hour and a half before school and an hour and a half after school…
“You’ll never be good enough if you don’t put in the effort.”
“Go to hell.” Ian would laugh.
Peter shrugged. “If we have to get up this early in the morning we ought to make it worth it.”
“You are such a freaking Boy Scout.” And Ian had stopped getting up so early to take up more sleep-friendly pastimes. Occasionally hearing his Father and brother making their careful not to disturb departure noises, morning after exhausting morning.
Sometimes he could hear Mum whisper to be careful on the roads at this time of day and to Dad ‘you need to get more sleep’. Still off they went…
Ian picked up one of his brother’s trophies and twisted it between his fingers. The figurine was slim and permanently poised to dive into a non- existent pool. Ian remembered Peter winning it, clearly ahead of the next place getter and still pulling away after two hundred yards…
‘That was great… you were strong as!”
He laughed and tousled Ian’s hair. “Not willing to lose if I am going to work so hard at it, little brother.”
“Yeah, well you didn’t do that alright. Look at Mum and Dad.”
They both glanced into the mostly packed stands and Ian, picking out his beaming parents, recalled the delight on their faces.
Ian handed his brother a towel as they waved, grinning, walking to the changing rooms…
Reaching into his breast pocket Ian pulled out the lifesavers he kept there. Multi-flavours, one of his brother’s favourites. He opened the bureau drawer and dropped them beside the mint lifesavers that were laying neatly in place, ordered along with the carefully placed pens, stapler, notepad, erasers, pencils and sharpener.
Ian picked up the mint lifesavers, nimbly tugging at the silver wrapping at the extremity. He popped two wheels into his mouth before replacing the candy he had taken from his pocket with Peter’s pack. The confectionary would not go stale while waiting patiently in the drawer.
The desktop was ordered and contained nothing but a rolla-deck calendar that lied February 7 1979, and a blotter with a few of the notes scribbled into it by his brother. Idly he read the ‘Better Better Best’ in black pencil in the top right hand corner and a few inches below a list of Shakespearean characters in preparation for some past test. Ian noted Peter’s tidy, clipped script and then lifted a dozen pages of the blotter, passing by entries he himself had made previously, while taking a pencil from the drawer and writing FUCKING PERFECTIONIST to be found one day in the far away future by no one who might understand.
Ian smiled grimly at his handiwork for a few seconds before returning the pencil to its correct position.
Mark Spitz interrupted Ian’s day dreaming, pictured there like a porno actor playing a swimmer just about to do something naughty, hands on hips, seven gold medals taking medallion fetish to the very extreme. His photograph was taped to the cream painted wall behind the desk, along with portraits of Liverpool FC, the Brazilian football team and Socrates, their captain.
Ian stared at the photographs wistfully before standing and pacing to the far side of his brother’s bed, pulling the rag from his back pocket. It was Saturday, after all, so he polished the wooden surfaces in the warming room. Bedside table, dresser – where he stopped for a spritz of his brother’s deodorant, careful to feel the weight of the bottle for that day it might need replacing from his use – bed headboard, desk, windowsill. All combined leaving a thin film of decay on the pale blue rag.
Like an apparition, Mum unexpectedly appeared in the mirror on the dresser, standing vaguely in the doorway, running her fingers across her brow as if checking the presence of her eyebrows, unwilling to enter. Ian’s eyes met hers without turning to acknowledge her. They stared at each other for a long moment as if confused by the reflection
“Are you nearly done?” She studied Peter’s bedroom to ensure everything was in its place, pausing at the bed that had remained exactly as Peter had left it the morning he and Dad had not returned from swimming four months earlier.
“Yes, near finished.”
She checked to her left. “Good, you opened the window. Let all this wonderful summer air in.”
“Just like Peter likes it.”
Mum nodded, glanced again into her son’s eyes by way of the looking glass, before drifting away into her desperate routines.
Ian polished for a few moments more before finally glancing into Peter’s laundry basket, seeing the lone white tee shirt that always lay there. He reached down and ran his fingers over the familiar crumpled cotton before turning to pick up the untouched pile of laundered sheets and clothing identical to the clean laundry Ian had carried in that morning.
A neighbourly lawn mower roared into life, and the death in the room was mercifully replaced by the routine of some other’s weekend duties.
Gathering the clean untouched laundry, Ian glanced about to see that all was how Peter had left it… before he balanced the small stack of clean bed linen and clothing, while reaching down to pull the knob closing the door to his brother’s bedroom… until next Saturday.