My brother’s looking at my crooked teeth. “You could cut glass with that mouth,” he says. My brother smells. He hasn’t showered all week. What does he know? I tell him my teeth are as straight as fence boards. “Yeah, and like how you speak with a lisp,” he says. He lets out a long s like a snake.

We look at the mountain and it’s hypnotic.

“It’s a fortress of good and evil,” my brother says, referring to some dumb comic book. I hate comics. I don’t want to read words in bubbles. People don’t talk like that.

“Say fortress,” my brother says. I say it with a short s. My brother says my mouth is like an alley, waiting for something to fill it.

“You’re the evil in the fortress,” I say.

“But you’re not the good,” he says.

I want to smash his head into pieces. Then I want to spray the pieces with Dial soap. But that’d make Mom sad like when she found him cutting himself in the bathroom after his first girlfriend.

“Do you think you could climb that?” my brother asks about the mountain.

We’re on vacation in a town called Purgatory and I’d rather be anywhere else. This was Dad’s dumb idea. He said if Mom wanted more excitement then Purgatory is what you get. I didn’t know what that meant, but now I do.

“I could,” I say.

“Not with those wrists,” my brother says.

I tell him I’m going to pull out a tooth and slice his throat with it.

“Nope,” he says, “take one out and the rest fall down like dominos.”

My brother is an idiot. His excuses rise in the air above his stench. I want to blow off the top of the mountain like they do when they’re searching for coal.

“You know it’s okay if you’re gay,” my brother says.

I imagine he’s a phantom. I imagine him disappearing in a cloud of smoke. “I’m not,” I say.

“It’s okay either way.” His face looks like it did when we were younger, when he was good instead of evil. His superhero name would be The Stench.

“Dad said so,” he says. “He said, ‘If your brother is gay you need to love him the same.’”

“He did not.” I close my eyes and the mountain and my brother disappear. I wonder why it’s same and not more.

My brother takes a cigarette from his back pocket. It’s wedged in there like a piece of gum. “Shh,” he winks. “Our little secret.”

“Dad knows you smoke,” I say.

“Duh,” he says.

I look at his wrists when he lights. The faint red lines, like he drew on himself with a clipped fingernail. They make a smiley face.

“Mom and Dad are on autopilot,” he says. “Do you know what that means? It means they’re coasting toward the ocean and running out of fuel.”

“Or a mountain,” I say.

“Yeah, or that.”

He gives me a drag and it tastes like our grandfather’s house.

I say my teeth aren’t that crooked and my brother says, “They’re like uneven fence posts.”

“Boards,” I say.

I jump and the balcony shakes. I tell my brother it’s minor turbulence. We jump at the same time. “Let’s not kill ourselves out here,” he says. He flicks the cigarette over the edge. It sinks instead of flies.

We’re here because Mom wanted more excitement. This isn’t what she meant. What she meant was she wants Dad to love her more. This is how my brother explains it.

“Even if you’re a little gay, I’d love you the same,” he says now.

I tell him he’d have to love me in the first place, and he hits me on the back of my head. “Sometimes you’re a big idiot, really.” I tell him I feel that way about everybody too. He lights another cigarette. The air between us feels cold and warm at the same time. I wonder if he can feel it.

Nicholas Cook

Nicholas Cook

Nicholas Cook lives in an old house in Dallas, TX, along with his dog. His fiction can be found in Bath Flash Fiction Award (Second Place, Feb 2017), 100 Word Story, A Quiet Courage, New Flash Fiction Review, Camroc Press Review, and elsewhere.
Nicholas Cook

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