During dinner I would often hear my brother moving around inside the vents. If the food smelled especially good that night, he would make a scraping, scuttling noise like a pair of oversized rats wrestling. He did this to make us feel bad for him and sometimes it worked (except on me because I always felt bad for him), like when, after a few drinks one evening, my father got up, unlocked the stainless steel lock next to the grate and threw in half of his pork chop. A chewy, smacking sound followed.
        Thank you, Dad. My brother’s meek voice reverberated inside the walls. My father kept quiet, moving only to look at my mother. She sat watching her food, also keeping quiet for reasons I don’t understand. They could have said anything to my brother, just a single word to make him feel like he was still a part of the family. But instead they held fast to the rules. This was all a part of my brother’s punishment.
         I used to play in the basement with my brother, whose name I’m not allowed to say anymore. Cops and Robbers, Hide and Seek, Wild Injuns and other games that often left things down in the musty room either toppled over or broken. Once my mother noticed we had chipped an old hand-painted vase she had inherited from her mother. She told my father, who locked my brother in the basement and me in the attic for a number of days. I finally confessed to the crime on the condition that my brother be let out a week before me. I expected him to be grateful, but instead he didn’t talk to me for a whole month. I guess he wanted us to be side-by-side during our punishments, perfectly equal in all respects.
         But equal we weren’t. I was always the better student and so my parents favored me. I came home once with straight A’s on my report card, while my brother received a D in science. To teach him a lesson, my parents threw me a party and invited several kids from the neighborhood. My father handcuffed my brother to a pipe in the tool shed behind our house. Through a crack in the door he could see everyone gathered in the backyard. I tried to sneak some cake over to him but couldn’t find a hole big enough to pass my hand through. When I looked into the crack at just the right angle so as not to block the sun, I saw a shard of light illuminate his face like the gleam off a kitchen knife. His face was still, the one visible eye small and sharp—cruelly alert. I didn’t know what to say. I walked back to the party and tried to have fun without him, but it was useless. I kept thinking about his eye.
         The time came for my brother to join the other high school seniors in planning for prom. He invited a girl who—I can’t remember her name—was also a senior. When she said yes, my brother couldn’t believe his luck. But she truly liked him. I think it was because lately he’d become tougher. He’d beat on any boy who challenged him, and became the best tackler in the football games we all played during recess. His eyes took on a harder, narrower quality, and his palms and knuckles became like leather.
         She’s got nice big ones, he told me. You shoulda seen this shirt she was wearing in class the other day. He put his hands up his shirt, poked his index fingers outward and then skipped around the room, flopping his fingers and giggling like a girl. I laughed until a pain developed in my side. My father watched the entire display from the kitchen. We hadn’t known he was home.

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