“Brother's Keeper” by Richard Denoncourt
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        My father had changed over the years as well. He’d grown quieter, more watchful and secretive. His sideburns had turned white and now his face was always red and bloated, like someone choking on a bite of food. His biker’s mustache hung low and black around his lips like wings torn off a blackbird and pasted there for decoration. When he saw my brother prancing around in the living room, he walked in, calmly asked me to step out of the room and then he closed the door.
         My brother didn’t get to go to prom. He spent the next week locked in the bathroom with our dog, Ramsey. After the first five days of not eating, Ramsey became vicious and attacked my brother. It was only after she saw the missing finger that my mother convinced my father to let them both out of the bathroom. That night, when no one was looking, I kicked Ramsey in the side and told him he was a bad dog. I told my brother about it, but he didn’t think it was necessary to punish the dog. Ramsey had been hungry. He had done what it was in his nature to do.
         That damned dog, said my brother, looking down at the bandages where his index finger had been. I didn’t think that little mutt had it in him.
         My brother never showed any of the anger I always knew he felt. Not once did he get jealous because our parents loved me more. But one day, unexpectedly, he decided he wanted to set his science teacher’s car on fire. When I asked him why, he said it was because she had failed him. I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I knew well enough what would happen if my father were to see an F on his report card. If my brother was going to be punished anyway, he might as well do something fun while he still could—go out with a bang, he said.
         Why did I agree to help him? I’ll never know for sure. Maybe I was worried I would never see my brother again. At least if we did this together, we would be punished together. And then neither of us would have to feel alone.
         We snuck out that night with a few bottles of gasoline and some long, white rags we had torn from our bed sheets. The science teacher lived over a hill near a well-lit highway. We crept like bandits, alone even though the whole time I felt like I had an army behind me. That’s how I always felt when my brother and I played our tricks and games together.
        When we reached the driveway we each took a bottle and lit the rags. My brother raised his hand in a salute as the rag burned close to his side. The smell of gasoline was overpowering.
        It’s been an honor to serve by your side, soldier, he said.
        My eyes welled with tears.
        Thank you, sir, I said to him, swallowing a huge lump in my throat.
        It was beautiful. The car lit up in the night like a pyre in a religious ceremony. My brother stuck one fist up in the air and held it there, tears streaming down his face, and as we ran back to the house I felt more alive than I had ever felt. More alive than when my parents took me (but not my brother) to the rollercoaster at Alamo Ranch. That night, I didn’t care what happened next. For the first time in my life I didn’t think about the consequences.
         My mother was the one who received the phone call. A neighbor had witnessed the burning, had recognized my face from the photo that had appeared in the paper the day I won first place in the school spelling bee. We had been caught, and it was my fault.
         My father rounded the whole family into the living room. My mother followed close behind, a martini in one hand and a blank expression on her face. She had given up dealing with the world a long time ago, becoming instead a passive observer.
         I pleaded with my father. Please, I said, what about college? He has to go to college. And I can’t drop out of school.

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