Tone Deaf

The telephone rings, effectively cutting off his soaring falsetto right at its apex. He frowns before picking it up, knowing before the voice even begins speaking that it’s his brother again, and that he wants more money. It’s sad that he knows all of this ahead of time, because it means he can never enjoy a conversation with the only other person in the world who comes from the same parents as he does, but that’s life. At least that’s the life he’s become accustomed to, so it might as well be life for everyone else. He inhabits an extremely small world.

It is silent in the background because the radio was never playing. He doesn’t ever listen to canned music, even when he is home alone, preferring instead to let the voices in his head have free reign. Sometimes they’re in tune and other times they are not, but he gratefully doesn’t know the difference. Would it matter to him that he can so rarely carry a tune. Probably not. He would still sing anyway, loud enough to wake the dead, and he would enjoy every single moment of the caterwauling.

But this moment isn’t about the music. It is instead about how he wants to approach the impending conversation. The silence fills in the space that would otherwise be empty, devoid of any conscious thought, dominated by subconscious ramblings that are of no consequence and that surely won’t help him make a decision. Because, yes, there is a decision to make. He has finally reached that dividing line, the one he didn’t know existed until recently, until his brother’s phone calls began making less sense and wanting more tangible returns. As if brother also means banker.

And he can’t take the dichotomy any more. He can’t just pretend it doesn’t matter, that because they share DNA he has to keep giving with no reciprocity, without even the shadow of reciprocity. He doesn’t mean money either. If it were just about money there would be no issue. He has plenty of it, and family is family after all, but it’s about stepping up instead, about making his brother take accountability for his own life. This has never happened in the past, and he worries that the younger man will be completely lost when no one is left to satisfy his wishes.

In some ways they grew up in the same household, with the same rules, the same values, and the exact same understanding of the world, but in the intervening years something disappeared in his brother. Something that was as ingrained as that selfsame DNA was somehow scraped up and replaced by a nomadic state that required payment to maintain itself. His brother grew into a shell of himself, a leech who could never be pried off no matter how hard he tried, at the very least to be able to hold him at arm’s distance and look into his eyes. It was sad, really.

So the phone keeps ringing, at last switching over to voicemail, a momentary reprieve, but he regrets it the second the sound goes silent. He’s been taught for so long to give in, to accept that his brother is a certain way, that there’s no changing him. He falls back into those patterns naturally, as easily as slipping on a second skin, even though he knows they’re not healthy, that he’s not healthy. Because it’s not just his brother who has irreconcilably changed in the space between youth and complacence.

While he’s analyzing this new piece of information, the echo of that falsetto starting to build up again in his mind, the phone rings again. And he reaches to answer it.

Sam

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