You’d think I’d know my brother at this point, wouldn’t you? Like seventy-seven. Many times ma said (and I believed her for years) that Fred was eighteen months older than me. He was born in July and the year after the year after, I was born in June.
From a toddler, he loved dribbling balls or slamming them between the goal chalk marks, later on he also loved potting the black or getting straight sixties at darts in pubs. He was good at sports I mean to say. He’s very funny, even now: a great mimic, doing farcical sibilant voices, telling his own jokes like a music hall pro: funny situations with a caustic edge, though not bitter-caustic. That’s because he laughs at himself as much as he does everyone else. Unlike his brother, he never resented being born a working-class boy; no overbearing ambitions, just a simple married life keeping the house and garden immaculate and doing some extra-mural wrought-iron work and welding: braziers, gates, brackets… Then about eighteen months ago he had to give that up and started drawing and painting and they’re really pretty damned good pictures, not that that matters in itself. What matters is he chose to do it—how many people do just shy of eighty, eh? It made me extremely happy to see that, and it brought us closer.
Perhaps it’s because he looks different now, that I see him differently. He’s put on a lot of weight. He always liked eating (Oh, yes!), but this is the illness and the limited mobility, he lies in the hospice bed moving only with difficulty. But there need be no tears, his face is animated and cheeky. In the face of dying by slow degrees, his courage inspires me with courage. The simple fact is he and I were never really designed to be close: chalk and cheese. But I inherited the sentimentality so I phone, I send a birthday card, I go and visit, I’m nice and take the trouble, you know? While these emotions are circulating, he gets into a fishing story: a trip out on the ocean at night that cost fourteen pounds and wasn’t worth it; being seasick to windward; having to lie flat in the bilges and catching nothing when—he segues into another fish tale, one I’ve never heard before. He’s at his daughter and son-in-law’s house, I went there once, it was lovely and had an actual river flowing under an old stone bridge and running right through the grounds. This had been used to create a small lake stocked with fish and he remembered standing alone one evening watching the lake at sunset. As the sun descended, its rays pierced the surface of the water revealing the multitude of fish wending and darting this way and that.
Listening to him, there was a shift in my perception; the impression of a soul far older than seventy-seven here this time as my brother; a timeless entity, independent of my personal sentiment. Yes; the fish were food, but they were also beautiful in his eye, part with him and everything in his regard of the oneness of nature. For a brief moment, I’d had a deeper insight into his perennial being than I’ve ever had into my own.