Brother, Come Home
"Jacob, you lazy brat! Get over here! What took you so long to get home!:
Those were the first words Jacob Wellington heard when he got home from school. With a deep sigh, he shrugged off his backpack and slouched over to the kitchen. His mother was leaning over the stove stirring a pot of boiling chilli. Leaning against the doorpost he eyed her with disinterest. Finally acknowledging his presence, Mrs. Wellington looked up from the pot of soup. She would have been a pretty middle-aged matron if it hadn't been for her dark scowl and unbrushed hair.
"Listen Jacob. If you can't learn to clean up you are going to have to leave when you turn eighteen. I told you to have the dishes done before you left for school. And when I say done, I mean completely done! Washed, dried, and put away!"
"Mother, you know I didn't have time to wash, dry, and put away the dishes before school," Jacob sighed, glancing at the clean dishes sitting placidly on the drying rack. "However, I did get the sweeping and scrubbing done," he said, with an attempt at cheerfulness.
His mother turned a baleful eye on him. "We are not talking about what you did. Don't change the subject. It is bad enough that I have to put up with you father. And then I have you on my hands. When can't you be like your older brother?! He's handsome, well-educated, and accomplished! And look at you! You good for nothing, lazy, stupid slob!" she screamed.
Jacob stiffened angrily. With a rough gesture, he turned on his heel and stomped out of the kitchen, muttering something.
"What?" shouted his mother.
"I can't help not being my brother!"
Back in his room, Jacob slumped down on his bed, sobs racking his thin shoulders. "Why can't I be like Michael?!" he sobbed. "Mike is strong, smart, and good-looking. I'm...well, I'm just me. Mom's right. I'm no good. I'm a runt. I don't blame mom and dad for loving him and not me." Then with a cynical smile, he thought, "That's the one and only thing they agree on."
An hour later, Jacob woke suddenly to a door slamming and angry voices. He sighed, Dad was home and that meant a long evening of arguments and fights between his parents. It was the same every evening. The only comfort was, surprising, Michael. Thought the more loved child of the two boys, Mike didn't seem to care. "He's the best older brother I could have," Jason though, with a sad smile as he heard his firm steps come down the hall and stop in front of Jacob's room. Three sharp knocks and Mike's cheerful face and broad shoulders appeared around the door.
"Hey, junior," called out Michael Wellington, using Jacob's nickname given by the fond older brother. "May I come in?"
Jacob mustered a smile. "Anytime, Mike. Come on in."
Michael stepped around the door, shutting it tightly around him. His cheerful expression slowly left his face as he noticed his younger brother's red eyes and worried expression behind his smile.
"Mom wasn't happy with the way you did the chores, I presume," Michael said quietly while Jacob nodded. "I'm sorry. It's my fault. I should have helped you. I was just in a hurry to get to class."
Jacob looked at his feet and shook his head. "No, no, Mike. It's not your fault. It's mine. It's always mine. I got up late and didn't have time to get the dishes dried and put away before running off to school. You're in college now and aren't responsible for menial chores and things like that."
Michael's sad expression turned into one of pain. "Jacob, brother. Please don't talk like that. We're a family. We are supposed to work together and help each other out."
Jacob laughed, a cold mirthless laugh. "Work together? Help each other out? I think mom and dad have forgotten what those words mean. When was the last time out parents have had a quiet evening with a single argument? When was the last time I came home and was greeted with a smile from either mom or dad? When was the last time a day went by without me being kicked around like some dirty mongrel? Answer me that. When?"
Michael turned away and looked out the window at the cornfields behind their house and yard. "I don't know, Jake. I don't know. Damn, I wish there was some way I could help you. Believe me, I hate being petted by them as much as you hate being kicked around by them. It pains me to see them favoring me over you. I'm sorry, Jake. I truly am."
Jacob looked up,surprised, a question in his dull brown eyes. "Sorry? What are you apologizing for?"
The older brother turned to face his younger brother. "I'm sorry for being so good, so perfect... for being me."
The seventeen-year-old jumped to his feet. "Don't say that Mike. Don't talk like that. Don't ever say that. You are my hero. You've always been my hero, ever since you saved me from the neighbor's dog when I was three and you were five. If you were anything less, who would be my model? Someone I could look up to? Someone I could respect?"
At Jacob's last words, Mike embraced his brother. "Thanks, Jake. I know I'm not the best of brother's at times, but I'll try my hardest. See you at dinner," he said as he walked out the door, quietly shutting it behind him.
Jacob sat down at his old scratched desk and pulled out his homework. As he began to work on the math problems, however, his mind was not on the simultaneous equations. The high school senior felt immensely frustrated, despite his brother's comforting words. With an angry yell, he threw his pencil across the room before burying his head in his hands. "God, god, god. Will it go on like this forever?" he thought, in anguish. "Can't I just be put out of my suffering? It would have been better if I had not even been born."
Back in the kitchen, Mrs. Wellington was setting the table while she and her husband threw a stream of verbal abuses back and forth at each other. "What do you think I am? Your slave?" was her last bitter comment to Mr. Wellington's cynical remark about dinner being late.
"No, but I came home to see you reading the latest fashion magazine. And now dinner is late. What do you think of that? Am I supposed to assume that you were working your hardest all this time to please me?"
"Please you?!" Mrs. Wellington nearly screamed. "Daniel, here you stand, not deigning to lift a finger to help me, and I'm supposed to please you?!"
"Cooking is not a man's job, Amelia!"
"While working as a ticket master for a theatre is?"
"At least, I bring home money, you ungrateful wretch! And it's a respectable job, unlike cleaning pig styes or whatever you do."
"You insolent fool! I clean the hospital wards!"
"As I said pig styes! Same thing."
Things could have gotten much worse if it hadn't happened that Michael walked into the room. "Hi, Mum, Dad. Do you need any help with dinner?"
"No, dear," said Amelia with a sticky sweet smile. "We are ready to eat. Come sit down."
"I'll get Jacob," Mike said as he walked out of the room again.
As Daniel took his place at the head of the table and Amelia took her place...as far away from him as possible, he muttered under his breath, "And you said you needed help not one minute ago."