Excerpt from “He Ain’t Heavy”

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This is an excerpt from my 1st short story collection, The Juice and Other Stories. It’s available now, on Amazon.com, and is free through this Monday, 20 January. “He Ain’t Heavy” is a story about twin brothers who couldn’t be more different. One is good and the other, well, he ain’t.

“Dunc, I’m not so sure about this.”

Quentin sat with his brother under the old pier, watching him down almost half a bottle of cough syrup. He had always trusted his brother’s advice, despite his being Duncan’s elder by six minutes. Dunc had never steered him wrong. This was different, however. Today, they were tearing through boundaries that had defined the entirety of their lives. Church, school, prayer, obedience, conformity – that was the family credo. But now drugs? For the first time, Quentin began to fear how far his brother’s insistent rebellion would take them.

“Look, Quint, if you don’t wanna, you don’t have to. Just be a good little girl and shut the hell up, okay?” Dunc twisted the cap back on the syrup, stood on two wobbly legs, and brushed dirt off his already filthy jeans.

“When you gonna wash those things?” Quint asked. Unlike his brother, he was impeccably dressed, in khakis and a neat green polo shirt.

Dunc rolled his eyes and pulled a hit on his cigarette, drawing in his already sunken cheeks. Although he and his brother were identical twins, Dunc was a half-inch shorter, and at least thirty pounds lighter. He’d been a sickly child, spending most of his days in dark isolation at home. He had no friends to speak of, none except Quint. And Quentin would never abandon his brother, even when he deserved it.

“You know, if you want to be mom, you’re gonna need saggier boobs.” Dunc stepped over to his brother, cupping his hand on Quint’s right chest. “Smaller ones too.”

“Shut up, you asshole!” Quint said, shrugging his brother’s hand off. “You know, I don’t mind your being a jerk to me, I’m used to it and I can take it. But you need to lay off mom, okay? She’s doing the best she can.”

“Well the best she can is hooked on pills half the time, and at work the other half.”

“Mom’s just sad, Dunc.” Quint nodded toward the half-empty bottle at his feet. “And I see you’re trying take after all her bad traits.”

Being compared to his mother had always been fighting words for Dunc, and today was no exception. He lunged at his brother, stumbled, but managed to grab the bigger boy’s waist on the way down. They ended up in a jackass heap on the riverbank, twisting, grunting, punching, moaning, and finally, splashing into the river, as each attempted for at least the hundredth time in their lives to become an only child. They never succeeded, and instead invariably ended up in a crying, apologetic pile, with each pledging lifelong fealty and brotherly love. Then one of them would sucker punch the other, and the entire play would rewind. Today’s script was the same.

“Hey! What the hell you doing down there?” Quint looked up, and saw the ancient security guard that worked the waterfront. They had jumped a fence to get here, and the grizzled old bastard meant to make sure they got arrested for their troubles.

“Come on!” Dunc said, pulling Quint by his wet shirt from the river. The two of them took off, with Officer Father Time giving only a token pursuit until they were up and over the rusty fence. Five minutes later, they were panting, nearing school, which would be approaching fourth period by now. Fourth period meant art, and more importantly, Zoe Delany.

Quint didn’t mind skipping school so much. Increasingly, however, he minded skipping Zoe. He stopped, catching his breath, and looking at his mud-streaked pants.

“Look at me, Dunc. How the heck am I supposed to go back looking like this?”

Dunc finished off the cough syrup, sticking his tongue in the bottle to lick the last drops. He casually glanced up at his brother. “So what? Now you look like your big brother. We’re twins, so that’s a good thing.”

Quint gave him a hard shove. “I’m serious, you jerkoff. And for the record, I’m the big brother.”

“Nope,” Dunc said, tossing the bottle over his shoulder in a shattering shower of glass, “You’re the fatter, older brother. But I’m the one with the bigger balls.” Quint would have punched his brother, but he was right on all three counts. “Look, BB balls, there’s a restroom right by the back door. Nobody ever checks that door, and it’s broken. You just sneak in there, then go in the restroom and wash your sacred khakis. You can sacrifice a goat to the khaki gods later to atone.”

“You really are an ass, you know that?” Quint was smiling.

“Yeah, I love you too, bro.” Dunc turned, heading the precise opposite direction of school.

“Where are you going?”

Dunc turned, looking over his shoulder, his dark, tousled blowing the breeze. His eyes were glazed, and his fourteen-year-old face was frozen in a stupid grin. “My cough doesn’t feel quite right yet. I need to see a guy about some meds.”

“Dunc …” Quint was going to warn his brother it was too much, that he risked real trouble if he kept on the path he was headed. He stopped himself; his brother was good at many things, but listening to reason was not among them. “You can’t keep missing school, Dunc. They won’t let you move on to high school.”

Dunc only shrugged. “They’ll never even notice me. The only Meadows brother anyone cares about is you.”

“That’s not true, Dunc, and you know it.”

Dunc gave his brother a backwards wave, and trotted off.

“I care about you,” Quint said to the empty space his brother had left behind.