My brother gets all As at school, and is generally always nice to everybody. He is on the county football team, which trains and plays at his high school, and they rotate captain between the three best players, which is him and his best friends, so for one month out of every three, he is captain of the team. People like him because he is fair and always calls out the names of the other players to support them and claps when they win, plus if they won because of someone else’s goal, he will always make sure that that person holds the trophy in the picture for the paper. He is like the perfect one of the two of us. Whenever my family is in the paper, they show pictures of my brother. Mostly they cut me out. My brother is much taller than me, and he also has lighter hair than me and straighter hair, and mine is quite curly and a darker yellow that some people say is ginger, which I have been teased about at school. Mum says he looks like an angel and I look like a little imp, but I don’t think she was trying to be insulting because she was smiling like I’d be pleased when she said it. My brother has proper muscles and can run really fast and wins all the races at school sports days. He also is doing a scholarship exam for the big school that goes after high school so Mum and Dad don’t have to pay any money for him to go, and he is probably going to get that, Mum says, because he works very hard and is naturally bright.
His friends Marc and Carl are funny. They are humourous-funny, but also strange funny. When they are at our house sometimes they all go quiet when I walk in a room and I say:
‘Hey! You were talking about me!’
And they say ‘We weren’t.’
And I say: ‘What were you talking about then?’
And sometimes they make silly excuses but sometimes one of them will say: ‘We were talking about girls.’
And then I say: ‘No you weren’t! You were talking about me!’
And my brother will say: ‘No, really, Daniel, I promise we were talking about girls.’
And then I believe them because my brother would never, ever lie to me, because we are brothers and we have a blood pact never to lie to one another. A blood pact means you would die before you lied to each other.
My brother is also really popular with girls. Carl told me so and so did Marc, and so did Mum. I also deduced this fact because a few times we have picked him up from school in the car and he has been talking to a girl and holding hands and then once… once he was kissing a girl and I was shocked and horrified and Mum laughed at my mouth, which was wide open, and beeped the horn and waved at him and my brother smiled and went red and got in the car and when he got in the car I said:
‘Why are you so red?’
And he said: ‘Shuddurrrp, Daniel.’
And Mum laughed again, even harder.
The best thing about my brother, is that he is the most amazing player of World of War ever. He doesn’t even play it that often! He only plays it with me. He plays more on the Xbox with Marc and Carl usually, and we play on the Wii downstairs with Mum and Dad sometimes and he also very rarely but occasionally plays on the Sega, but really he doesn’t play many games because he is out playing football. But he does play World of War with me most nights and we play until eight or eight thirty and then I have to either have a bath and go to bed or just go to bed, but usually have a bath and go to bed. Then I will read to Mum before bed, or sometimes I will read to Dad, but usually Dad is not home yet. Sometimes my brother comes in and we have our talks, which are very interesting conversations about life. My brother says I am very wise and he is right. I always have advice for him.
We are very different people. Some different things about the two of us are good though, like he is best at English and Geography and History, and he doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up, but I am a very advanced robot designer for my age and I know exactly what I want to be when I grow up: a robotic engineer. I will do all the design on the robots and I will oversee the construction of the prototype and then I will make an entire robot race, or I will use my robot powers to add robotic extensions to normal human beings, so they can be whatever they want to be, like if you couldn’t see but wanted to be a fighter pilot I could add robot eyes which could give you 20:20 vision, or even better 40:40 vision and night vision, with the ability to detect both infra-red and ultra-violet light. You would have a dial on your head and you could turn it to see which one you wanted to see. People would come into my workshop, and I would look at them, and I would improve them until they were absolutely perfect, and couldn’t be improved further. I would work on my brother and make him really big and muscly and fast as a cheetah, and I would give him a really deep voice and a buzz cut and a gun that formed from his left arm when his heightened senses told him we were in danger.
I told my brother what I wanted to be, and he said that it was cool but unfortunately he wouldn’t let me add extensions to him, because he wanted to be who he was, and see how that played out. I said that was stupid. Who wouldn’t want to be perfect? Or a robot?
And this is why I have chosen to write my class essay about my brother. Sincerely, Daniel Alexander Walker, age nine and four fifths.
My parents were each other’s antithesis. My mother was a beautiful, sad woman, dark, small and quick to anger. She would mutter about sacrifice and everything she had given up for us. She died when I was sixteen and now I wish I had known her better. My father was tall, with golden hair swept from a side parting, and had a gentle, mild temperament. Dad used to practice law and would leave for York very early in the morning, every day, to go to his offices. Later, he became a politician. He saw enough of the world to have dreams for us, and when I could go—when it was still free to go study for a degree—he sent me to Oxford University.
I was three years older than my sister Cheryl, and I didn’t want to go alone, so my friend Leah applied to train as a nurse in Oxford and followed me there. Two years after we moved to Oxford, she met Edward, a Philosophy major, while out rowing on the river. I was surprised she liked him so much, because Leah was so down-to-earth, and Edward was prone to arrogance. He felt too cold for warm Leah. Six months later, he took her for a picnic on that same river and proposed in front of all his friends. They were married and moved to Hemingway for Edward’s work. The houses were better value and roomier, and the town was quiet and safe. A few years after that, they found out they were going to have a baby, a boy.
Leah had moved to the suburbs, but I loved Oxford. The city was where I became a lawyer, where I met my husband, where we bought our first apartment, where the buzz of energy took on a unique momentum and propelled even the most mundane start to an evening forward into something new, something different and unexpected. My boyfriend Steve was two years ahead of me in law school. After he graduated we would meet at the pub around six most nights, then either stay there until late, drinking and talking, or walk home together. He was from London, tall, leanly muscular, earnest, blithely goodlooking and deliciously self-righteous. He was passionate. We argued a lot but had the same values. We both strove for independence and control, but we had a different relationship with success, imagining it was already waiting for us. We were healthy and young and full of promise. We had no problems and no doubts.
We got married in Oxford a few weeks after I graduated. Afterward we went for a meal at an Indian restaurant we both loved.
We found out I was pregnant just before we closed on the apartment in Oxford, and we moved to Hemingway a few months after the birth of our first child. Steve was twenty-eight, and I was twenty-six. The move was unexpected, but suddenly Oxford was too claustrophobic. Our friends would drop by at all times, without calling ahead, and above all we wanted privacy.
We took a long time, a few weeks, to decide on a name. Steve kept suggesting ones I hated: Jamie, Taylor, Rowan. In the end, he grew impatient with me and started calling the baby “Max.” After a while, it stuck.
Later, when we had Daniel, our second child, my sister moved to Hemingway to be closer to me.
Cheryl’s life is very different from mine. She traveled instead of going to university. Cheryl has had several long-term boyfriends but only got married last year, at thirty-eight, to Charlie, who has a wide, boyish grin and wild, curly hair.
I know it sounds irrational, but sometimes I feel jealous of all the freedom and solitude she has experienced. As a barrister for the court and a mother of two, my own free time is precious. I spend it with my family, and when I get the chance I see Cheryl or Leah, but even these occasions seem to be few and far between. I call them both regularly but we only manage perhaps one lunch or dinner a month.
Perhaps because we made similar choices in life, Leah and I are closer than my sister and I. I know if anything happened to me, Leah would be there for my children, and I would be there, if anything happened to Leah, for her son, Hunter, who, like many children without siblings, can be moody and controlling. I don’t share that thought with Leah obviously, because we all like to believe that our children are perfect, and personally, I wouldn’t want to be disabused of that notion.
Despite Hunter’s bossiness, Max and he have been best friends since they were little and Leah and I have always been glad of this, because on shared holidays they are good at entertaining themselves. They are both resourceful, playing football together, exploring, swimming, surfing, fighting and making up without our input. Max is always the first, and sometimes the only one, to forgive, ever the peacemaker.
Leah was the first person I confided in about Max’s condition, and Hunter has known since he was four. He was young when he found out, sharing a bath with Max before bedtime, but he seemed to understand as much as a child could. We just told him Max is different. Max is special.