All She Ever Wanted
Michelle Reale
Break
My brother thinks he's Mazzy Star. He's a huge fan of the "shoe gazers". He prepares for his lesson by playing lazy and discordant songs that he writes himself on his warped acoustic guitar. His are bangs are long and hang over one side of this face. His acne is red and raw; the eyelashes on his right eye a thick and protective fringe. My mother says that my brother is sensitive. "Typical artiste!" It's a story my mother likes to tell ever since her husband left.
For all of his musical ambition, my brother is a wuss. Because of this, I call him names. I gather all my strength, shut my eyes, run from one end of the room to another, and ram him from behind. "Timber!" I yell and he falls hard. I jump on him to get my point across. Take that! He retreats to his bedroom. I hear the soft "click" of the lock. "I'm sorry," I whisper through the crack under his door, but I don't mean it because I still think he hasn't learned his lesson. I want him to be able to live in this world. "Tomboy," my mother says, with a tight, distracted smile, tapping the ash from her cigarette, eyeing me like I was the sorriest thing she'd ever seen. But so far, she's never told me to stop.
The guitar teacher knocks at the front door and my mother and I scatter. "It's your brother's thing," she warns me, her fingers squeezing a grip on her brown cigarette.
The "Maestro" as my mother has taken to calling him, is a small and nervous man, with, paradoxically, a bad temper. He sports an award winning scowl. "He's one of the best," my mother says with pride, but it's hard to imagine. I think he is harder on my brother than he needs to be, because my brother knows a thing or two about music. "Fucking genius," my mother says. He taps a strenuous beat with his small foot, saying again, again, again. My brother excuses himself too many times to go to the bathroom.
A sudden quiet grabs my attention. Standing at the stop of the stairs, I watch my brother, his long, gawky legs pumping, taking the steps two at a time. His face is concentrated agony, his eyelashes wet.
My mother speaks to the "maestro" in the practiced, wheedling tones of a true champion. He mops his deeply creased face with his yellowed hankie and closes his eyes. She stops momentarily to light another cigarette, as if she were in a bargaining position and this man had all the time in the world. She blows a stream up to the ceiling with a great show of impatience. The tinkling of her long earrings, with sparkling moons and stars, the ones that graze her shoulders and occasionally get tangled in her long frizzy hair, make strange music. She is working this man for all she is worth. Just like the others.
Later, my mother sits at the kitchen table making lists, flipping phone book pages, crossing out names, putting stars next to others.
The absence of sound from my brother's room causes loneliness and regret to balloon inside of me. "Never give up," my mother mutters to herself in a kitchen that is growing dark. I wait.
Eventually, she'll do just that. One cigarette after another, and she'll bemoan, like usual, that no one understands. Then she'll do what she really does best: imagine us to be all that she's ever wanted.
Michelle Reale is an academic librarian. Her fiction has been published in Apt, elimae, Verbsap, 3711 Atlantic, Freight Train, Pequin, Underground Voices and others.