30 Sep

“What’s different about this one? What’s different? Look at my eyes. Look! You see? That. That is what’s different.”

Frank looked across the room, stone-faced, into his sister’s eyes, as she sat curled up on the armchair, glass of red wine in her hand.

“Ah, what’s different is that you’re pissed? Okay, I think I understand now. Thanks for making things so clear.”

Frank allowed himself a smile. But he didn’t break eye contact with his sister. He wanted her to see the thing that he was talking about. He knew she was humouring him and entertaining herself at the same time, and in a way this pleased him, but he still hoped to make her see. This was how these two siblings, less than two years between them, had always communicated. One would be serious, the other would mock. It worked. They were as different as they were close. And they were close.

“What’s different about this one is that I’m telling you about her,” Frank said.

“Why don’t you quit?”

She was referring to her brother rolling a cigarette.

“Because the ones who get cancer are always the ones who don’t deserve it. I deserve it. But don’t especially want it. So I smoke. A lot.”

“You’ve never been normal.”

To which Frank replied, “I am a man, getting drunk, talking about a woman. You can’t get any more normal than that! This scenario right here is as old as prostitution.”

“You’d make a normal country and western singer,” she teased.

“My head’s the wrong shape,” Frank replied, and then stood up and left the room. He wasn’t sure what he had meant by that remark. It made no sense at all. And this made him laugh as he made his way to the garden.

Frank returned to the room five minutes later, swaying, the third and last bottle of Italian red in his left hand. He filled his glass and sat back down.

“My bed,” he said, and then paused for effect.

His sister knew that at this point she was supposed to say, ‘What?’
She didn’t want to, but she obliged; she played the game.

“What?” she practically sighed it.

Frank said, “My bed is what’s different. Before I’d seen her asleep in it, my bed always just looked like a bed. But since she left, it looks… it looks different.”

“Why? Did she leave a stain?”

She laughed, proud of her quick wit.

“Why do you have to always be so crude? Your brother’s being profound here!”

Frank gulped down some more wine. He offered his sister a top-up. She held out her glass.

“I’m sorry,” she said, feigning seriousness. “Please, tell me, what does your bed look like now?”

“That is a very good question, and one that I am glad you asked. Well, it is like this: There are days, when I have spent all my money on getting drunk the night before, or I am waiting for a payment, that I am so poor I can’t afford to eat or smoke. The eating I can live without. But the smoking, well, you can imagine. And so, to kill a day, I walk. With nowhere to go. And every couple of hours, when you are aimlessly walking the streets, head down, you come across a cigarette packet lying on the pavement. And as you approach it, you pray to God, or Allah, or even Buddha, fuck, you pray to the devil, that someone has accidentally dropped that packet, and that there is a cigarette inside. And you get to the packet, and you kick it, and it flips over and open, and, of course, it is empty. You knew it would be! Why did you even kick it? And you look down at that empty cigarette packet, and all of a sudden life hurts. I mean, it really hurts. But….
But once in a lifetime, or twice if you are truly blessed, you will kick that packet, and it will flip over, and there, right under your nose, will be a solitary and untouched cigarette…..
And at that moment, nirvana occurs……
It is perfection….
And you become religious. You believe there is a God of some kind.
It is your fate…. That cigarette. It is what you’ve been living for. Waiting for. That cigarette, in that packet, is….. Perfection.
And that, my dear sister, that was her asleep in my bed.
And now….. I see only an empty packet.”

Frank downed some more wine and waited for his sister to tell him that that was the most beautiful thing she’d ever heard, and that he must truly be in love.

Eventually she spoke.

“So, let me get this straight,” she said,  “This girl, this girl that is the most beautiful and amazing you’ve ever met…. reminds you of a fag that some prat has dropped on the pavement? Wow, Frank, wow! Even for you, this is… wow, this is just, wow!”

And she laughed.

And Frank asked, “Any curry left?”

And she replied, “In the kitchen.”

And as he mopped up the last bits of vindaloo juice with his naan, he thought to himself, ‘She doesn’t get it because she doesn’t smoke.’



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