I Play My Brother's Fight

I Play My Brother's Fight

Being the older sister meant he was my responsibility by default. I had to take part.


Literary fiction


Sabrina Zhai (United States)

The word is supposed to be filled with defiance in illogical parental demands, fortitude, and a brilliant streak of refusal.
But it doesn’t come out that way.
My brother isn’t a courageous person. Even with all his male bravado and pride and egoistic attitude that rivals even Narcissus, he’s nothing more than a scaredy cat. He shows off in front of his friends, ridiculing me and everyone around him—but it doesn’t make him more popular, it doesn’t make people crawling at his feet, it doesn’t give him the satisfaction I think he wanted.
Though, if I were completely honest with myself, I am at fault for this.
Since I was young, mother described me as independent. I didn’t need help as a baby, I was disgusted with parental assistance, and I ultimately developed a rebellious nature.
My friends told me that was typical. Rebelling was in the path of the stereotypical teenager career, but I felt like mine influenced my brother’s maybe just a teensy bit.
He is only in sixth grade. He doesn’t do his homework. He doesn’t pay attention in class. He got caught for plagiarizing an essay that he found online. In sixth grade! I couldn’t believe it. What was there to plagiarize in sixth grade? Not to mention, if nothing left but cheating, at least do it right without getting caught.
“Excuse me?” Mother’s undeniable threat undertones her voice. “I said, go play piano."
My brother is already in trouble for the plagiarizing incident, but instead of admitting to his fault, he still commits to his diurnal 3-hr games as if he didn’t have a guilty conscience.
Mother isn’t any better. She says that she made a mistake raising me, that she yelled at me too often and as a result, I don’t have any self-confidence. She said she wouldn’t make the same mistake with my brother. He’s the “do-over”.
So my brother’s punishment for plagiarizing the final essay in that trimester is nonexistent. Mother hasn’t yelled at him, hasn’t restrict him of his games, and hasn’t enforce any new chores he should have received.
My brother’s self-confidence didn’t decrease. Instead, it changed the definition of “the sky’s the limit”.
“Ha,” he had taunted, after I scolded him for cheating, “I didn’t get caught. Didn’t you say that it’s fine as long as I don’t get caught?”
“But you did,” I had replied, ignoring the biting retort he shot. I had said that, but only to make him feel guilty. I didn’t truly believe it. “You did get caught and you ended up with a C- in Literature because of it!”
“I didn’t get any punishment, right? It’s fine.”
But it wasn’t. My brother’s grades were already a wreck since he didn’t do his homework, and the zero he got on the final assignment for plagiarism obviously proved to be the coup de grâce. As the days turned old, his academic grades only decreased. He became more and more like a delinquent and wasn’t even thirteen yet.
Yet, all of this, all of his gloating and refusal to do homework because it seemed below him seemed useless now.
No.” My brother’s voice cracks and he sniffles. He was crying since a while ago, and maybe a few years ago, I would’ve pitied him. Now, my fingers clutch the pen I’m using a little harder, a little more irritated.
My brother breaks into another round of sobs and I almost groan. Even if I did, I would’ve ensure it inaudible because taking part in the brother-mother argument is equivalent to suicide.
There’s a long silence after my brother’s cries subdues again. Every so often, there’s a quiet sniffle, but neither mother nor brother moves. After the pregnant pause, mother finally gives a belligerent sigh and walks down the hall. I move my ink pen faster against my drawing to show that I was working.
I can hear mother walk into her closet. After years of sneaking around and hiding from my parent’s wrath, I had trained myself to know exactly whose footsteps is whose and exactly where they plan on going. My skill isn't as flawless as it was when I was little as I had long since given up bothering to hide from my parents.
“Careful,” I warn my brother, without lifting my eyes from project. “She’s getting the hanger.”
My brother sucks in a large breath, but doesn’t do anything. Immediately afterwards, I hear mother’s footsteps again. I quickly swivel around to see if she really did get the hanger; it doesn’t look like she took it—no wait, it’s there in her hands. The milky color of the clothing tool just blended well with the pasty white of mother’s bathroom that I didn’t even see her holding it.
“GO PLAY PIANO!” mother repeats. I spin back around to my table before she raises her hand. Even though I grew accustomed to physical violence, I never took satisfaction as my parents did.
More sobbing.
WHAT A ROTTEN CHILD!” Mother switches to her native tongue. If anything, it’s even more menacing. “WE SPEND SO MUCH MONEY ON PIANO LESSONS, ON WRITING CLASSES, ON MATH TUTORS AND YOU GET A C- IN SCHOOL!” With each breath, there’s another collision due to the clothing hanger. I can feel my brothers groans when one lands.
I said before that I didn’t enjoy physical violence. But the subdued anger that mother didn’t punish my brother for plagiarizing before had been simmering in the pit of my stomach for over a week. That I realized mother never gives my brother the fair consequence he deserves, as she does with me, only added gasoline to the fire. I tighten my fist, but my heart soared.
Yes, my devil conscience thinks, yes, more. He deserves it.
the angel argues, stop her.
Don’t get involved.
Help your brother.

Finally, my brother makes the decision for me by ducking under mother’s arm and sprinting to the piano room. The sound of his music fills the house, but it’s broken and uneven. Another slam against the wall, or maybe it was the piano sides—I can’t tell—and my brother’s fingers fit perfectly against the keys, the melody is significantly better.
After a few minutes of the forced songs, my mother storms back towards my room.
“You’re still up?” she sneers at me, tapping the white hanger lightly against her arm. “I thought you’d be asleep by now, not working on that stupid art project.”
She says it as if it’s the lowest I can succumb to. It isn’t even for an art class! I’m not in an art class, since my mom regarded it as a useless elective. It is only the visual aids I had volunteered to make for a group presentation.
“It’s already eleven. You better be in bed soon.”
I don’t know why I switched so swiftly into complete ire. It was probably the fire pit in my stomach finally switched from lo to hi.
My fingernails dig into my palms and the line I was drawing ends with an abrupt line protruding from the unfinished circle.
“I have a paper to work on!” I burst out. “Eleven isn’t late at all for a highschooler!”
My shout is a mistake. I should not have said anything. But I did and mother’s eyes narrows at my words.
“What?” Her voice is an eerie calm. “Then you shouldn’t have gone out to dinner tonight.”
Tonight was an occassion. A good friend of mine hosted an exchange student and as celebration of their last day in America, we went out. I didn’t think I had much homework, but it turns out I couldn’t finish it before ten.
“She knew you had homework,” mother continues. “It’s a Wednesday! It’s the night you have the most work. Couldn’t your friend be more considerate of others?”
My thoughts runs back to an earlier conversation. I know her parents’ fairly well. When they came to pay for dinner, we had a small chat.
“Oh, then your parents must be proud?”
“She’s just using you!” comes mother’s biting voice. “If you get a bad grade, then it’s just less competition for her when applying for college!”
“Are your grades going well?” I remember her dad inquiring. “Oh, and French? Of course, your French grades must be excellent. You’re in Honors class after all. I’m only worried about PE; how are you physical activities? I heard you swim—you must be succeeding then.”
“You’ll never get into Santa Barbara, let alone UCLA. And you wanted to go to Oxford?” My mother sneers at my childish goals.
“Your parents must be proud.”
“I’ll be happy if you got just into San Jose state!”
“—parents must be proud.”
“How foolish.”
“Go to sleep, you worthless child.”
I sigh, pick up my pen, and continue outlining.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Assigned reviews incomplete



The reviews for this submission haven't been published yet.