By this point it was late Sunday evening and the whole thing had gone on far too long. But maybe that’s what made it hard for the pair of them to swallow their pride and quit. Michael Bruce was the older of the two, he’d lost more that evening but was usually a better loser than his brother Joel. But the explosive performance his brother made upon losing always seemed worth it. The pair of them had said it was going to be the last in a series of games that evening, but both of them knew that wasn’t going to be the case. That had already been said when they first started the thing in their wisdom; by seeing who could hold their hands over the hob flame the longest, before one of them tapped out. That had led onto a few rounds of backgammon, but now they played the immortal sport of Ping Pong. Even though Joel knew a good few trick shots and had trained well in the sport; Michael was winning. And you’d be forgiven for thinking the thing had been rigged. Michael’s only technique seemed to be a simple but subtle dosage of eye contact. Somehow there was something about it that seemed to be working. If only Joel realized. It might have seemed obvious, but Michael knew that it could be powerful when used at the right time. He’d had it applied to him enough times before. It was Joel’s turn to serve, he pulled back the bat and smacked the ball. Somewhere in flight it lost altitude and chipped itself onto the shoe-string net, this then caused the thing to be knocked a little further up and it had soon cleared the other side of the table. Michael won. Joel threw his bat down on the floor, Michael threw his in the air.
“You had the better bat, that’s why you won!” Joel stated.
“Why didn’t you ask to swap them over?” Michael replied.
“Fine play me at something else then?”
“What now? Is this because I’ve won?”
“That’s just it you haven’t won, it was a complete fluke!”
A clangor from upstairs was followed by the appearance of their eldest brother Toby.
“What the hell are you two stoners doing down there? It’s Monday morning now and you’ve woken me up!
Keep it down!” Toby said, before they heard him returning to his bed. There was a moment’s pause, as Joel stared at the floor, before he looked up at Michael, whom was finishing off the next cup of coffee.
“Video games! We haven’t played any video games!” Joel said hopefully.
“Alright…” Michael replied.
“I challenge you to step up to me on, Chew My Barrel: Communist Scum Edition.”
“I’m anti war! I don’t understand that stuff. And why would you even want to join the military?”
“Jesus, it’s a video game!”
“Okay. Well I don’t want to pretend to join the military then.”
“You just can’t play video games!”
“I don’t want to play that one!”
Joel sighed and scratched his head.
“Okay, fine. This is going to settle it.”
Michael stood there for a moment, waiting and chewing on his nails. Suddenly he heard Joel heading back downstairs and when he looked around, Joel was standing there with his pellet gun and a new hat.
“And now what?” MIchael said.
Joel said nothing but walked outside and pulled out a dozen empty bottles from the crate their mother used to store. One by one Joel began to line them up on the wall. He took a few steps back and handed the thing to Michael.
“I’m too tired for this.” Michael said.
“We’ve both get six shots, whoever gets all six or closest to it, wins.” Joel replied.
Michael looked down the sight and could barely see through the darkness. He then held his breath and pulled the trigger; managing to smash the empty bottle. Joel snatched the gun and took aim, while above them the sky was almost ready bring light into another week. He hit it on target, as did Michael for the next turn. Then Joel suddenly took aim and fired. There was a sound of smashing, but it wasn’t the bottle. A light suddenly turned on from the house opposite. They peered cautiously over the fence. inside the house a figure began to examine the new hole in the window. The figure then gazed out into the morning for some kind of an answer. Michael crept against the wall and signalled his brother to do so. The pair of them ran and made it into the house.
“What did you do that for?” Michael said.
“You think I did that on purpose?” Joel replied.
“Well, I win then I suppose. You didn’t get it on target!”
“I didn’t get that one on target!”
“But surely the game ended.”
“No, no, no!” Joel shouted.
The madness of it all, when was this stupid thing going to end? Maybe it wouldn’t end until one of them was dead and unable to play. But it might as well have been the same game they’d been playing since they were both kids. That was when their mother came downstairs yawning.
“I’m going to cook some breakfast. Did you two want some breakfast?” Their mother asked.
It was that time already, it seemed impossible; still the two of them smiled and nodded. Toby came downstairs and shook his head at the pair of them and checked the news. Michael stood up and made himself another cup of coffee and yawned. It was going to be an interesting day. When he returned Joel was slouched down in his seat, with his rifle and hat at his side.
“Why are you sitting there?” Michael said.
“Why not?” Joel said wiping his eyes and looking across at the two other empty seats.
“I always sit there, I always have. Just get up!”
Joel sat there looking a little mystified by his brother’s demand. But Michael wasn’t fooled, Joel was trying to get him back. He knew it, just as well as he did. That rat. Toby shook his head at the pair.
“Come on get up!” Michael said not wanting to back down.
Joel then stretched himself in limbo between standing and sitting. Michael was too tired for this and lifted his brother from underneath his arms. That did it, Joel pushed him back.
“Get off me!” Joel said.
“Get out of my seat you bastard! You know exactly what you’re doing.”
Joel then grabbed Michael by his shirt and shoved him against the table, but Michael swung and hit him in the chest. They then wrestled on top of the table, knocking over a glass of “100% Squeezed Spanish Orange Juice”. To which their mother came running into the room with a spatular in hand.
“Stop it, stop it!” She shouted, swinging the spatula.
Once they both had managed to roll off the table and hit the floor, they stopped.
“I can’t believe this is the behavior of two grown men.” Toby said.
Neither Joel nor Michael said anything and ate their breakfast with ripped shirts and cuts. Michael finished his breakfast, thanked his mother and went home. And as he walked back he couldn’t help but think that life wasn’t something you won, it was more like something that you played; or at least played you.
words Gwil James Thomas