Blood is thicker than water, they say. And yes – water will slip off a duck’s oily feathered back where blood clings, cloying and dark, viscous and crimson, hard to remove, a forever-stain.
But what they mean is the shared blood of family; though for all I know we may be different blood types and as un-transfusable as love or trust. And there was precious little of either in our family.
You see, our Dad left when I was seven, my brother twelve and my sister barely five. I can only guess if we had the same father. All I do know is that my mother cared as little for us as our absent Dad. She was simply never around, we were left for hours to our own devices, while she partied. Or even worse. Who knows? I can only guess from the succession of men she brought back for weeks at a time. God knows how many ‘Uncles’ we learned to despise. We mostly fended for ourselves, crisps and coke and microwave chips. Television the only adult voice in the flat.
It was here, among the unwashed dishes, the filthy bedsheets and the fetid and dangerous kitchen that I learned to hate my brother. Shouldn’t I have loved him, you ask? Well, you didn’t know the bastard, did you? No. But I did. My sister and I were the victims of his own particular misery. He was the oldest and in our mother’s absence he ruled our lives. And he was clever where we, well at least I, was stupid. He was handsome where I was ugly. He was tall and I, almost two feet shorter, never attained his lofty heights. He became the father I couldn’t remember – and wished I hadn’t either. He was out most evenings, just like our mother, though he was supposed to be looking after us. Out with his gang, robbing and drinking and smoking dope, while I shivered in the flat, waiting, terrified of his return.
And with good reason. You see, he was always angry, was our brother. I can only imagine why. Maybe the alcohol, maybe the life he felt forced to lead, maybe he hated our long-gone father, more likely our mother who screamed and bawled him out when she came home and found him pissed or stoned. But I think the real reason he was angry was ‘cos of me. He hit me constantly and called me all the names under the sun, and even when he had beaten me black and blue, he was still angry. But what had I done? What had I ever done but idolise the bastard?
So why didn’t the school teachers notice my bruises? Why didn’t the Social Workers intervene? Because we kept it all well hid – that’s why. Our Mum would threaten us with all sorts of trouble if we ever told anyone. Teachers were not to be trusted, and the very few visits we had from the Social. we were on our best behaviour. Oh yes, our Mum was very good at twisting those idiots round her fingers; she knew the benefits system and how she might lose the flat if we were taken away. Even when my brother kept getting into trouble with the cops, she cried and begged them to give him another chance. And they did. They gave him lots more chances. Chances to hit me, chances to stub his fags out on my arms, chances to punch me in the stomach, to kick me in the balls.
I don’t know when it started, I only know when it ended.
And still I never hated him. That was the trouble really. He couldn’t stand the fact that I still worshipped him. No, I never hated him then. In fact, the belts, the whacks, the clumps round the head, were for me (I now realise) some sort of comfort, some acknowledgement that I mattered. Because without him, without my big clever handsome brother – who was I? My brother was somebody on the estate. All the other boys looked up to him, the girls idolised him. He had the pick of them all. Nobody would have ever looked at me, or even spoken to me – if I wasn’t his brother.
So, what changed? When did I begin to hate him? When did he become my nemesis? Big word that. I learnt it at school. I didn’t learn that much at school really; except to avoid the teachers. You know, the creepy ones who pretend they care. Women mostly – they try to make you cry by being kind. I never cried at school. I kept that for home, under the covers where my brother couldn’t see or hear me. That’s where I did my crying.
No, I learned to hate my brother for what he did to my sister. Ah, my poor little sister. She didn’t deserve to be treated like that? Me? I was nothing, a stupid little bastard; I deserved all I got. But not her. Not little Jenny.
I don’t know when it started. I only know when it ended.
My sister never told me what was happening, but I knew it was something bad. You see, she never used to cry, did our Jen. She was the happy one in the family. My Mum used to bawl and shout at us all the time. She must have been unhappy. My brother used to lash out at me. He must have been unhappy. And of course, I was unhappy – because I wasn’t as clever and good-looking as him, useless runt that I was. But Jenny was the happy one. She never minded the dirt or the crappy food we ate, or the hand-me down clothes she wore. She was in a world of her own. She had her dollies and used to talk to them all the time. It seemed that nothing could make her unhappy like the rest of us.
But then, something did.
At first, I thought it might have been our Mum. Or one of the men she brought home; the succession of Uncles we knew wouldn’t last, but had to pretend to like. But no, it wasn’t them either. Maybe it was me who was making her unhappy. But no – it was my brother, wasn’t it?
You see, in a way I knew if he was angry with me, if he was hitting me – then I might be taking the bruises for Jenny. She would be safe if he took all his anger out on me. And that sort of worked. What I didn’t know was he was taking something else out on her.
I don’t know how it started but I know how it ended.
I ended it. And I had to. She was only eleven when I found out, when I heard her crying that night. As I crept out of my bed and stood outside her room and heard her crying. And then my big brother’s voice telling her to shut up. Telling her what to do. And I wet my pants then. Outside her bedroom door I pissed my bloody pants. Thirteen years old and there I was shivering and peeing myself. I was shaking with fear and anger and the knowledge that this had all gone too far. My mother, the Uncles, the beatings, my brother’s drinking and his gang. All of that I could take, but not this. Not little Jenny.
And that’s when I decided to hate him. That’s when I knew I had to stop him, to end it all. And if I have learned nothing else in my short pathetic little life it is this; love and hate are the same thing really. I used to love my brother despite all he did to me, but just like turning on the light switch, it was the work of a moment to hate him. You see, I knew that the reason I let him hit me, that the justification for his beating me up – was that I deserved it. It was no wonder he hated me. My father must have hated me or he wouldn’t have walked out. My mother hated me, that much was certain too. But the person who hated me most was me. And as the light switch went on in my head, I realised that the only way I could stop me hating myself was by saving my sister.
So – I killed him. My lovely clever brilliant bastard of a brother. I simply waited till he was stoned and asleep on the sofa and I stuck the bread knife into his guts. Jenny was safely asleep. My mother – out as usual. We were alone in the flat. My pissed-up sleeping brother and me. And I stabbed him. Over and over. Again and again.
And yes, I know now that blood is much thicker than water.
‘Cos, I never told them. the cops or the social workers. I never told them why. I never betrayed my sister – or my brother, and I never will. No matter how long I rot in this detention centre I will not tell on them. And yes, I no longer hate myself now. For once in my miserable little life I done something good.