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A short story by William Cass
Rob came in through his front door in his pilot’s uniform just as his twin brother, Barry, was getting out of the shower in the hallway bathroom. Rob heard his brother humming to himself behind the steam seeping through the cracked door. He hung his captain’s cap on the coat tree and left his rolling suitcase in the foyer. As he started down the hall, he saw Barry’s running gear scattered across the carpet in the guest bedroom and shook his head. He wasn’t sure how long his brother had been there; in fact, he’d forgotten Barry was coming down from Alaska for another one of his extended stays. Those had become more frequent after Barry had finished his twenty years working for the state government in Juneau and had retired. Rob had actually been the first one to go to Juneau to fly bush planes after finishing flight school, and Barry had followed him up for a visit. Rob had just co-piloted a red eye from La Guardia to Los Angeles and then had to wait for a seat on a puddle jumper home to San Diego. It was already after ten and he was beat. He wanted nothing more than to take a quick shower himself and go to bed.
“Must be nice,” Rob muttered. “Forty-five and never have to work again.”
The humming in the bathroom stopped.
“Hey,” he heard his brother say, “that you?”
“Who the hell else would it be?” Rob paused outside the bathroom. “When you get here?”
“Couple days ago.”
Rob nodded to the empty hall. “Well, I’m going to hit the sack. Long night.”
“Sure. See you later.”
Rob slept until two, then came out to the kitchen in his boxer shorts and T-shirt for a drink of water. He saw the sliding glass door through the dining room open and walked over to it. Barry was on his knees on the deck staining a replacement two-by-four with the old, rotted floorboard and tools by his feet. He turned as Rob stepped outside, and they exchanged the same blank stares that each saw in the mirror every day.
Rob said, “What’re you doing?”
“What’s it look like? Replacing that bad board.”
“I was going to do that.”
Barry shrugged. “I had time.”
“It’ll fade in a month or so.” He glanced around him, his mouth in a short, straight smear. “With all this sun here in paradise.”
Rob knew his own mouth looked the same, but said, “Mr. Positive.”
His brother shrugged again. “You, too. Guess we can thank Dad for that. Genes.”
“He was happy before Mom left.”
“Not much.” Barry’s frown deepened. “Wish one of them was still around, though.”
Rob nodded and looked over his brother’s shoulders. The house sat on a high hillside and the ocean was visible a couple of miles away, shimmering with white light. “Well,” he said. “I’m going to see if I can grab a few more winks.”
Barry used the paintbrush to make a short salute. Rob watched him go back to work with it and returned to his bedroom.
When Rob got up again, it was after five. He threw on jeans and came out to the living room where he found Barry in the recliner watching a muted tennis match on television. They exchanged the same blank stares as earlier.
Barry said, “Morning.”
Rob snorted a laugh, but his face remained expressionless. “What’ve you been up to?”
“Went down to the beach. Walked around.”
Rob nodded slowly. “Well, I’m hungry. You want something?”
“Brought down some salmon. It’s in the fridge marinating.”
“You catch it?”
“That spot down Thane Road?”
Barry shook his head. “No, over by Admiralty Island.” He stood up and handed his brother the remote. “I’ll throw it on the grill and make a salad. You relax.”
Rob watched his brother go into the kitchen. Even after all those years, they still walked the same; their smallest movements and gestures remained identical. He grimaced, thinking of it.
They ate on tray tables in front of the tennis match, Rob in the recliner and Barry next to him on the couch. The sound stayed muted, but they said little during the meal, splitting a bottle of white wine. At one point, Barry asked if Rob still had the same girlfriend, and Rob shook his head. Rob asked if Barry was seeing anyone new, and his brother told him, no. Outside the room’s big windows, the sun lowered itself grudgingly towards the horizon.
When the tennis match ended, Rob clicked off the remote. He said, “So, what you got planned while you’re here? Same stuff as usual: runs, beach, live music?”
“Not exactly,” Barry said. He lifted the bottle of wine from the floor and divided the remainder into their glasses. His back was to the windows, his face in shadows with the setting sun.
Rob felt himself frown. “What do you mean?”
“Well, you know my kidney.” He paused. “It’s finally on its last leg.”
Barry had been born with just one kidney, the only physical difference between them. The room stayed perfectly silent for several moments until Rob finally said, “So, you need a transplant.”
“And I’d be the obvious donor.”
Rob watched Barry cock his head and show his palms. “Or I could wait. My doctor put me on a donor list.”
“That might take a while. Might take too long. Might never happen in time.”
“Would you have the surgery up there?”
Barry shook his head. “No, my doctor referred me to a specialist here. Says she’s one of the best. Have an appointment with her in the morning.”
Rob nodded and took a sip of wine. Barry did the same. The sky behind him had become streaked with color.
Rob said, “What time’s the appointment?”
Rob nodded again and said, “I’ll be ready.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I know I don’t, but I will.”
About the author: William Cass has had over 300 short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such as december, Briar Cliff Review, and Zone 3. He won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal. A nominee for both Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net anthologies, he has also received five Pushcart Prize nominations. His first short story collection, Something Like Hope & Other Stories, was published by Wising Up Press in 2020, and a second collection, Uncommon & Other Stories, was recently released by the same press. He lives in San Diego, California.
This story originally appeared in The Wild Word.