Short Story: Absolute(ly Unconditional Conditions of) Love
His eyes rolled back into his head as his neck grew limp. His entire body collapsed onto the floor. My brother had fallen in love before me. This was not to my advantage. I tried to prevent it. I was five years his senior and what a disappointment it would be if others heard. Though he laid there unconscious, his voice resonated in my mind with words that bore at the center of my core.
“I don’t mean to feel that way about her. I’m sure it isn’t true-”
There is always pity for the unintentional. The unconditional is seldom recognized as so. His fall had coordinated his left hand to rest beside my feet. The bracelet, always too big for his slender wrist, did not cease to alternate flashes of red and white. The pattern grew in haste until the strobe overcame my vision and I couldn’t look away. In forcing my eyes closed, the scorching red behind my eyelids was met with utter darkness.
I awoke to the belligerent blare of my alarm clock. The red beacon light atop of its surface drowned the white walls in serenity. My morning routine always put me in a good mood. As good a mood I found myself in these days too. Dreams forever invaded my nights and were the best culprits in the craft; never being able to recall them. They left me emptied instead of energized. I arose out of bed, shuffled outside of my room and towards the other end of the hallway. Watson’s door always gave a satisfying sound when my knuckles scraped it. A few knocks. No response. A few more. What does this boy do? I began composing a melodious tune with both my hands upon the frame but it was cut short with no demand for an encore. I swiveled at the touch on my shoulder and found him already in uniform. He smiled wide with a gap among the white pearls of the top row, hooded by a pink upper lip that had a faint scar in the dead center. I teased him for the missing tooth to which he responded with a shrug and a show of nonchalance.
He chided, “I’m a growing boy who’s about to be a man, you know. My lessons start this week.” “You’ll get to spend so much more time with your big sister, the pleasure,” was my only retort. We both rolled our eyes.
Since it was soon to be the start of a special occasion, he convinced me to make us omelettes for breakfast if time permitted. I easily obliged to do so after getting dressed. Adorned in my own red polo and khaki pants, I made a show of cracking the eggs and mixing the ingredients to his amusement. Tomorrow I would have to introduce Watson to so much. I whisked a bit faster. He had always had questions but Mom and Dad had made it a point not to answer them until the time came. I had my own too.
“ How’s your bracelet? Working?”
He battled with the ketchup bottle and smothered the omelette completely. A goopy, crimson triangle on his plate pointed towards me.
Gulping a forkful, he muttered, “ Yeah it’s fine. Keeps flashing the weirdest colors and I think it needs to be resized.”
He supported this by taking his left hand from under the table and dropping the fork from his right to demonstrate how effortlessly the band slipped off with a slight pull. He placed it to the table. This wasn’t good, he’d lose it like that and getting another one would be a nuisance.
Everyone wore a bracelet. It did so much for us, from tracking heart rate to listing your blood type and those of the people around you. But it was a tag, the first point made in lessons. Not a dog collar but just as suffocating at times. It was supposed to be fitted so that it would remain in place and hide the serial code ingrained on the inner side. The colored flashes were a coded language so intricate that many people didn’t bother remembering more than a handful of combinations. In public places, there would always be signs displaying the sequences if someone was in danger or experiencing a health complication as indicated by their bracelet. Not that anyone would step up as a good samaritan if they noticed, the officials would be notified by the bracelet itself. I was to teach him that it was an integral part of our society, enhancing communication among us so that we wouldn’t communicate among ourselves.
It would prove if we were in love too. There was a sequence for that. There was a consequence for that.
I finished my omelette before him and went about the house looking for my car keys. He saw me doing this and shifted his weight awkwardly on the chair.
“I’m not going to school with you today. Casey invited me to bike with her and some other kids in our grade,” he said cautiously and firmly. He didn’t propose it as a question and I got the hint. He pointed to his backpack, bike, and helmet nestled in a corner by the door. He got up earlier for this. It was difficult not to scoff or to smile so I bit my tongue to save from any facial expression. I winced when a metallic taste arose but I wasn’t facing him, rather, I was searching under the sofa.
“Which route are you taking there?”
“Lyons Terrace until we get to the park and we’ll cut through there. Sid is gonna stop by here so we bike together to her house.”
As if on cue, there was a thud emitted from the other side of the front door. Watson got up and placed his plate into the sink, trying not to show his eagerness in his step. His bracelet was still on the table. There was a sequence on it. I frowned. He had gotten to his belongings before I reminded him to put it back on. At that, the color changed and he was oblivious to what was revealed to me.
It would prove if we were in love too.
I opened the door to say good morning to Sid who was quite overgrown for the polo and khakis he was wearing. Sid was an entire head taller than Watson and had all his teeth. He laughed when I forced a kiss on the cheek from Watson and they both waved goodbye. I watched them till they took a turn at the end of the street.
Standing there for more than a few moments, I ran the color sequence in my head. Never had I heard about this happening to anyone before the lessons were given to them. The bracelet must have transmitted the emotion incorrectly, after all, it wasn’t even on him. But that was a lie and I knew it. My brother must be in love. The officials designated to our division of the county would stop by in the next week and begin asking questions. They were always immediately notified of everything. No one could deny how they felt. Mine radiated an ugly yellow. I felt defensive and confused about my emotions, irritated as well at the assumption this technology made of me. Relief washed over when I found the keys in a nook between two cushions.
The drive to school was too short. I thought the entire way there. Each red light and stop sign made me grip the wheel tighter.
The problem was not that I was envious about what could be going on with my brother.
He was entitled to how he felt, or how he supposedly did. As the oldest, though, I had to be the first to feel that particular way about someone else. That was the expectation, the responsibility. This last year at school meant my last opportunity to engage with someone before joining the workforce. Statistically, it was significantly harder to fall for someone in a professional atmosphere. Regardless, there was a clock. If he beat me to it, if he was loved back, I’d lose everything I was entitled to. The first-born is promised by the government and by the family all the property they desire if they are the first in this competition too. Sibling rivalry to a heightened level.
It is derived from primogeniture, but modified for the conditions of our society, ironically, for the persistence of unconditional love among us. There must be societal concerns everyone is ignorantly denying. A global warming of our humanity, a gradual increase in the overall insensibility and apathy being demonstrated to a higher degree by each generation. Why else would this pressure and false sense of security be held onto? Another question.
I thought of the calm that came with bobbing above waves in a shoreline far away from here. No mystery besides the time or date during such seclusion. I needed a lover to get a sailboat. That was my only desire. It was a crude statement, people using one another. But they’d get something out of me too. I stopped the car at a pedestrian crossing, the painted yellow bars angled as if ready to spear me. Momentarily hidden from the swarming crowd of feet, their vertical bodies resurfaced twice as threatening. I floored the car quickly to run them over. There was a frenzy here that terrified me because every stage in life was rushed and imposed. The colors on my right wrist were going crazy, changing at a rate that could invoke nausea if I concentrated hard and long enough. I was already sick though. I laughed at myself, how could I ever manage the sea?
Pulling up in my parking space, Watson’s bike was locked nearby. He took into consideration where I parked everyday and I was more at ease that he did so for my sake. I sat in my seat and reclined it so I only saw the ceiling of the car. I needed to speak to Casey. It was probably her. His love interest. Casey’s sister was in one of my classes and I was friendly enough to work my way into a conversation. I wouldn’t bring up my concern, that was a last resort. I let a very audible groan escape me during the last few seconds I had before bolting out to get to class. The teacher would check my bracelet if I was late. Yellow was so hard to explain.
The rusted bells shook the corridors to the extent that the lockers seemed to clammer in harmony. Casey’s sister was in this period, if only I remembered her actual name. It was embarrassing to think that after an entire first semester, I hadn’t become acquainted with her. She never made her presence known though so the blame was mutual, pardoning me from my guilt. Partner work had been assigned and I came forth to collaborate with her. My usual partner and best friend, Phil, was the only one I had told of the morning. I glanced at him and he gave me a thumbs up. He had a girlfriend and his younger sisters had gotten their lessons, neither in a rush to commit themselves to anyone. I now wished earnestly to be in his position. Presented with my invitation, she accepted with a smile and the absence of words. Throughout the process, we made small talk about each other and it was a surprisingly pleasing experience. She seemed slightly standoffish but it was most likely due to her shy demeanor. Our objective in the class was left as a mere thought while we stammered on about ourselves. I was about to mention the friendship among our younger siblings when the bell rang once again. She excused herself to turn in what little we had on the way out. I gave a petty wave and farewell. Turning to Phil when something caught my eye.
My mouth hung slightly open and she glanced at me while taking a step through the doorway. The entire time, she had been covering her wrist and I was oblivious. I was so preoccupied with the passage of time and making a good impression on her. Our bracelets matched when I peered at mine, except I had made no attempt to cover it. I hadn’t know what I was feeling but we both did now. It would prove if we were in love too. There was a sequence for that. There was a consequence for that. There was a risk in it all. Casey’s sister was now Amber. Her name not far off from the shade that singed my cheeks or danced upon my wrist.