The Manchester Review
Brendan Mathews
Henry and His Brother
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Of course I know he’s there. I could tell him not to follow me — to mind his own business and go live his own life, but following me has become his business, even a part of his life. The funny thing is, I never thought of him as the nurturing type — he’s more Grant Park pigeon than mother hen — but right now he needs to think he’s taking care of me, if that’s what he’s doing out there. I worry about him, though. The whole neighborhood is one big social experiment gone awry. Why else would you cram together, cheek by jowl, a comedy club catering to the suburban bachelorette-party circuit; a rundown peep-show hawking damp, smudgy magazines for every dank, smutty fetish; a mobbed-up restaurant surrounded by a phalanx of Town Cars, their engines always running; the city’s only upscale gay porn theatre — may I direct your attention to the single tumescent, vased orchid in the front window; and the source of my fascination and my brother’s quiet consternation: the Near North Side’s premier no-names-no-faces under-the-tracks cruising spot? And let us not forget the scowling, bruised-brick housing project two blocks to the west. Or the milk-white lakeside condos two blocks to the east. The alleyways and their blank-eyed garage doors gauded up in gang tags — crowns and eyes, bloated numbers and shivering letters — codetalking boasts and threats to the brutally initiated. Or the clopping of hooves against asphalt as the horses bring their carriages home for the night, lending the scene a Dickensian flair, if Dickens hadn’t been such a prude about what really happened after lights-out in the workhouse. You take all of this, and then compose as a soundtrack the throaty hum of the bells from the Church of St. Michael, his flaming sword raised against reentry into paradise. My brother must get cruised and mugged and heckled and threatened, hit up for money and asked to buy this drug or rent that part of his body, but he never says a word to me about it. Now it’s his turn to keep secrets. My days in that line of work have ended.