Anthony has always been the favorite. Every family has a favorite; usually, they’re the child with the best grades or with the cleanest room. Anthony, despite how intelligent he might have become, has never once earned an A. It must be the second reason, then. His room has always been so much cleaner than mine. Every book is aligned perfectly on his shelf, untouched. The baby blue walls are pristine, not a single knick in the paint. My bookshelf is messy, the books shoved into their spots haphazardly, some of them even tearing at the spines. My wall is decorated with photos that were taken years ago, the remnants of the family I was once surrounded by. Without them, I don’t think I could even visualize my mother and father smiling.
Sometimes I wish Anthony didn’t exist, and then I chastise myself for having those selfish thoughts. Sometimes I wish that I could be the favorite, or at least share my brother’s stage. But I know these wishes are all in vain; they’re useless thoughts I only indulge in as I rest in my bed, trying desperately to sleep despite the wailing coming from mom’s room.
Sometimes, when I leave the house my mom and I share, I think I’ve left the wailing behind; I think I’ve left Anthony behind, but then I hear the whispers. They’re always accompanied by the stares, making me uncomfortable with their persistence.
“Did you hear what happened to the family that lives on the hill?”
“Yeah, it’s such a sad story.”
“I heard that the child died on impact!”
“The baby was so young, not even a week old.”
“Wow, that family’s a mess. I feel sorry for the girl.”
“How come they never leave the house?”
I always regret leaving the house, and I only do it when I have to, usually to pick up the groceries. Dad used to do that, but, after what happened, he left. He mails us enough money to keep the house together and the food in our bellies, but he never visits. I don’t think he can stand the sight of what his wife has become. I can’t really be mad at him for it, though. If I wasn’t so invested in my mother, I would have left with him.
There’s always a musty smell when I return to the house we share. I always check on my mother first. After I assure myself that she’s sleeping,–she’s almost always sleeping–and not dead, I pack away the groceries. Until dinnertime, I sit alone in my room, entertaining myself with the plethora of books I’ve accumulated with the money that father sends–he always sends way too much for just the groceries, and the house has long been paid off.
Around six in the evening is when I set up in the kitchen and put together dinner. I always make two plates. I wait until mother finally moseys into the dining room, her eyes sunken despite lying in bed most of the day. I start to eat while she stares at her plate. At this point, she always asks the same thing.
“Where’s Anthony’s serving? Growing boys need to eat.” She frowns at the empty seat at the table; the place where dad once sat. I sometimes wonder if she remembers dad.
“I’ve taken it up to his room. He wants to eat alone again tonight.” It’s the same answer I give her every night. I’ve played along with the world she’s built for a long, long time now, so much so that some might think I’ve actually succumbed to her fantasy. But I haven’t. I keep my wits about me. It’s taken a lot of conditioning with the way I live, but I know what’s real and what’s not. The whispers are real; the stares are too. The money that dad sends is real as well as my mother’s nightly lamentation.
As real as he seems, Anthony is not. Well, he’s not anymore, anyway.
When mom announced her pregnancy, dad was overjoyed; we all were. I was thirteen when it happened and I was absolutely ecstatic over getting a younger sibling. When she and dad came back from the ultrasound twenty-two weeks into the pregnancy, they happily announced that I would be getting a little brother.
In the weeks following, we set up his room and played the name game, finally settling on Anthony. Dad had chosen it, his Catholic heritage commanding that he name at least one of his children after a saint. Looking back, it’s actually kind of ironic with Saint Anthony being the saint of lost things, and then losing Anthony as soon as we had him.
The day Anthony was born was a hectic one–as one might expect. By that stage in mom’s pregnancy, dad was making sure he was never too far from home, not wanting to miss out on his son’s birth. Despite all the measures he took, he couldn’t avoid a sudden out-of-state business trip. He left the house with kisses on both of our cheeks and promises to return as soon as he could.
Mom had started experiencing contractions that night and had entered labor by morning. Dad couldn’t be reached so I had called nine-one-one. Less than twenty minutes later, we were on our way to the hospital.
I spent the entire morning in the waiting room on my cell phone, trying to contact dad. Finally, I got a hold of him. He said he’d be there as soon as possible, but he was at a regional meeting in DC, over eight hours from the hospital in Southern New Hampshire. Mom and I welcomed Anthony into the world without him. Dad arrived that night and sat with me beside mom’s bed. At the time, I was sure everything would be alright. It was–for a little while, anyway. That night, we stayed at the hospital with mom.
I slept on the sofa while dad occupied the chair beside mom’s bed. Little Anthony stayed in the nursery with all the other newborns. The next day was Monday, so dad took me home to get prepared for school.
I was at school when it happened. It was the day mom and Anthony were supposed to come home. It didn't happen that way. Mom, dad, and Anthony had been heading home when the trucker behind them hadn’t been able to stop fast enough when Dad had to brake suddenly at a red light.
The whispers are right; the child had died on impact. From thereon everything spiraled. Despite everything, mom doesn’t acknowledge Anthony’s death, and dad left, not willing to live in the house on the hill with the deranged woman and her nonexistent son.
In the couple of years that have passed since the accident, I’ve grown more and more envious of Anthony. When mom isn’t sleeping, she’s in Anthony’s room. She cleans it up and redecorates it in the way Anthony might’ve. She sometimes talks to me about my brother. She goes on and on about how he’s doing in school, what he would like me to fix for dinner, among other things. She only ever talks to me when Anthony is the subject. Yes, I know I’m not helping her problem, but can you blame me? Dad is gone, Anthony was never actually here; all I really have left is my mother, and I’m not risking losing her too.
Every family has a favorite. As it would turn out, being alive isn’t exactly a requirement.