The Bed Web
My brother Ross was my resident playmate and tormentor. We are a little over a year apart and were confused for twins many times as children, and seemingly by my parents as well. We were often addressed and managed as a unit. As redheads, something about us seemed terribly cute to elderly strangers yet terribly ripe for ridicule by school kids and my older siblings. So our relationship moved between a deep reliance on and a loathing for each other. We were woven in a perpetual competition to not land at the bottom of the hierarchy. In a house of nine people, Ross was my default companion as Mom and Dad were always busy with the cycle of making, cleaning, fixing, and preparing our sustenance. We had a television, but it was in my parent’s bedroom. This meant viewing time was limited and the selection of programs was curated for wholesome family viewing only. The Waltons and Eight is Enough were regular installments that captivated us and I suppose were intended to set an example of how siblings in big families were to behave. I relished watching these shows with my whole family encircling the base of my parent’s bed, mostly because we were all together and focused on one thing - and we were not allowed to talk. Aside from these few hours a week, vacation days and weekends could be very long when we were done with our chores and sent to ‘go play’ for the better part of the day. Ross and I occupied ourselves with innumerable invented games that activated the surrounding yard and interior of our home.
We went through a pranks phase, trying to dupe each other in schemes that would play out over several hours, with few words exchanged.
I’m not sure what inspired us, we must have also seen some TV variety shows, or perhaps it was from hearing my dad’s exaggerated lore about his fraternity days. It started with balancing a shoe box on the top edge of a bedroom door. We did not have access to a bulk supply of ping pong balls, so we would fill it with random toys and objects. The door was slightly ajar and the booby trap would come crashing down on the head of the unsuspecting intruder when he or she came to the bedroom. To be clear, this intruder was always either Ross or myself. An assault on one of my parents or older brothers or sister would have been an irrevocably poor decision. Normally I had the bedroom to myself, but there was a time when Ross would sometimes sleep in one of the twin beds in my room. I’m guessing it would have been when the basement flooded after the thaw of the snowy season. All five boys were in the dark and dank basement and my sister and I slept safely on dry land upstairs in our own bedrooms.
It was during one of these in-house sleepovers where I plotted the greatest booby trap ever.
Up to this point, Ross and I took turns fine-tuning the art of the top-of-the door surprise dumping. As we silently volleyed the attacks and perfected our technique, the prank war escalated - heavier, pointier objects, cups of water would come crashing down, while we pretended to be caught off guard. With each turn, the added buzz of having to clean it all up so that Mom would not kill us was as satisfying as the revenge. Ross was a master at psychological warfare and I think the predictability of the game began to bore him. He would feign disinterest and say he didn’t want to play anymore, only to wait increasingly longer periods between drops so that I would be more likely to be fooled by the peace treaty. This tug of war used to make my blood boil. It was also played out in other games that would invariably end with Ross flipping the game board or stepping ever so swiftly off of the see-saw while I was on the up-end. I would swear on my life that I would never play with him again. He would immerse himself in comics and give me the space I demanded for a while, then slowly … chip …chip…chip away at me in the long lonely hours, softly chanting behind the closed door, ‘wanna play a game’?
Wandering listlessly one day, I looked down at a big basket of yarn in the kitchen. I had a plan. I was newly inspired by seeing The Parent Trap at the drive-in. This movie was filled with hijinks and the protagonist was a red-haired actress who played split-screen twins. Together they tried to foil their father’s engagement with crazy camping antics that involved bears and honey. My plan would be equally delicious. I remember having to calmly wait for Ross to fall asleep, a skein of multicolored synthetic yarn tucked under my bedsheets. As he was prone to fake sleep and pounce like a bear himself, I had to lay perfectly still to study the nuances of his sleep sounds. A long nostril breath wouldn’t be enough. I had to wait for an asthmatic, noisy, open mouth rhythm that he only permitted when he was very distracted - or very sound asleep. In phases, I cautiously slipped from my bed, walked on the outer edge of the room, where he couldn't spot me in the shadows if alerted. The wooden frame of the bed he lay in had low knobbed posts. I knew it was going to be tricky because the posts were not much higher than his nose, or the tips of his toes. I had to be swift but thorough as I scrolled the yarn from post to post, across his limbs, hovering over his face by less than an inch, tucking it in and under and through to create an impermeable web - an intricate cat’s cradle over his docile body. The whole while I was quivering at the excitement of my brilliant idea and with the fear of what might happen to me if he woke before the mesh trap was complete. I tied off the last length and walked in slow steps toward my bed. This was my turf, so I knew how to distribute my weight to avoid the boards that creaked. With the anticipation similar to that of Christmas Eve, it took some time to fall asleep as I fantasized his confusion and shock, hands fumbling and mouth agape while he wrestled with the fuzzy pastel web.
What I remember next is the familiar feeling of defeat and impotence. Upon waking, I turned my head; Ross was not in the room. There were no tangled remains of a struggle hanging from the bedposts. In fact there was nothing - no scissors, no clippings of yarn in the bathroom rubbish bin. I went down to the kitchen expecting to at least revel in the glory of seeing his wide grin and getting a punch in the arm. "You got me!" I expected to hear, followed by a scolding from Mom for wasting yarn.
But no - I had to ask, ‘So, did you have a goooood night’s sleep’?
‘Yup’, he said and turned back to his comic.
The void got deeper as the hours went on. He had disposed of every scrap of yarn as if it never happened. Weeks passed. There were no knowing looks or subtle smirks. He never acknowledged my victory, which made this, once again, my defeat.
My evil twin had got the best of me. For a while...
This story was read before an audience in Seattle in July of 2019 for a Moth storySLAM themed 'Backfired'. After spontaneously signing up, I got ridiculously nervous as the evening approached. I was reassured when I saw this moth logo and Mediterranean fare at the bar we stopped in to kill some time before the event. I was further set at ease when we showed up I saw there were loads of people and that only ten storytellers would be drawn from a basket. Then I was one of the ten chosen. As I got up to head towards the microphone, jiggly legs and all, my husband whispered to me, "Don't worry, it's your story. You are the only one who can tell it".
Thanks to www.themoth.org for amplifying stories around the world.