Brother

by Jeff Friedman

When the ant opened the door, my mother fainted. He scurried toward her, but I blocked his path with my shoe. “What are you doing,” I asked. “Trying to help mom,” he replied. “I could ask you the same question.” “That’s my mom on the floor,” I said, “not yours.” Afraid of my black sneakers, the ant retreated, slipping into a crack, but then he emerged again and confronted me. He had a hairy face and ferocious mandible, like dad’s, though much smaller, of course. “I guess mom never told you, but the secret’s out now, brother.” I debated squishing him, but didn’t want his death on my sole. I thought about picking him up with a napkin and dropping him in a jar, keeping him locked up until he came clean and admitted he was lying. “I don’t believe you,” I said. “The proof is in the blood,” he answered. “We both have mom’s eyes and dad’s hostility in our faces.” Dad had been gone a long time, but I’m sure he would’ve never wanted to hear this. Then mom awoke and began to lift herself from the squeaky floorboards. When she saw the ant waiting for her, she fainted again. “We’ll settle this later,” I said and kneeled down over mom while the ant crawled over her face, appearing to kiss her cheek.

Jeff Friedman’s sixth collection of poetry, Pretenders, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in February 2014. His poems, mini stories and translations have appeared in many literary magazines, including American Poetry Review, Poetry, New England Review, The Antioch Review, Poetry International, Hotel Amerika, Vestal Review, Quick Fiction, Flash Fiction Funny, Smokelong Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, 100-Word Story, Plume, Solstice, and The New Republic. Dzvinia Orlowsky’s and his translation of Memorials by Polish Poet Mieczslaw Jastrun was published by Lavender Ink/Dialogos in August 2014.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Brother”?

    I always thought the scene in Metamorphosis in which Gregor’s mother begs him to open the door and then faints when she sees him was very funny—Jewish humor at its best, sadly funny or tragically funny. Then one afternoon the first part of a sentence appeared in my mind, “When the ant opened the door…” and I knew a mother should faint to complete the sentence. (By the way, I was teaching a class titled Writing Your Own Book of Dreams when this came to me.) As I wrote the piece, it hit me that if the mother fainting once was funny, it would probably be funnier if she kept fainting. In the early versions, scribbled on scraps of paper, I had her faint several times, but really that was over the top and detracted from the story line. Also, you can only repeat something so many times before it loses its punch. In this case, with the length of the story, fainting twice seemed just right. And then to end the story, I liked the idea of the speaker imagining that his brother ant might actually be kissing the mother on the cheek, perhaps even usurping his place in her affections. That was not in the initial version.
This entry was posted in Friedman, Jeff and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.