“I’m afraid it’s bad news,” said Dr Mathie, “Your brother is dead.”
David nodded in what he thought was a suitably grave way, then went to get a coffee.
There was a pub in the village called the Lion, a Boddingtons pub, a pub for proper boozers, a proper boozer, until it finally fell victim to the smoking ban and cheap supermarket tins. In the bar there was once a man called Neville, and in the lounge there was once a man called David. In the bar, Neville drank pints of bitter and played darts with nobody in particular. In the lounge, David rolled and smoked cigarettes, seven at lunchtime and more than ten in the evening when he returned. When he went to replenish his glass he could see Neville on the other side, his elbows rubbing the shine off the bar. Neville could also see David, but wouldn’t speak, in fact he wouldn’t even catch his eye, which suited David down to the ground. That’s how it was for twenty years, until the day of the smoking ban when David had to go outside and block up the drain with his butts. Now there is nothing particularly unusual or remarkable about any of these facts, except that Neville and David were identical twins, and had been identical twins since in fact the day they were born.
If you’d ever visited the Lion you might be forgiven for thinking it an odd sight; two identical brothers drinking in the same pub yet not exchanging so much as a nod. You might also be forgiven for imagining you were looking into a mirror, so identical were these two men with their long grey hair, unkempt beards, dark eyes and large noses.
Neville and David were born fourteen minutes apart either side of midnight one day in nineteen-something-or-other to parents not particularly loving at first then increasingly neglectful. As their parents fell out and eventually split, the twin brothers learned to fend for themselves, look out for each other and look after the terraced house in which they lived and which their father walked out of saying something like he couldn’t stand living another minute with a bunch of fucking crackpots like them. It had three bedrooms and was worth probably around £200,000 then, and more than that now. Their mother had the largest bedroom, Neville – the older of the two twins – had the middle room, while David made do with the box room. That’s how it remained until the day it was decided that the large room was too big for their mother and she was to swap with Neville and David was to have the middle room vacated by Neville. The decision was taken without discussion, disagreement, or in fact any words at all because by then their mother had become a drunken nothing and wouldn’t have even noticed she’d been moved.
And that’s how the dynamic remained in the house for a good while after, up until the night their mother drowned in the pond in the fields behind. Even then, nothing was said. There were no words, just looks between the brothers, one accusing, one denying, but both deciding it was time they cut the apron strings. Because they never talked, this was the closest they’d ever come to an argument, but it was tacitly agreed that even though they’d remain in the same house, share the same bathroom, sleep in adjacent bedrooms, eat in the same kitchen, drink in the same pub, they’d never have anything to do with each other ever again.
But then, on the night of the smoking ban, David flicked his cigarette butt down the grid and was about to return inside the pub when the landlady rushed out and said with a shriek, “Your brother’s having an heart attack!” and he found himself sitting in the back of an ambulance holding Neville’s hand then waiting in the hospital waiting room for over three hours, until Dr Mathie came to find him with the news.
David sipped his coffee and pondered the pint he’d left half-drunk in the pub. He’d never make it back there for last orders so would have to write it off, or ask the landlady for a pint on the house next time he was in – it was after all exceptional circumstances and one couldn’t be criticised for expecting a token of condolence.
“You want another cup, love?” said the lady behind the counter, “only I’m closing up in a few minutes.”
David shook his head, fished his pockets for his cigarettes and followed signs for the exit.
On the bus home he wondered how one went about organising a funeral, something he’d never done before on account of Neville arranging the one for their mother. From memory it seemed an awful lot of fuss, and very costly fuss at that. Frankly, he thought, their mother wasn’t worth it, and neither was Neville after the terrible things he’d done. It would be the simplest and cheapest funeral the man deserved and his money could buy, he decided.
David arrived home at 11.30pm or something like that. It had been an exhausting day one way or another and he decided he’d have an early night. Tomorrow he’d go into town and withdraw money from Neville’s account and go to the undertaker. Then he’d go and ask for that pint. As he turned to glance at the living room he saw himself in the mirror and spoke out loud, “I’m afraid it’s bad news,” he said, “Your brother is dead.” Then he snapped off the light and padded upstairs, chuckling to himself.