“Happy birthday dear Slee-eem! Happy birthday to you! Funny thing is… I wrote this one,” Jello says, “when I was…like…really, really… I mean like…really…” Jello’s eyes are capital O wide and he stares at the ground without blinking, hypnotized by the fluorescent green shoelaces on his bother’s white canvas all-stars.
Slim lifts an inquiring set of murky brown eyes and says, “Well? You were?” Slim’s skeleton sized arms shrug beneath dainty shoulders. “You were really, really… what?” His tone is almost accusatory with a slight hint of disappointment.
Jello’s dilated irises meet Slim’s mud watered gaze and they stare at one another without blinking before Jello begins bobbing his head forward then backward as if in some sort of agreement. Jello says, “I mean… ya know. Just totally… We. Are. Talking…” Eyes half-dollar round. He says, “Talking. Like. It felt totally weird, Sleem! Just nuts!”
Slim’s scrawny arms are up in the air with an I’m not so sure gesture. A why’d you do that glance. “Jello, what did I tell you about that stuff?” He pinches his forefinger and thumb together and brings it to his lips and inhales deeply and gives a fake cough, then he offers an invisible joint to some ghost in the air. Slim says, ”Can’t be doing that lil’ man. That’s how you land yourself face flat in juvee!”
“Nah, bruh. Never going back there! Not in like…” Jello’s chubby arms flail outward from the posture of a referee giving an oversized touchdown goalpost and he says, “…like a googolplex years! Ya’ know what a googolplex is, Sleem?” The ‘I’ in slim always sounds like a stretched ‘e’ whenever Jello says his foster brother’s name.
“No, I don’t know.” Slim’s chest tenses. “Not meeting you at the interpretive rendezvous point here…” says slim. “That’s what happens when you start smoking that stuff. You think you’re living your life like a chill cat but you don’t have a normal thought to spare! Can you be a little less vague?”
Jello’s eyes squint like he’s trying to observe something up close. “It’s a number not as big as infinity but it might as well be. Overwhelming, bruh. Just… like…” Jello rubs his temples and falls into deep contemplation. “Like a bunch of dudes sat around and decided that if they wanted to write down the word ‘forever’ in numerical form they’d just write down the number for a googolplex instead.”
Slim squints his left eyeball while the other remains monocle focused on his brother and says, “A simple sideways 8 is big enough for everyone in the world but a bunch of math nerds. Now don’t change the subject.” Slim stabs a rigid chassis of a forefinger in front of his brother’s wayward glance and says, “Now… what do I always tell you?”
The brown of Jello’s eyes get lost somewhere in the back of his head then drop down with an inaudable plop and he widely stares. “Yeah, yeah Sleem. Them doctors gave it to you for a short time and all it did was make you dumb. But I seen you Sleem when you were spaced out. Like you forgot all them problems. Like you thought you were dumb but nothing really mattered and you were free.”
Slim purses his lips and inhales through his teeth with his eyes tightly closed. His shame lies more in the fact that his little brother actually experienced him go through that time than the subtle nuances and hints of pain that the time actually brought. He endures slim’s further explanation which felt like listening to nails on a dusty chalkboard.
“I wanted to be like… ya’ know… inspired for the special occasion of this here ‘hallelujah sleem’s been born’ event!” Jello looks up with a duh gesture. “Like… my bruh… because I love you more than a googolplex, or a sideways 8… infinity, or, whatever amount you wanna’ call it.”
It's a moment Slim chooses grace over condemnation. “Okay, you know what?” says Slim. “I’m gonna’ let this go, but I don’t wanna’ hear no more garbage of you ridin’ the smoky tide again, ya’ hear me?” Slim takes a deep breath and clears his throat. He holds the pages before him and reads the title aloud.
“How Much I Love My Brother: The Really Weird Time I Wrote This - When I Was Like Really Really, Not In A Normal (or Ideal) Place to Write - Because It was Really So Crazy Nuts… But I Wrote About It Anyway… Written by: Jello.”
“Exactly,” says Jello. Hearing Slim read “Written by: Jello” puts a pride shimmering grin across his face that resurrects his moon crater-like dimples.
“That’s the title of your story? That whole section is your title?”
“Yeah, pretty thought provoking, huh Sleem? Keep going. It gets even better.” Jello lights up with a devious grin like a child that had just thrown a firecracker in his brother’s lap. Jello rolls a tubby fist beneath his chin and eagerly awaits, mimicking Rodin’s sculpture of the thinker.
Slim exhales with an audible “puuuuuh” as if to have admittedly taken on an unfeasible task.
“When I was just a little boy I met my brother for the very first time. His head was shaved and he said that he was sick but that it was just a cold and it was going to go away so there was nothing to worry about. Seeing how all the grown-ups treated him I knew what he told me couldn’t be true.”
Slim stops reading and looks at Jello who sits in a meditative trance. “What do I always tell you about the cancer subject, Jello?” He pauses for a short moment before answering his own question. “We don’t talk about cancer. It’s nothing to worry about. And I especially don’t want you filling that noggin’ of yours with all the doom and gloom this world has to offer. God gave us a good life, Jello. Each day is a blessing. Let’s live while we got the chance to live.”
Jello looks to slim’s shoelaces and contemplates how the neon must be so bright it glows in the dark. His shoulders roll forward carrying the weight of his arms and his look is suddenly downcast, realizing that his gift may be a disappointment. He sniffles as a ravine of snot lingers over his cleft, pooling in the nadir of his frown.
His brother’s word suddenly shine brighter than the laces. A seed of hope is planted in the shadowy corners of his scattered adolescent thought.
God gave us a good life.
Each day is a blessing.
Jello immediately lunges forward with flabby arms outstretched to embrace slim. He squeezes his brother tightly and says, “It’s okay. I get it. You can read the rest later. But, Sleem…?”
“Yes lil’ man?”
Jello gently pulls away, fingers resting on Slim’s shoulders and he says, “I just want you to know how much I love you.”
Slim’s smile is soft and he says, “And I love you too lil’ man. And hey, no more writing high, ya’ hear me?”
Jello’s eyes drop and he says, “Sleem, for your birthday can we get matching shoes? I really like your kicks.”
Slim chuckles with genuine affection. Maybe surprised by the sudden change in subject but instantly understanding the request to be expected. “You want a present on my birthday?”
“We’d look so cool Sleem, matching and all. The other kids would be so jealous!”
“You really like these shoes, huh?”
“They are the best, Sleem. I like them… like… a…”
“Like a googolplex, I know lil’ man. Now I’m going to save the rest of your story for later. And I’m very grateful for such a thoughtful gift.”
“But it’s good, huh Sleem?”
“It’s amazing Jello. It’s the best birthday present I ever got. Now, let’s see about getting you a pair of these shoes.”
They walk side by side over chunky urban pavement criss-crossed by mossy cracks.
“Sleem, can I have matching green laces too?”
“Of course lil’ man. You can have any color laces you like. It’s my birthday, after all.”
“I want them to be just like yours.”
“Then Green it is, Jello.”
Jello wipes the snot from his face and bellows joyfully. “Happy birthday to my brother I love more than a googolplex… Slee-eem! Happy birthday to you!”