“What the fuck are we doing on this stupid camping trip?” Eric, the youngest brother, didn’t bother to hide his impatience with the whole rigamarole.
“We’re here, you dumb shit, because Dad put it in his paperwork. We have to go on this trip together before they read the will. You know that.” The middle brother, Christopher, took off his horn-rimmed glasses, polished them with his t-shirt, thrust them back on his face impatiently.
“Hey, just relax and enjoy it. It’ll be cool, spending some time together.” The oldest brother, David, directed his younger brothers — they ignored him, invariably.
Eric gestured toward the cooler. “Hey Christopher, you’re closest. Grab me a beer?”
Christopher opened the cooler, fished out a dripping can of Bud Light, tossed it at Eric. “Beer for breakfast. Nice, little bro. Very classy.”
Eric just laughed at him. “Damn straight. Isn’t that what you do on a camping trip, anyway? Drink, try not to piss in poison ivy, tell bullshit stories, drink some more, sit around a campfire, tell lies, then wake up with a hangover and go home? I’m just starting out right.” Eric popped the Bud Light open and drank half the can. The ensuing belch shook small songbirds from nearby trees.
David said, “Hey, you two, quit bickering. You know Dad wouldn’t like it. Can’t say I like it much myself. You two always start up as soon as we get together. Christopher, you always pick on Eric. You’ve just got to rub it in our noses that you’re rich and we’re only stupid, dumb factory workers. Why you gotta be like that?”
“I can’t help it if you two are stupid with wives and money.”
Eric sat up straight, stung, ready to defend his wife… and just as quickly, decided it wasn’t worth it. He finished the rest of his beer in two more long swallows, threw the empty can at Christopher.
“I’m still married to the same woman, unlike you two tomcats. Six wives between the two of you. What would Dad say? He stuck with mom through thick and thin, crazy as she was. He never left her, never cheated on her. I’m following in his footsteps, at least.” Eric got up and rummaged through the cooler himself, finding a can of Busch buried beneath all the Light beers.
“What, marrying a crazy chick?” Christopher had to get his digs in. “I was smart; I followed in his financial footsteps. That’s why I’m retired, and you’re still wage slaves.”
“I’m retired,” David was quick to point out. “We just can’t afford to spend winters in Mexico and Florida and summers up north. We made our paradise, and we’re right where we want to be.”
“Want to be, have to be, same difference.” Christopher didn’t have a chip on his shoulder; a boulder, maybe. He had his lakeside property, winter escapes, trophy wife, a suitable number of grandchildren. He was always on the defensive, always competing against his brothers, measuring himself against them.
David tipped his face, absorbing the sun, flexed his muscles, and stretched. He hadn’t a care in the world, from his actions. He looked at his combative brothers, then walked to the cooler and got his own beer, a Michelob Ultra.
“Come on, guys, this is a camping trip. You’re supposed to relax and enjoy it. I don’t know about you two, but I want some time on the water while we’re here. I’m going to rent a boat. What do you say?”
Eric said, “Hell yeah. Just bring the cooler.”
Christopher rolled his eyes, but subsided after a look at David. “Yeah, I’m in. Make sure we get one with a canopy; that sun’s going to be hot out on the water.”
Drunk, sunburned, and laughing, the three brothers stumbled back to their camp site. Charcoal and lighter fluid, a thrown match, and it wasn’t long before bratwurst and hamburgers were sizzling over the coals. Christopher grumbled; he thought steaks and lobster tails were a far better choice. He took a huge bite of a hamburger, edges charred, center slightly bleeding, seasoned perfectly, and served on a toasted bun — and had to reconsider, although he wouldn’t admit it to the others.
The three brothers made quick work of the food. Cleanup chores afterward fell to the youngest. David got the campfire started, and Christopher broke open a bottle of 18-year-old single malt scotch.
He hoisted the bottle toward the fire. “To Dad. The finest man I ever knew.” He drank from the neck of the bottle, then passed it to David.
David took a cautious sip, his face lighting up at the mellow, warming flavor. “Dad was tough, but fair. He was one hell of a role model.” He passed the bottle to Eric.
Eric took a huge mouthful, tipped his head back, then swallowed. He swallowed a second time to clear the burning in his throat. “Dad was a lot smarter than we are. He was the smartest man I’ve ever known.”
Rather than pass the bottle, Eric took another long gulp, treating the expensive scotch like water. “Did it ever occur to you assholes that we all knew a different Dad? David, you were the firstborn, the anointed, the golden child. You had the looks, the personality — it seems like everything was easy for you.”
“Christopher. You have his smarts in some ways. You always were a hustler, always had some scheme in the wings. You did good in business, made money like Dad did.”
“Me? I’m the clown. Every family needs one. Dad could be a joker, although he kept that part of him carefully hidden from us kids when we were younger. I guess he thought it wouldn’t be good for discipline.”
“Think on it, brothers. We all have parts of Dad in us — but just parts. None of us is the man he was. David, you had everything — and you have always been selfish. The world revolves around you, in your mind. Dad was the opposite of selfish. He gave up everything for us kids. He worked his whole life, retired and immediately died, proving nothing is fair.”
“Christopher, you had his business smarts… but I bet you didn’t mentor your secretary. Help her up the career ladder, help her not only break the glass ceiling, but smash that thing to bits. None of us ever knew your secretary’s name. I bet you don’t even remember it, now that you’re retired.”
“I’m not any better than you two. Yes, I’m a loyal family man. I didn’t get Dad’s smarts, though. I’m a damn fine Dad myself. Before you ask, no, I’ve never cheated on my wife, and I never will. I do feel like I haven’t been able to protect my family. I haven’t kept them safe. Maybe Dad felt that way, too, raising us. I wonder.”
He passed the bottle back to Christopher. Silence descended around the campfire.
The firelight flickered and danced, cast light and shade on the brothers’ faces, broke them into a thousand facets, each one a glimpse of one good man.
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This is an interesting piece, I have finally caught up with my critiques. Slightly demeaning to women, the whole concept of a trophy wife, and other wife comments made me cringe a bit.
Very nice! Congratz