In a Word . . . Sibling

I tried and failed to kill my brother twice – once with a shoe, once with a hatchet

There was blood everywhere and he went roaring for our mother. Photograph: iStock

There was blood everywhere and he went roaring for our mother. Photograph: iStock

 

Siblings and Other Enemies. Sounds like a thriller, probably involving murder without the mystery. Is there anything quite as savage as small people yet to be civilised? Or as barbaric? I know. I was that boy.

There are just 18 months between myself and my brother Seán, who is the younger. I almost killed him twice, once intentionally, and have regretted my failure on both occasions many times since. He knows. I’ve told him.

Being the eldest and in charge when our parents were away, he never accepted my authority without a fight. That is hard at seven or eight when you are determined to impress your parents at how well you run things.

He tempted me to sacrilege once. I was saying Mass with a curtain draped from my shoulders when he refused to ring the bell (a spoon in a bottle).

Our shoes had been placed on the “altar”. I threw one at him and missed. It hit a lamp in the kitchen, causing pandemonium, as we were all frightened of the dark. We were exhausted from terror before our poor grandfather got the light working again.

Then there was the time we two were “helping” the man in our garden. I was chopping timber with a small hatchet and Seán leaned in. I hit him on the head. There was blood everywhere and he went roaring for our mother. I ran to the hen house anticipating wrath to come. It didn’t.

Our parents were so shocked, and in a rush to get a doctor, that not a word was said to me. Seán recovered. But, as I’ve reminded him often since, he was never right again.

My real murder attempt occurred one Saturday morning when we were up at the usual time but there was no school. He began sprinkling cold water at me.

Despite repeated warnings he kept at it until my temper erupted as uncontrollable as a volcano and I buried him under a pillow. I then debated whether I should let him breathe again. In a moment of weakness, I relented.

Which is how he survived to celebrate a significant birthday next Monday. Happy birthday, brother, even if you made my young life hell.

Sibling, from Old English sibling; “relative, kinsman”. From sibb: “kinship, love, friendship, peace, happiness” (but not in our house!)

inaword@irishtimes.com

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