My Brother the Venus Flytrap
Dad called, but he’d meant to call my brother Jack, who’s a Venus flytrap. I told him I wasn’t Jack, but Dad swore I was, saying: “You’re my boy, don’t you dare say you’re not.” When he hung up, I went to the casino.
You can make a lot of dough betting on roulette numbers, if you have the money. I don’t. I bet the colors: red or black, red or black. Low risk. Like a mutual fund. I waffle my five-dollar chip back and forth until the casino employee waves their hand, proclaims no more bets. Then I decide: red or black. I hope to win all the love money can buy.
Once I put everything on thirty-four red. Something about the number spelled winner. I dropped all my chips, ninety-some bucks, onto the square. I trusted my gut. But just as the casino employee waved his hand, I changed my bet. I slid my chips off and placed five on red. No, black. The white marble pinged and bounced, pinged and bounced, and I petted the green felt, thinking of my little brother.
I first met Jack at the grocery store. I was in the fourth grade, was an empty slate (too young to disappoint, too old to forget), and we’d just done a unit on plants. I begged and begged to take Jack home with us. After I described how Jack digested houseflies, Dad relented.
For the first couple of weeks, Jack lived on my bedroom windowsill. I fed him flies with tweezers. His green mouth closed over the insects like an infant gripping their parent’s finger. I soon got bored. I wanted to feed him something else. Then I remembered the unit on the basic food groups. Breads at the bottom, sugars at the top, everything else in the middle. This was how Jack ate, and he grew and grew until he got his own plate at the table.
Someone announcing: “I’ll win everything back. Every cent. Just you watch.”
Dad loved Jack more than me. That was why I put everything on thirty-four red. Why I took everything off. The white marble pinged and bounced and died. “Thirty-four red,” the casino employee said, wiping away chips. How much would I have won? I did the math. A new number appeared like a haunting, but I wasn’t sure how much I needed to win.
“Go long,” Dad said to Jack.
“Stay there,” Dad said to me.
Where else could I go?
I moved onto the windowsill. Jack moved into my room. He nicknamed me squirt. He gave me noogies, his leaves grinding into my scalp, leaving green stains in my hair. He ate and ate, the pink of his mouth dissolving the world around me until I occupied a void. Jack and Dad would come home drunk. They’d bang on the walls and chase me outside, where I’d bury my feet in the soil. At night, I often dreamed of climbing into Jack’s mouth and closing the lid.
Jack sprouted an expensive haircut. He had his leaves tailored. He became a stockbroker; bet against the market. Now he does a different kind of eating. He had plastic surgery to change his roots into unstable toes. On his birthday each year, I send him a picture of the pot we got him in. He always texts back: “Suits you better, squirt.”
I’m still here at the casino. I sometimes wonder if I got everything reversed. If Jack raised me. If he fed me flies. If I’m his little brother, his poor little brother. If he had to convince Dad to buy me like how I’m trying to buy dad.
I bet the number. My life savings. All I have to give. The casino employee waves, and I chicken out. Five on black. The white marble pings and bounces and dies. “Thirty-four red,” the casino employee says.
“You called it,” says a man who sounds like my father but isn’t. “What were the odds you were right? The same as now, son.”
I put everything on the number again. The casino employee waves, and maybe it was how the man had called me son, but I let my chips stand. The white marble pings and bounces and dies. What do you know, thirty-four red.
I go to grab my winnings, but the man stops me.
“Let it ride. That’s not enough. Always let it ride.”
“How much is enough? Why does there need to be an enough?”
The man doesn’t answer my questions. Instead, he mimes rolling a pair of dice. What if I win and win and win and he says win again? Why do I need to win at all?
“Son?” the man says.
“Son?” the casino employee says.
“Son?” everyone says.
I’m not their son.
I’m a plant.
I deserve sunlight in my life.
I walk away from the table, leaving my chips behind. The casino employee says the color and the number, his voice too muffled to hear.
Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Northwest Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Penn Review, X-R-A-Y, Sundog Lit, Tampa Review, and elsewhere. Connect on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove or at williammusgrove.com.
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