Our family used to make fun of my brother’s girlfriend, then she died. It happened like that.
At the funeral, I remembered where she’d studied, where she’d worked, where she was going.
Afterwards, he said we never knew her. He was right. I knew her name was Claire. I only knew her other names from Facebook. I had no clear memories of her, only secondhand ones.
She couldn’t take a joke. Still, we loved her.
That summer, he did a sponsored walk for her favourite charity — I forget which, something about dolphins.
That Christmas he spent with us and Boxing Day with her family.
Then he stopped talking about her.
The next Christmas, he brought Rachel. Mum called them weeks before to check dietary requirements. She went through Rachel’s social media and gave dad and me things to talk to her about.
She was quiet like Claire but with longer hair.
My brother drank three glasses of red and called her ‘boring’ when she stopped at two. ‘Fuckin’ life and soul, in’t she?’ he asked us. Then he laughed to himself as if we were too. They left quickly. We heard them in the hallway.
The following year, he brought Erica.
‘Look how she holds her fork. Like a retard, am I right?’
Next year, he brought Elaine and the same thing happened.
My brother always laughed by himself. Cried by himself, too. Or at least, never around me.
There weren’t any more after that. Instead, Claire came back.
‘Hey dad. Remember what you said about her braces? That she looked like, what was it…’
‘That’s enough, son.’
‘Like a —
Next year, he didn’t come. Nor the year after. Nor the one after that.
Some birthdays he came to, some he didn’t. Mum got a call from Claire’s parents saying he wasn’t welcome at there’s anymore. We led essentially separate lives. At my wedding, I barely recognised him. Gradually, we stopped expecting to see him. We knew him through rumours, and the rumours were never good. We all agreed that something should be done. Then he died.