Whatever it was that happened during the time it took Lyle and Dwight to make it down the three flights of stairs from my apartment, they were full-on fighting by the time they hit the street below.
I’d stuck my head out the window to wish the brothers a final “Merry Christmas,” and there they were, throwing down on the boulevard snowbank. I stuck my head back in where it was warm.
“Guys,” I hollered back into the living room at the half-dozen others sitting around, drinking and smoking and carrying on. “Lyle and Dwight are at it again.”
A couple folks crowded around the window to see. But nobody got too excited. Those two had been slugging it out since they were kids. They fought at school. They fought at summer camp, at picnics, at weddings. They fought on the ice during a game once when they were on the same peewee hockey team.
Sure, they loved each other. But there was no stopping them. They were brothers.
The boys were in town for the holidays, same as half the others in my apartment that Saturday night. Most of us hadn’t seen each other since the summer, some folks working out west, others in school out east. We were all getting good and lit up with holiday cheer. Why not? Monday was Christmas.
The brothers’ disagreement seems to have started shortly after they mentioned they were headed to the lake the next morning, to spend Christmas at the family cottage, winterized for just such occasions as it was. But it could have been simmering for some time. Hours, days, weeks. Years.
“Seen some wolves playing out on the lake, last time I was there in the winter,” I said, or something along those lines. It’s a beautiful memory, even years later. Those wolves, two of them out there just prancing about on that thick ice, snow falling all around them. Not a care in the world, it seemed. Or maybe they were brothers too, scrapping like brothers do? “Never seen nothing like it.”
Lyle sank back into my sofa and mumbled something. Dwight’s booming laugh filled the smoky room.
“What’s that?” someone asked.
“Wolf talk’s spookin the Lyler,” Dwight said with an evil grin. “That right, bud?”
“Fuck off,” Lyle muttered, no doubt hoping the subject would change, pronto. No dice.
“Lyler thinks there’s werewolves or worse in the woods up there,” Dwight jeered. “Says he even saw one, once. Didn’tcha, Lyler?”
“Seriously,” Lyle said, seething though he tried to play it cool. “Fuck off.”
“But that’s what you told me, wasn’t it?” Dwight was in his glory needling his little bro. “You said you saw a werewolf. Out back of the pizza place that one time. Didn’t you?”
“Could have been anything,” Lyle demurred, pulling a fresh bag of weed out and throwing a nug on the coffee table. “Fuckin bear, fuckin coyote. Fuckin werewolf. I dunno. That was a long time ago.”
“Maybe a windigo?” someone offered. Whether they were being helpful or piling on was hard to tell. “Or Bigfoot?”
“Sure,” Lyle said, dismissively. “Who knows. I was fuckin high OK?”
That got a laugh, sure enough. Lyle rolled a cannon, more drinks were poured, and everyone moved on. Looking back you could feel the resentment burning between the brothers, though everyone ignored it at the time.
Yet when they left a little after midnight, something set them off in that stairwell. Why else would they be down there in the street, big fat snowflakes falling all around them, pummeling each other senseless until they finally broke it up and stumbled off towards the bridge and the bars beyond, yelling back and forth at each other until they faded into the snowfall?
The holidays can be emotional. Old beefs often come bubbling up from the depths like a bad case of gas. It’s been years since I’ve seen my own brother over the holidays, for a laundry list of mostly stupid reasons. You just never really know what can set someone off during the darkest depths of winter.
But for my money, on that night, it was that werewolf shit.
Sheldon Birnie is a writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada whose work has appeared recently in Door Is a Jar, Cowboy Jamboree, The Daily Drunk, Rejection Letters, BULL, among others. Find him online @badguybirnie