I called my brother the other day to see what he had up his sleeve for the looming Mother's Day celebration that he and I needed to put together for this coming Sunday. I felt the need to call for several reasons: first, my brother tends to forget important dates--dates, for example, that are anyone's birthday but his own. I figured it was entirely possible that my brother didn't even know that this weekend was the weekend we were supposed to turn my mother's trailer into a big festive how-do-you-do to celebrate the fact that she spent numerous hours in labor with us.
Second, I know how my brother is about giving gifts. One year for Christmas he gave my father a Snickers bar and a pack of spearmint gum. This year for my birthday he gave me a can of off-brand corned beef hash. My brother generally believes that spending under five dollars is appropriate for any gift-giving occasion. After all, the less money he spends on the people who raised and love him, the more money he can spend on pear-flavored vodka at the Peace Bridge Duty Free.
So I called as a reminder. I called to check in. I called to needle him for information. I wanted to know what--if anything--he had in mind for Mom's gift.
"Don't worry about it," he told me, his voice confident and booming. He was at work, and it was clear that he wanted to sound Mature and In Charge. "I've got it covered."
"Oh?" I said. I kept my own voice light and vaguely uninterested because I know that more than anything, my brother hates to think people are checking up on him, to think people are messing with his business. "What do you have in mind?"
"Well," he started, "we've got these things at work..."
Red flag, red flag, red flag. My brother--when he's not texting girls named Chastity! or Emmy! or Krissy!, and when he's not slipping crumpled dollar bills that could very well belong to me into the G-string of some Canadian stripper who whispers Thanks for the money, eh! into his ear--works at a tool store. A tool store.
What, I wondered, could my mother possibly want from a tool store?
"What things do you have at work?" I asked my brother.
"Coasters," he said. "These coaster-things. They're clear. You can slide photos into them."
I thought for a moment about what picture I would ever want slid underneath a coaster so that I could set my condensating drink on top of it. I figured a picture of my brother would be appropriate enough. A picture of when he was little and chubby and bullfrog-cheeked. A picture of him before he grew up to be the type of boy who figured that what my mother would want more than anything for Mother's Day was a set of see-through coasters that could be fitted with photos that would be covered up and sweated on by a summer's worth of vodka-tonics and mojitos.
"Wow, that's great," I said, lying through my teeth. I didn't want to tell him it was a horrible idea--which it was--and that Mom already has enough coasters to get by with. She has formal coasters decorated with ivy and grapes, and she has informal coasters that she and her boyfriend have filched from local bars that serve cheap beer and good fish fries. My mother needs another set of coasters like she needs a hole in her head.
"I know," he said. "Pretty good, huh?"
And today I tried one more time--tried to nudge him in the right direction, to get him thinking about something that would be less likely to make it into my mother's next garage sale. I even spoke his own language. I sent him a text. Maybe you should think about flowers, it said. A single rose to go with the coasters. That would be affordable. And nice.
A few minutes later my phone flashed, and it was with a response from my brother.
Perhaps, it said, which, in my brother's language, means the following all at the same time: Are you crazy, Hell no, and Yeah right.