bro inlaw… were my grey sweatpants, an old shirt and the fake fur hat, which, according to my brother-in-law, renders me undateable.

“You walk around with that on your head,” he told me, “no one will ever ask you out.”

And my new favourite sunglasses, the one’s I’m convinced are so wonderful they will actually change my life – he called them tacky.

“Blue lenses?” he said. “Wrong, wrong, wrong. They look ridiculous.”

“Hang on,” I said. “What if I wear them with this lipstick?”

Especially with that lipstick.”

That’s how he talks to me.

And he’s not even gay.

These damning verdicts — bad hat, naïf glasses, tragic cosmetics — were delivered while I was perched on the edge of his sickbed. Sickbed’s a bit of a misnomer; he wasn’t ill, just convalescing after a minor operation. And while we’re at it, it wasn’t even his bed; it belongs to my daughter, his niece, who’s away at university. But it’s a nice bed in a sunny room and, six hours after the minor op, my bro-in-law had colonized it, built himself a little nest with extra pillows, Al Jazeera on the laptop and a stack of painkillers on the bedside table. In between belittling my wardrobe and sipping the tea I’d carried up for him, he urged me to admire the hole the surgeon had made in his stomach. Some kind of pink sludge was trickling out of it.

“I’m not going anywhere near that,” I said. “It’s gross. You’re gross.”

That’s how I talk to him.

If you heard us on tape, you’d swear you were listening to a couple of 12-year-olds, adolescent brother and sister competing to see who could be more obnoxious, more clever with the put downs — a 12-year-old’s version of clever. I suspect we act like this because we think this is how a brother and sister are meant to behave. Mocking. Alert for vulnerabilities. Bothering each other.

I say suspect because we’re not really sure how it works, what the protocol is for this brother-sister business.

It’s new for us.

Neither one of us grew up with an opposite sex sibling. He has brothers; I have a sister. We’ve been in-laws for a long time, but that’s a different level of connection, courteous and indirect. Disinterested. Then something happened, an inner shift, the tectonic plates realigning. Nothing was said or even acknowledged, but there it was, this gradual assumption of new roles. We had morphed into a parody of brother and sister.

We’ve been making it up as we go along, trying stuff on, mimicking what we’ve seen in movies and old sit-coms. Monica and Ross. Ferris and what’s-her-name Bueller. Scout and Jem. It’s like a crash course in fraternal conduct: Sibling 101.

So far we’ve aced the Intimacy of Insults as well as Proprietary Disapproval. We sailed through Bathroom Slurs (Light a match, would you? Was that my towel you used?), but we definitely need remedial work on what I call Appropriate Advice Giving. You know, the part where the brother sits the sister down – or vice-versa — and tells her/him frankly, and with real concern that she/he has chosen the wrong job/partner/house/friends/pet. The problem is despite the fact we’re both grown ups, in fact, grown ups with grown up children of our own, neither of us seems capable of imparting much in the way of life wisdom.

We’re both clueless.

At least that’s what we take turns telling each other.

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