When we were twenty-three, I gave my twin brother a shower for the last time. “Lift with your legs,” my mother always said, but I never did. My brother Danny also had an electric lift, a hydraulic crane that cradled him in the air, but I never used it. I stood over his bed, wedged my arms behind his neck and knees, and lifted his naked body to my bare chest. He weighed less than a hundred pounds.

I laid him in his shower chair, a wheeled recliner with a frame of PVC pipes and a blue mesh backing, which creaked as it received him. He was already shivering, his arms curved and his hands flexed down. His biceps were toned, little ropes. “It’s not that cold,” I said with my extra layers of fat and muscle. I was barefoot and in my boxers. I spread a towel on his bed for when he came out wet.

His bedroom was on the first floor, and six feet from his door was a bathroom with a walk-in shower. I had warmed it up with built-in floor heaters, but as I rolled Danny from carpet to tile, he was still cold. “Momma,” he chattered.

“Momma yourself,” I said. “Say ‘Brian.’” I rolled him into the shower and tested the water temp with the inside of my wrist: too hot. I adjusted the nozzle and closed the glass door behind us. Danny moaned until I aimed the stream and let the warm water rush over him.

“Momma,” he said.

“Shut up about Momma.” He was teasing me, like he did when I tried to feed him, and he shut his mouth until our mother sat down. “Momma” like You’re not good enough. You’re not her.

I built a green lather with the bar of Irish Spring soap and rubbed my hands across his chest and nipples with wisps of black hair, his taut abdomen with the Baclofen button under his skin, the small device that pumped muscle relaxers into his spine to relieve his spasticity. His belly was not yet pierced with the plastic feeding tube that would kill him five years later, when during a readjustment, a doctor poked a hole in his intestine.

I washed his hairy chicken legs, the soft flesh of his hamstring, his warped feet with their yellow, layered toenails, the skin puckered from his tube socks. I washed his splayed hands, the crook of his collarbone. I sang, “Danny Trapp is ugly…the ugliest man in the world. He’d rather love his mother…than any other girls.”

My brother smiled. “I-an,” he said. Brian.

“No,” I sang. “In fact, it’s you. And you smell and stink to boot.”

“Eh-eh,” he said. No. I grasped his neck and tilted him up to soap his back, sweaty and pimpled from sitting in his wheelchair all day, and then I sprayed him off through the mesh. His arms were so tight that I had to jerk them loose to get inside his armpits.

Now it was time for our special song. For this, I used the loofah. His penis was matted with black pubic hair from being crushed inside his diaper. Bits of crystallized urine were caked to the hair. As I scrubbed, I started the bass line, a sort of march. I sang, “It’s not gay…It’s not gay…cause I’m wa-shing my bro-ther’s penis.”

My brother smiled again and yelled, “Ahhhhh” as his teeth chattered, a complicated heckle, a You’re such an idiot that doubled for It’s freaking cold.

I wetted his hair with the shower nozzle, lathered on the Johnson & Johnson No More Tears Shampoo and as I sprayed it off, I sealed my hand over his caterpillar brow, keeping the water from his eyes and mouth, so he didn’t think he was drowning.

I looked at his body, the warm water rushing over him. Soon I would move three hours away. Soon I would be just a voice on the phone. Soon my brother would move to his group home, and his care would be out of our control. We were growing up. His body had scars. It had red patches of irritated skin that threatened to break down if we let them. But right then his body was pink and complete, with no holes, not yet. The water was warm and so was he.

I dropped the nozzle, and it hung by the hose. I leaned in and pressed myself to my brother, chest to chest. We did not shiver.


Brian Trapp is an instructor at the University of Oregon, where he teaches creative writing and English, and serves as the fiction editor of Memorious. He received his PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Cincinnati, where he was the Associate Editor of the Cincinnati Review. His fiction and essays have been published or are forthcoming in the SunNarrative, Ninth Letter, Gettysburg Review, and New Ohio Review, among others. He also had an essay selected as Notable in Best American Essays 2013. He is at work on a novel, and a memoir about this twin brother, Danny.

Photo by Heather Kresge