"That's the last time I stick something like that up my nose," my brother said, sitting up on the work bench.
I had the objects in my snotty right hand. My face was hot from working for forty-five minutes. I could feel my blood pressure slowly decreasing as I took and held a deep breath, bare feet on the cold cement of the garage floor. The cats looked at me like I—not my brother—was a stupid human performing tricks for their amusement.
Our folks were gone, of course; it was their thirtieth anniversary and they had gone on a cruise from Boston up to the Hudson Bay and Canada. The trip was only nine days. 216 hours total, but only 144 were waking. No big deal for a twenty-two-year- old. I could handle it. I could see no reason for having grandma and grandpa fly halfway across the country to stay with us. Trent was sixteen; he could take care of himself, even if I was not there.
We had finished dinner (they had cooked too much food because yesterday they did not cook enough; I had a funny feeling that we would be eating spaghetti for the next few days), and we went up to my room for the usual philosophical— nigh on theological—debates about the heat death of the universe and our cat, Gurgle. We could agree about the squirrely orange tabby that was the hind-end of most our jokes, but also the most loved member of the family. The heat death of the universe was a different matter. Trent did not think that all the energy of the universe would eventually be converted into heat, a process called entropy. It was during the debate when the trouble started. He laid and sulked on my bedroom floor, sprawled like a bear-pelt used for a rug. His hands idly swept under my dresser until they found something to fidget with.
My pair of rare-earth magnets produced some good times. Sticking them to paperclips, European coins, Dad's classic rock cassettes, nails, pins, bottlecaps, the tongue latch of my belt buckle, the handle to the tripod, other magnets, and creating psychedelic colors on the TV set. Trent's latest variation was sticking one magnet up a nostril and placing the other parallel on the outside of his nose. He laughed with pain as the magnets pinched his ala.
"Hey," he said standing, "watch this!"
He placed the small silver magnets on either side of his septum.
I laughed. So did he.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"They slid all the way up."
After fifteen fruitless minutes of messing around with fingers and a coat-hanger we snuck down to the garage.
"Where are you two going?" Grandma asked.
Trent started to answer, but I poked him.
"To see the cats," I said.
"Okay;" she said going back to Murder She Wrote, "it's bedtime in a few minutes."
The telescoping magnetic grabber was too fat to fit in the nostril. In the end, a pair of pliers and my finger did the trick.
I sat next to Trent on the workbench and wiped my hands on his shirtfront.
"You know what," he said.
"I think you're right about the heat death of the universe."
Copyrighted 2009 by Jakob Chapman; author retains all rights to this story.