Dottie had instituted a tradition that the boys exchange gifts with one another. Trajan’s gift to his brother usually consisted of something their mother had picked out—earmuffs, a sweatshirt adorned with sports insignia or race cars or spaceships or some other thing boys are supposed to be universally fond of. Trajan watched glassy eyed as Dottie dangled countless choices before him, seeking his approval. He eventually conceded, nodding vigorously over whatever his mother had in hand in order to be set free in the toy aisle, browsing for last-minute items to add to his list of wants and wishes. Langston insisted on doing his own shopping for Trajan. He had been on the receiving end of far too many pairs of slippers, long underwear, and warm socks to leave the task of picking out the right gift for his little brother to their mother’s unshakably pragmatic ways.
When he was eleven, the boys’ last year in elementary school together, Langston had set his sights on a silver referee’s whistle, seeding his brother’s infatuation with soccer. Trajan blew that whistle all of Christmas Day, loudly at first, charging anyone in his sights with all sorts of made-up infractions, then more quietly, Chester having issued a warning of his own. Trajan went to sleep that night with the whistle still stuck between his lips, tiny bursts of air sending the pea rattling against the hollow core of its metal casing. Dottie sent Chester in to get it once the boys were asleep, fearing her son might choke on the thing, condemning him to spend the rest of eternity with a restless whistling lodged in the back of his throat.
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