McLean High School
I’m four years old, and you’re so small. You’re wrinkled and slimy, and I hold my breath to avoid your raw, metallic smell, wondering how the nurse can stand to hold you so close to her face. But you’re not yellow or blue and your wails hurt everyone’s ears, so the doctor tells us you’re perfect. I press my hands against my ears, and everyone coos.
Eventually, the fog clears from Mother’s mind and all she can think about are her still-bulging stomach and if there is Evian in the vending machine and why all these goddamn people are staring at her. Father pushes the lingering crowd from the room—the afterbirth—and drags Mother around the building asking about what can be done about his wife’s ruined body.
Then it’s just us. Listening to the soft hums of each other, no crying. I don’t know how to hold you the way Mother did, but I do like staring at you. And your dark eyes say that’s enough, the way they stare back. It’s just you and me, and I love you.
You don’t understand why we spend so much time in the shade of our backyard. We make up flailing dances to songs we’ve only heard once, swing from the branches until every one of them has snapped, scream at the top of our lungs just to see if anyone will come. I tell you to imagine we’re far away from Them, even further away than we stand. I want you to be something bigger than Mother’s faded bruises and Father’s reddened face. From here, the house looks so small.
Over the singing and laughing, I hope you can’t hear the crumbling of Mother’s voice or the crippling strength in Father’s. There’s good in this world, I tell you. When the night falls and blows us inside, louder truths drown out my voice.
We sit in the closet, listening to the house. It screams. It bawls. It shakes so hard with punches and pulls that you nestle underneath my armpit and tell me that you hate Them so much. I kiss your head and curse the house, stroking the fine hairs on the back of your hand. I’m not enough; I feel something awaken with every rumble of the floorboards.
We know he will come for us afterward, spurred by the desperate cries of his pitiful wife; he always does. But under the soft glow of innocence and fading light, your round face points up toward mine. The house goes quiet, and I dare to hope.
We’re barreling toward a heavy, Florida summer, shedding skin and clothes and tying our hair up from our sweaty necks, and you’d do anything to slow it down, to savor these drowsy hours beneath the blazing sun. Glass is shattering, but the skies are darkening. It’s spring, and your friends are here.
When the lovebugs first caught your eye, you were mesmerized. You badgered me for hours until I finally told you about the tiny, black creatures that layered our cloudless skies. They were made at a nearby university, a species created and released by human hands. That’s why nothing kills them, why they die so fast. Why they’re not supposed to be here.
For a while, you just watched them, enchanted by these tiny Godless creations.
Now you play with them. From my small bedroom window, I watch your body, still soft with baby fat, run and jump into the air with them. They droop lazily, slowly, in the air and, with your plump little fingers, you catch their plump little bodies. You hold them so close to your chest with mother-like care: care that our own mother was always too frail to teach us. In your small hands, you protect them in a way that she never could.
I try not to watch the other things you do with them: the things no one taught you to do. I was beginning to think I was enough for us, but the tearing of wings, smearing of grey life, the prayerless burials tell me otherwise. You play with your friends so slowly, so keenly. You reach deep, searching for that man-made string of life I told you about. Winding it around your fingers, you pull. The house groans. I know you.
When you come inside, you stare up at me with those same brown eyes. There’s a new shock of stolen life in those eyes, but it’s you, my baby sister, and I smile down at you with a shiny gaze. You walk past me with pale, grimy hands.
A shallow grave in our backyard, under our tree. Tangled limbs, matted fur, pulpy flesh. Our neighbor’s litter of newborn dachshunds, a new evil no one can ignore. Mother sobs into her bony hands for the darkness she raised, and Father finally leaves. I stare at the ceiling with a burning throat and listen as you hum quietly.
Your eyes and your fingers are growing to be bigger than mine, and I can’t stop it. He’s gone, and I don’t understand why the house still rumbles at night. With raw fingertips and bloody arms, I try to hold you, to wrap myself around your thinning body and keep you small. But your gazes are so full of something I have to squint to see, and you’re my baby sister.
You don’t play with lovebugs anymore. Now boys with thick necks and dark hair avoid my stare as they leave your room. I hear them yell your name well before dark, and I know you don’t care if I hear. But it’s the same old thing; they’re just lovebugs. You blink those beautiful eyes and twist them around your pale fingers, burying parts of their bodies where they don’t belong.
You’re killing me, do you know that? I still love you. Do you care?
I can’t close my eyes anymore. Can’t sleep. With the covers up to my chin and a knife in my hand, I pray for you.
I see the way you look at her. The way your fingers curl every time she moves. You’re ready for something to satisfy your strong hands, and she’s trapped. The spineless woman tiptoes through the house, unaware of the new threat looming over her, and I see the yearning in your eyes. She’s blind, just as she’s always been, to the evil that has consumed her home, rotted her children, sunk under your innocent skin.
You never loved her, not the way you love me. But she doesn’t deserve it.
I’m losing strength, and I don’t know if I can do anything.
I love you. I saw you and her and your filthy, tightening hands. The far-away gaze in her watery blue eyes as you finally forced her to see. I watched as Mother finally opened her eyes, never to close them again.
I won’t tell anyone, I promise.
Do you remember the days under our tree? I don’t know why, but I hope you don’t. I’ve given you all I can, and now we’re alone. Could I be selfish, just this once, with those memories? The days when I dared to hope are all that sustains me now. The light is fading fast, and we’re confined to the house. At least we’re together.
I don’t pray anymore. But we’re trapped, you and me, man-made and Godless. The prayers went unheard, I could tell as your smile grew wider. I don’t have anything left, and I think you know that. I don’t blame you for what you had to do. For what you have to do.
The twisting ache inside you demands to be fed, and I’m all that’s left to quench the growing thirst inside you. Don’t worry, I understand. I have no one to blame but myself.
You watch me in my sleep now. After your boys have dug their nails into your flesh and slammed our paper doors behind them, you stand in my doorway and you know I see you. I don’t know when the hands will come, when I’ll look into your eyes and finally see nothing, but it’s okay. I know you loved me, and that’s all I can hold in my hands now, no knife. I’ve done all I could, and it wasn’t enough.
It’s just you and me, and I'm so sorry.
What makes a family? Complicated emotions; rich characters; and Godless creatures. The author does not hold back in their descriptions of love and loving, ensuring that the reader will never forget this story.
Lily Neusaenger attends McLean High School in McLean, Virginia and will graduate in 2021. She has received two Gold Medals from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and is the Digital Editor-in-Chief for her schools’ Literary Magazine. Lily also enjoys watching trashy reality television and taking 3-hour naps
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