The Beautiful Sister
for Jason Louie
I’ve never liked my older sister. She’s the beautiful one, in case you’re wondering. That’s what everyone says, anyway. They even say it with me in the room. People don’t care.
My parents are the kind of parents who name each child with the same letter, brought to you by the letter M. Alliterative… I was paying attention in sixth grade. I am the smart one, but no one cares about that. All people care about are looks. That’s how the world is.
I don’t know if I should tell you my name. Can I trust you? I’m going through some weird stuff right now. My dad says it’s normal at my age, but what does he know? He’s not a girl. I think I stopped liking him too, when I was ten or eleven. Definitely eleven. He’d drive us to school and I’d say I’d rather walk, because I didn’t want to be in the same car with him and my sister. I hated them both, still do. My mom isn’t any better. I’m good for taking out the garbage and washing the dishes. I think the only reason people have kids is because they want these little slaves around to do all their dirty work. Wash the dishes, take out the garbage, vacuum the living room, rake the leaves. I’d burn these trees down if it meant never seeing another leaf again.
I don’t use obscenities. Other kids my age do, but they’re all stupid, and girls are the worst. They’re all just fat hens clucking around one stupid rooster, trying to get his attention. Who cares, honestly? Roosters have knives on their legs, the fighting ones, at least. Just like a boy, they’ll cut you when you’re not looking. My dad says I can’t have a boyfriend until I’m sixteen. Another year. I’d like to say I don’t want one, why are you putting this on me, you stupid old man. But he pays the bills, my sister says. Secretly I don’t think she likes him either, she just snuggles up to him to get what she wants. Girls do that, I’m here to tell you. I have a cleft between my legs, I know. And she’s his favorite. It doesn’t bother me, though. I have a brain, I know how to use it. I’ve never really wanted anything, at least not after age eleven, when the blood came. It was at the end of fifth grade. I was wearing white pants. I liked them because when I moved a certain way in them, my body would be on fire. My core, as weightlifters say. At night, in bed, on my phone, I watch trainer videos. There’s a man on YouTube who must have three hundred videos or something on squats, push-ups, pull ups, powerlifting, all of it. I’m not a lesbian. I like guys. There’s something about him, his soft voice, it’s soft but strong, if that makes sense. When he moves I move. You know the song. All I have to do is move my legs when I watch him on a three by five, no fingers needed. I listen to his voice and a soft halo starts glowing around my skull, moving down my spine, until I get wet listening to him. Are you listening? My sister is in the other bedroom, not knowing. Probably using her fingers like a dope. Look ma, no hands. My mom only married my dad to get away from the dumb town she was born in, to save herself from becoming a truck stop waitress. I don’t blame her, really, but she’s dumb. I’m not. I have enough brains for the entire family, and believe me, I’m getting out of here.
There’s a boy I like in sixth hour English. He’s not a rooster. He’s really quiet. His voice isn’t like the powerlifter’s voice on YouTube, it’s strong but in a different way. He wears loose shirts but he also wears tight shirts, and on days when he wears tight shirts, his arms fill the armholes completely. Do you work out? Yeah, in the morning. His name is Fernando. He’s Mexican and his eyes are slightly slanted. He’d get trouble for his eyes if it weren’t for his arms. How long do you work out? Forty-five minutes to an hour. What kind of name is Fernando? It’s my dad’s idea of a joke. My dad’s brother Fernando and my mom briefly dated before she and my dad got together. She didn’t want to name me that but he insisted. What does it mean? It’s from the German, it means prepared for a journey. I like that. I like it too, but it’s kinda weird being named after the uncle my mom dated before her and my dad got together. What’s your brother’s name? Francisco, which is kind of like you and your sister. Both our parents are dumb, I guess. Dumb games people play with their children. My parents are weird, too. I’ve got a friend named On’teece who’s got it worse. On’teece, the black kid? Yeah, that’s him. We’ve been friends a long time. It’s African American, though. I know, I’m not dumb. No you’re not. What kind of name is Melanie, does it mean anything? Seems old fashioned. My parents are old fashioned. It means dark. Are you dark? Like a million dead suns.
My sixth hour English teacher, a man named Mr. Shapiro, is the only teacher I like. He’s old, forty-something, but he’s nice. He’s really into computers and VR. All that stuff bores me to death, but I get excited by his excitement. It’s rare to see someone possessed. I think about Fernando a lot, when I wake up, when I go to sleep. I think about his arms. I think about his eyes, how beautiful they are, how foreign. I want to feel the weight of him on me, want to pull him into my center. I can’t explain. I’m afraid to ask Melissa because I know she’d tell mom. Mom, Melanie has a boyfriend! It must be easy relying on your looks when that’s all you have.
Mr. Shapiro is good friends with Mrs. Thompson, the black lady who runs the A/V department, and she’s loaned him a really good flat screen. He’s got connections, Fernando says, laughing. Did you know Mrs. Thompson is On’teece’s mom? No way. Way. That’s crazy. On’teece doesn’t like people knowing but you know how people are.
We’re reading a book of short stories by an author named Ted Chiang. They’re weird, but thank god it’s not Hemingway. Mr. Shapiro has us watching Avatar, over three days, to break up the stories. A lot of kids say I don’t get it, what does he mean, these stories are dumb. They’re dumb. I don’t mind the stories, but I prefer Avatar. We pulled our chairs closer to the screen. People were giggling, looking at their cell phones. Please do not look at your cell phones, people, Mr. Shapiro says. He says it in a way that people listen. The lights went down and the credits came up, big, bombastic. Fernando and I are sitting next to each other. One day in class he wore a tight black t-shirt with a white undershirt underneath it, and when he raised his arm, I saw the white peeking through a hole in the black. I pushed a finger through the hole, teasing him. There’s a hole in your shirt. He didn’t flinch, let me linger in his armpit for a moment. I know but it’s my favorite shirt, he said. Other kids around us were giggling but I didn’t care. Today he had a white t-shirt on, our first day of Avatar, and it had a lowrider on it, praise the lowered. I liked that he was proud of who he was, but in a humble way, not showy like Melissa. She’s seventeen and thinks she’s going places because she’s dating a boy on the football team, varsity or whatever, and rubs it in my face because I don’t have a boyfriend. It’s because of dad, stupid. She knocks me in the head with a hairbrush. Don’t ever call me that. Ok stupid. We tangle until I start laughing, breathing heavily, and she releases me. You’re such a dyke. Whatever, you’re a whore. Fernando smells good. He smiles at me like the devil. Our knees are touching, the blue of Avatar lighting his face. I feel electrified sitting next to him. I slowly move my hand under his desk, touching him. I knead him between my fingers. I can feel him growing in my hand. He doesn’t make a sound. I keep kneading him through his pants, a loose pair of Carhartts, and he starts breathing really weird, like he has to think about breathing. Luckily Mr. Shapiro has the sound on one-hundred. I hold my thumb and index on the end of what makes him a man, and I can feel him pulsing against me. After fifty-five minutes the lights go up. Now I want all of you to think about this, think about what Cameron is doing in relation to Chiang’s stories. We’ll talk more about it tomorrow. Fernando walks me to the door of seventh period. You almost made me come in class. Is that bad? Hell no, it’s awesome. I wish you were my girlfriend. My dad, he’s stupid. He won’t let me. I have to wait until I’m sixteen. I can wait, Fernando says. He says it like he’s never said it before. He has a thin dark moustache, softer than the bristles on a baby’s hairbrush. He pulls me close to him before I open the door. Maybe we were lovers in another life, he says. I’ve never felt this close to anyone before. I’ll see you, I say, and the door clicks behind me.
I’m going to prom with Todd, Melissa says, passing by my open door, making sure I hear her. Fernie and I have gotten really close. He’s my boyfriend even though he’s not officially my boyfriend. Avatar and Ted Chiang were so long ago, back in September. Fernie and I have kissed, near the bleachers at the back of the school, next to the band room. He let me take it out, just to see. But we haven’t done anything yet, not like that. I worked it back and forth until a diamond of milkblue liquid appeared, then Fernie tucked it back into his boxers and zipped his pants. He pressed against me, his fingers inside my panties. I want to. I know, baby. When it’s right, though. Weirdos in band pay us no mind. Are you going to blow him, I ask her, laughing. A small gasp of air, then she rushes into my room and slaps me as hard as she can across my face. I fall on my bed, stunned. I text Fernie
I want her dead
Lol you’ve said that like a million times
No really this time
r u sure
Lemme talk to my auntie Lena
Auntie Lena is a big Mexican woman who works in a yerberia. She wears a dress that hugs her entire body, each curve a continent slowly drifting under orange fabric. Are you Melanie? Yes. Fernie has told me so much about you. I call him Fernie, too. We all do, honey. There are candles everywhere, black, white, orange, the strangest purple. The small shop smells of wax and wood. Statuettes of Jesus, the Mother, the reaper, the devil. Skulls on candles. From the rafters, weird dolls hang from emaciated strings. How can the devil and Jesus be together in the same room? They have always been together, my dear. She twists the lock on the glass door and turns a sign over, back in five. Come in back. Fernie and I follow her into a small office. There is a calculator, the kind with a roll of paper on it, a small coffee maker, and an old paper calendar with the Virgin on it from 2018. Why don’t you change the calendar? My last good year, she laughs. This is what you want, but be very careful. If you wish for it, it will come to pass. Be very careful, children. Before you ask for love, for someone to love you, learn what it means, because love can destroy. You will be taking their freedom, and yours. If you ask for death, know that nothing truly dies, it only takes on a different shape. She handed me an old black book, which was very heavy. Instrucciones del diablo para el amor y la muerte by Jorge Montes. Do you want it back? No, throw it away when you are done. I no longer have any interest in casting spells. You will also need three black candles and a lock of hair, Auntie Lena says. I have the candles, you must obtain the hair. You children be careful.
When Melissa was asleep I cut a piece of her hair. I also took a soiled pair of panties from her laundry hamper, a blood offering. I backed out of her room, noting where the door was. Doors are great teachers, telling us when to leave and when to return. The only thing I wanted now was to have Fernie at my side, always. Melissa would be going to the prom tomorrow evening. I prayed to a god who never listened that I would give anything, even my eternal soul, if it worked. The next evening, while Melissa combed her hair and Kleenexed her breasts, I asked my mother if I could go to my friend Ana’s house to study. I want you home by nine, she said. I’ll be home, mama. My friend Ana is a big girl, and big girls don’t get asked to the prom. Do this for me, I ask her over the phone, in the silence of my bedroom, my door closed. Do this for me and we’ll be friends forever.
At Fernie’s house we open the book. It has so many pages it stays open on its own. It smells like an old closet. We turn to the section on vengeance, harm, and death. Fernie reads it because I can’t read Spanish, I only know bad words like chingaso and pinche payaso. It says we have to say the chant together. We have to light three black candles, place her hair and underwear in the middle of the candles, then say the chant together three times while holding hands, with the candles in the middle of us. Fernie is wearing a white t-shirt and a black pair of basketball shorts. His legs are muscular and hairless. You’re my Mexican hairless, I laugh. We are both sixteen.
From the cradle of birth to the final breath
Let her dance the dance of death
Fernie holds me in his arms. We’ll get in trouble if this works. Oh, it’ll work. Doesn’t the book say if two or more people present believe, it will work? How will they know? Everyone is so stupid. Mr. Shapiro isn’t stupid, he’ll know. He likes us though. Stop worrying. We’ll soon be together. We can get an apartment together. I rest on Fernie’s chest. He squeezes my neck in his arm. I ask him to do it, I trust him. Do it till I pass out. No, baby, you’re going to stay awake with me. But eventually we both fall asleep on his bedroom floor.
Fernie’s mother is frantically banging on the door. I am still in Fernie’s arms. I can tell it is morning by the way the light is streaming through the black curtains covering the window, yellowing the room the color of dishwashing liquid. I think of chores, my mother’s stupidity. Mel, your mama is here. She wants you right now, mija! Fernie runs a hand through his hair, looking like a rooster. I kiss him goodbye, thank Mrs. Romero, and run down the stairs. Mama is sitting in the car, honking even though she can obviously see me. I’m slightly embarrassed, I don’t want Fernie’s entire street woken up by my mother’s stupidity. It’s your sister Mel, oh god your sister, baby. Todd said she wouldn’t stop dancing, she wouldn’t stop dancing, she was at the prom like she was on something, they don’t know. What is it, I ask, irritated. I can’t stand it when people aren’t straight up, just tell me what it is, I can’t read minds. It’s your sister, Mel, she’s dead! They say she had a heart attack. A bubble of mucus popped from one of my mother’s nostrils. She danced herself to death, Mel. I place a hand on her hand, avoiding any mess she may’ve made of herself. It’s gonna be ok, mama. It’ll be ok. I think of Fernie, and how we’ll be together now, how sometimes we can only truly be free of people by getting rid of them. Mama puts the car in drive, she never learned how to drive a standard. Fernie is teaching me. I wave to Mrs. Romero, who is standing at her front door, Fernie beside her. Fernie waves back, his hair dark, beautiful, mussed, a word Mr. Shapiro taught me. And now I am the only one, the only daughter. The way it should have been. The way it’s always been.
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