--SOME THINGS YOU GUESS, AND OTHERS YOU JUST KNOW
Just Do What I Do
She says, “Come, kneel down next to the bed with me.”
I’m not sure if she’s kidding. I’ve never been one for prayer.
“We’ll do this a long time,” she says, “then things will be better.”
My sister is older, stronger and smarter, but too optimistic. She thinks rainbows are real. Unicorns are her favorite animals.
“Watch me. Just do what I do.”
Our mother drove Dad to the bus terminal an hour ago. I figure we have another two hours ourselves until she arrives.
“We could run away.”
Sister’s fingers are laced, her eyes closed. She shakes her head.
It’s hard not to be resentful and jealous of adults who can come and go when whatever whim hits them. Even Dad is smart to get out. He’s not as stupid as she thinks.
I watch Sis, her eyes scrunched closed like wrinkled berries, her knuckles pink fruit from the pressure. Her lips move soundlessly. I cock my head but can’t make out any syllables.
When I try to copy Sis, I find myself on a raft roaring down a black river. I don’t know how I know it, but up ahead is a sheer drop off, a mile high waterfall. I am soaked from the cold spray. My raft collides against hidden boulders but continues its manic sweep with the current. Eventually I get to the edge. The raft slips out from under me and I begin my descent. The fall takes my entire childhood.
When I open my eyes, I’m on the sofa with Sis. Buddy, Mother’s boyfriend, is staring at me, then Sis, then switching over to me. “Eeny Meanie Minie Moe.” His pointing fingers hold a smoldering cigarette so that his hand seems to be on fire, and in a way it is, he is.
“Get me a beer, Darlin’,” he says to Sis. I’m squeezing her hand and now I squash it harder, yet she tugs away, her face saying what she can’t, “Just do what I do.”
“Come on over here, Boy,” he says.
Mother has doll eyes, as empty as paper plates. Something between a smile and nothing sits on her face.
When he coughs, smoke rises like gray fog from the slit of Buddy’s mouth. “Whyn’t you dance for me.”
I want to be back on that raft. I want a different ending. But then Buddy pinches the burning cigarette into my arm. The skin hisses. Buddy chuckles. “You know I mean business,” he says, so I shuffle my feet, trying to do the tap number Buddy likes best.
After twenty minutes, Buddy says, “Now switch, you get me a beer and Shelley, you come dance for ol’ Buddy.”
We pass like sentries. Sis won’t give me anything, no advice, which is really her way of saying the same thing: “Just do what I do.”
When I come out of the kitchen, Buddy’s pawing as Sis does some sort of ballet stretch. Buddy’s eyes are greasy, his hair is oily, and he smells like tar. “Just sit that damn thing down,” Buddy says to me without taking his swirling gaze from Sis.
It’s one thing to pray, it’s another to do.
So I get back on that raft. It’s going to take me with it wherever it wants to go, not where I’m heading. But it’s a better ride that this one.
I plunge the knife through Buddy’s shoulder. I keep plunging—five, six, seven times--because I want to make sure there’s no way he’s coming back for Sis after I’m gone.
The blood splatter is hot oil, but I make myself feel arctic river water instead. I flip over the edge of the cliff. It’s a long fall with an uncertain landing. Still, I don’t scream or make a solitary sound. Unafraid for once, I await my landing.