This time of year was my favorite. All the trees turned orange and yellow and the leaves fell on the ground and got swept into a big pile on everyone’s front yard. Like a hundred little ant hills, up and down our neighborhood. Me and my brother walked every day through the lake-shaped park that every night filled with fog and disappeared. Every morning the fog washed up the hill towards our homes in slow motion. When it rained my brother said God was crying and when it lightninged he said God was mad. So what was fog, I asked? Fog meant God was weird, he said.
One day walking home the sun shone so nicely, the grass looked so nice, I reached down to touch the grass like it was water. Then I fell down and face first into it. It was like I lost my shinbones all of a sudden, I fell down and I wanted to stay there forever.
Get up, my brother said.
No, you come down here, I said. What if there’s dog poop, he said.
I swam in the grass. See, no dog poop. Stop being such a freak, he said.
Stop being such a weenie, I said, rolling over onto my backpack.
Fine, he said. I’m leaving. I rolled back onto my face. A tennis ball landed near my head and I heard a dog pick it up with his mouth and run away. Get, a voice said. I peeked and saw the dog, like a runaway windsock, running the other direction. His owner pet his head and said good dog. Dogs gave back the love you gave them. Not like brothers. No point in being nice to my brother. I sat up on my elbows and tore up the grass. I fell asleep.
I woke up to the sound of my mom screaming, running through the park with her arms wide open.
Mom, I said. Mom, I’m fine.
A girl in our class had disappeared. Rebecca Lisbon. My brother called her Rebecca Lesbian. When I prayed for Rebecca Lesbian during intentions one nun grabbed me as I walked away from the podium and hit me across the face. Then there was a parent-teacher conference. This was the year of parent-teacher conferences. Me in fourth grade and my brother in sixth, my mom smelling like all the cigarettes she smoked in front of all the television she watched. But you don’t ever hit a child, she said to one of the nuns. They all looked the same to me, man-faced women that made copies all day and had pockets full of keys. The nun stared straight through my mother without smiling.
Sister Sheila is not affiliated with the school, she said. Only with the convent. So, what do I have to do? my mom asked.
Talk to Sister Lucia, the nun said.
Alright, my mom said, pulling at her face, how do I get in touch with Sister Lucia? Sister Lucia will be back from Rome next Monday, she said, her face the same.
I’d love to go to Rome, my mom said on the way home. Maybe I should become a nun. By that time it was already dark and Mom drove us home, my brother and me in the backseat. Mom talked about all the batshit crazy people in this world. We stopped at McDonald’s and got burgers and fries for me and my brother and a soft serve for Mom, who ate it while steering with one hand. The burgers were cold when we got home but all my brother ate was the bread and pickles anyway. We turned on the kitchen television and ate dinner at the breakfast nook. Mom lit a cigarette and flipped through channels.
Stoo-o-op, my brother howled. Just pick one.
Mom stopped on Channel 5. Rebecca’s mom and dad were sitting on their own couch opposite an anchorman, her mom holding an American Girl doll with her same blonde hair and heart shaped face. I had touched that doll before, I thought, at show and tell. I held her upside down and heard her glass eyeballs rolling inside her head.
Look at them, my mom said. Guilty as sin. Is Rebecca dead? my brother asked.
My mom looked at my brother and then at me. I bet she’s dead, my brother said.
Stop it, she said. She reached over and took a piece of my brother’s hamburger meat and that was it.
They played this one ad all the time on TV. For less than the price of a cup of coffee we could adopt a kid. Kids walking crooked through dirt streets. I could have a little sister who needed access to clean water. Maybe I could have an older brother who did not punch me in the arm, who did not feed me bagels with toothpaste and call it cream cheese.
When I asked Mom said no way. That was not the kind of adoption they were talking about. She got catalogs in the mail where you could adopt a pig or a goat, she said the same thing. Why can’t I have a pig, I asked my Mom, they don’t have fur. The rule was no animals with fur. She said pigs were disgusting. I read a book about a pig who could read minds, I said. She said she did not want to live with a pig who could read minds, that sounded even worse than a regular pig.
She wants a pig, my mom told her best friend Deborah.
Ha, Deborah slapped her knee. Deborah was loud and my brother said slutty too. She wore her hair in her face and the two of them sat in the sun room, smoking. You could hear them through the glass doors and in the living room, where I lay on my back, counting bumps on the ceiling.
Counting and forgetting and starting over again.
She read somewhere pigs can read minds, my mom said.
Better keep that pig away from me, Deborah said. She cleared her throat. Who needs a pig when you have a brother, she said. I brushed my teeth every day of junior high with a toothbrush that Hank was shoving up his ass the whole time.
Do you want to know what I think about Rebecca? my mom said. Of course, Deborah said. Did you see that interview?
Heinous, my mom said. They’re lying through their teeth. Clearly, Deborah said.
But, my mom said, neither of them would defend the other, it doesn’t make sense. I would have never defended their father if he did that and vice versa.
Right- Deborah said.
I think the brother did it.
Oh, Deborah said; I could hear her lean back in her wicker chair.
I mean, she couldn’t have weighed more than eighty pounds.
If that, Deborah said.
And you know little boys. Talk about heinous.
Deborah told another story about her brother. About how he tried to put her in the refrigerator as punishment, when she was still small enough to fit.
I pictured the day that I showed the catalog to the nuns at school and to my mom and my friends. They would say this is so nice. You are so thoughtful. Where did you get the idea? And I would say I don’t know. I really didn’t. Maybe I wanted my brother to be adopted by someone else. Or maybe I wanted to be adopted by another family, except I would miss my mom. But the day I finished the catalog would be very exciting: it would be a catalog of all the kids from our school, just like catalogs that came in the mail. Pictures and descriptions, because all the yearbook had were pictures, pictures that I cut out one by one. Brian Betterman: nice, calm. Face in the shape of Mac Tonight. Christina Wirkins: fun, plays sports. Sings to plants when nobody is looking. Some descriptions were harder. Millie Bush: smells like a Gremlin, spits into the cap of all her pens and drinks it, makes little balls out of looseleaf paper and eats them. If you caught her drinking spit or eating paper she looked you right in the eyes and said, what. I wrote that she was average. No one would ever do what they did to Rebecca Lisbon to Millie Bush. Millie Bush was safe.
Rebecca Lisbon. I cut her picture out. She had a big bow in her hair and a velvet dress with plaid sleeves. At the front of our classroom in the windowsill were letters to Rebecca, flowers, one clay figure someone made bent over forward in the sunlight. A flower I’d only seen on TV held up with miniature butterfly clips. We had cubbies too and hers was full. Even though she was missing hers was stuffed with rubber band bracelets and coloring sheets and even a scented candle. All my cubby had was one sock I always forgot to take home.
Rebecca Lisbon. I looked at her again. Then I threw her in the trash. You couldn’t put a girl in the catalog if you didn’t know where she was. I put some other stuff on top of her picture, hair from hairbrushes, crusty Kleenex, that way no one would see. I put the scissors and the yearbook in the top drawer every night. I wanted it to be a surprise when it was finished.
The ad was on TV again. For pennies a day we could adopt a girl and her beautiful goat. For less than the price of coffee and my mom had left most of hers in the pot. My brother and I ate cereal. My brother ate cereal with his face close to the bowl like a dog eating dog food. I said again how I wanted to adopt a little sister from Africa, but my brother said she would bring disease and maybe flies. That they worshipped fat people in Africa and the more neck rolls you had the more money you made. Maybe they would worship you, he said. You would probably be their queen.
I started to cry and my brother kept eating his cereal and watching cartoons. When my mom came downstairs she asked me what he said. And when I told her she shook his chair and told him to get out and he did. But she didn’t tell me I wasn’t fat.
I was safe because I was fat. I looked up my weight in a book. The book was called Looking Pretty, Feeling Fine. It said I was fat. Me and Millie Bush, both safe.
At school they said no more recess. No more recess even though we just got a new tetherball pole. And even though the sun shone through the trees like honey in hot tea. Like solid gold. Like King Midas, who we read about for class, who turned everything to gold just by touching it. Except there was nothing left to play with and no recess.
So instead we sat on top of our desks and played mumball. Mumball is a game where you sit in silence and throw a ball to one another. If you talk you’re out. If you laugh you’re out. If you miss you’re out. When you’re out you sit down and put your head on your desk. Mumball is quieter than opening a can of Pringles. We played for fifteen minutes in the morning and half an hour after lunch, until someone popped the mumball, maybe on purpose. After that we just sat with our heads on our desks.
Also now we carpooled home. They said it was not safe to walk alone in the park, it was getting darker earlier. The fog was getting so thick they said. We carpooled with Damian Beard and Ricky Herrara, two boys from my brother’s grade. We drove past the park every night and the fog moved like fingers through the grass. Like something sneaking trying not to be seen. I missed walking through the park.
What beautiful weather, I said.
This is pirate weather, said Ricky Herrara very loudly. Frankly I find this weather depressing, Mrs. Beard said.
Katie Santoro: pretty, likes horses. Kind of stuck up. Carly Vigliaturo: mom teaches seventh grade, thinks she is special because of it. Chris Adair: total mystery. But I wrote that he was nice, because he was not mean. Then I started thinking about it, was I nice just because I was not mean? Just because I did not throw water balloons at people? I cut my picture out with scissors. That day I was wearing an overalls dress with a pocket up top. I did not have any friends but I did not have any enemies, either. I guess that made me nice. Nice and fat. I stuck myself on the desk with some sticky tack.
I flipped ahead to the sixth grade. My brother was in the bottom corner. He had grown out his hair from when he cut it himself and it looked like sheep’s wool. He was not frowning but he was not smiling either. He was mostly cheeks. He did not have friends but he did not have enemies. He wore a sweater with stripes. I cut out his picture with scissors and as I cut I heard his voice at the door.
Mom says dinner is ready, he said.
Okay, I said. I pulled my shoulders around my neck. What are you working on?
Something for Mom, I said. I swept the catalog into the top drawer. When I turned around he was still waiting with his hand on the doorknob. Not frowning but not smiling either.
That night my mom made tacos. Lettuce, cheese, guacamole, ground beef and sour cream all sat out in bowls. We watched TV on mute with the subtitles on.
Why are we watching on mute, my brother said.
Because this is news for Mommy, she said. In the time I ate three tacos Mom only ate half of one, her eyes moving back and forth. The words on the screen were typed out in white letter by letter and moving too fast for me to read and eat at the same time. They showed Rebecca’s yearbook photo from school, the same one sitting in my trash can upstairs. REBECCA. Rebecca with the big bow in her hair. A man stood in front of a brick house in a khaki colored coat in a garden crowded with cameramen and news reporters, talking into a microphone. The letters typed out and backspaced and sometimes showed up in a jumble. The letters hiccuped.
THE LAST THING SHE ATE
THE LAST THING SHE EAT
THE LAST THING SHE ATE
Then they froze:
WAS A PIECE OF PINEAPPLE.
I was right, my mom said. She pulled her first towards her, like she’d made a touchdown.
Right about what, my brother said.
Nothing, my mom said. She had some guacamole on her hand and was looking for a napkin to wipe it off. I have to call Deborah, she said, floating her hand in front of her.
They found Rebecca Lisbon dead in her own house but they didn’t say what happened. A nun came to our classroom and collected all the letters for Rebecca, the bracelets, the clay figure bent in half. The flower that was dead now because nobody watered it. We crossed ourselves every time we passed a display with paperboard letters stapled in a rainbow shape: IN OUR PRAYERS. They used the same picture from the yearbook. I did not like to see it. I read that the Mona Lisa had eyes that followed you, well Rebecca’s eyes followed you down the hall, up the stairs. At your desk. Now that she was dead she could see what we were doing from heaven and most of the time I had my hands in my desk picking at my fingernails, tearing them down until they were Chiclet sized and sometimes bleeding. Which is a real Millie Bush thing to do.
We had a special mass for Rebecca. Mass always made me queasy. We stood up and sat down. When we stood up I felt all the blood rush to my feet. The church was always too hot or too cold. That winter it was too cold. It was filled with the sound of people crying, like birds in the trees outside. Outside the birds were flying south. It seemed like there were a million of them. All the power lines were full and all the trees were dark. Inside the church filled with sobs. Everyone except me, neither crying nor laughing. Neither frowning nor smiling. Standing up, sitting down. Feeling faint. The mass is over. Go in peace. On Sundays that was when my brother would lean over and say, thank God.
After mass we walked through the hallways. My eyes on the ground the whole time.
We walked up and down stairs, around bannisters, back to the classroom. All the goody-goodies holding up bunny fingers meaning quiet. Quiet in the hallways. Quiet in the classrooms, just the sound of seats being pulled out. Pencils scratching. Writing letters to a dead girl who couldn’t read them, letters that began: I hope you are in heaven now.
Rebecca, I hope you are in heaven now. But I want to know what happened? What happened, because nobody will tell me and I don’t know how to feel. My mom’s friend Deborah said, honey, you don’t want to know. I am sorry for you, whatever happened, but truth is we were not friends. We were not friends and I won’t really miss you.
Everyone says you were kidnapped like that was it. But that’s not it. It’s like my book on Greek myths. The one with four white horses on the front of it. They say that Zeus keeps getting married but they never talk about the wedding.
First there was recess. Then there was no recess. Then there was recess again, except now we were always in trouble. Hide behind the dumpster, get a detention. Sit on the curb and drag sticks through leaves, get a detention. Open a dried bean pod in half, pinch the beans between your fingers. Crumple up the pod and let it sift between your fingers like confetti. Answer dumb questions from teachers like what are you doing and why. Answer, I am in charge of the world’s smallest parade. Get a detention.
That week during stations we were cutting out snakes for the gorgons and I was at a table with Maria Osborne. Maria said, I don’t like snakes, and I didn’t say anything back. I liked snakes. That was one of the first things I told grown-ups when they asked what I liked. But Maria smelled very good and also liked horses, so neither of us said anything.
She cut in a zig zag way around the snake for the gorgon’s crown. The only sound was snip-snip-snip and the sound of cutting paper.
Are you scared of getting kidnapped? I asked. Maria didn’t answer.
I’m not scared of getting kidnapped, I said.
We’re not supposed to chit chat, Maria whispered. Oh, I said. I colored in a snake red.
I’m not scared of getting kidnapped, I said. I weigh one hundred and five pounds.
Maria didn’t look up.
How much do you weigh?
Maria harrumphed and set the scissors down. What do you think happened to Rebecca? I asked.
Maria raised her hand. Teacher, she said, kicking her legs under the table. Teacher, she repeated, and our teacher came over. She had saggy tights and a terrible face. From where I sat all I could see was the way she frowned. Maria said I was being imprudent. What a goody-goody. And I was being nice this whole time. I took her snake and ripped it in half. I got detention for a week.
Did I know God could see my heart and read my mind, the nun asked. God saw everything we did, she said. I started to cry. And thinking something is as bad as doing it, she added. Did that mean God saw my kid catalog in my top drawer? Is that why Rebecca Lisbon got kidnapped finally, because I threw her in the trash? Another nun brought me a Kleenex. I thought she looked like fat Elvis. I unthought that thought. I did not want to go to hell. No wonder my mom did not want a pig that reads minds.
That week I had to spend recess inside with other kids in trouble. One nun sat at the desk and the other two sat on either side like gargoyles. The only sound was the minute hand of the clock above them. I drew pictures of Jesus and walked them up to the desk. The nuns nodded and said they were very good. They put the pictures in a pile on the corner of a desk. I kept drawing pictures so I had an excuse to get up. Very good, she said, and passed it to one of the side nuns for their approval. Very good, they agreed.
At the end of the week I brought all the drawings home in a manilla envelope and my mom looked through them. Very good, she said. My brother stood next to her, looking over her shoulder like a pirate’s parrot. He put all of his weight on the arm of her chair.
Why is Jesus wearing a diaper? he asked. Those are swaddling clothes, I explained.
My mom swatted at my brother with the folder but she was maybe laughing. I ran out of her room and into mine. I did not have any friends, I thought, and wiped my face on the pillow. I kicked my feet into the mattress. I cried louder. I felt a hand on my back and turned around. It was my brother, with his piggy hands and pig face. He smiled.
I’m sorry, he said.
I don’t believe you, I said.
He looked towards the hallway, and turned around with that same smile. I’m sorry, he said again.
Get off of me, I said, and pushed him away with my feet. But when I pushed him away he grabbed my ankle and twisted it, and then took off one of my shoes and threw it. That is when my mom came in and pulled my brother off of my bed, saying, okay that’s it. As he left he pulled my toes and until one popped. I sobbed.
“Mom, he broke my toes!”
“No he didn’t.” She lifted him by the armpits and carried him down the hall, plopping him inside his room and closing the door. He started to cry. “Be quiet!” she said. I heard the door slam shut again. He was like those prank snakes that has to be stuffed back in the can but won’t fit.
I looked down at my one bare foot and wiggled my toes. Hiya. How are you. I’m terrible today.
My brother. I taped his picture in the catalog and wrote his name underneath, including his middle name that embarrassed him so much: Spencer. Mean. Ugly. Cuts his own hair. Doesn’t have any friends. Free with purchase of any other kid in this catalog. Half price. No brain. Rotten brains. Rotten brains that you can see the yellow when you look into his ears, all backed up and leaking out of his head. Eats his own farts.
I did it in marker so there was no erasing. It took up a whole page. Coming soon, a sixth grader who looks at his privates at random. I turned the page over. The marker had bled through the page and ruined the back of it. I had ruined Clare and Amber Winkler on the other side. They brought their pet ferret to school once and let me pet it. But now there was no throwing them out either because that was bad luck. Clare and Amber were always nice to me. They did not deserve to be kidnapped. I could throw me and my brother in the trash no problem. Only my mom would miss us. She’d say, “Who will give me grandbabies?” But she could adopt other kids. Better kids.
Now I had to do the page over but there were no pictures left. I’d ruined all the yearbooks. Now I had no more school pictures of me or my brother just this one page soaking wet with permanent marker. And all these other pages trying so hard to be nice. Saying people were average when they were in fact spit-sucking freaks. My terrible sideways handwriting, the stupid things I said. I crushed up the kid catalog and threw it in the top drawer with the rest of the trash. Then I pulled out the top drawer and threw it on the floor. You would think I was just boring if it weren’t for the page about my brother, that let you know I was terrible. That let you know I was a witch’s cauldron, a swirling vat of pee and hair and eyeballs. That hated everyone and loved no one. That had no friends. I pulled out another drawer. It got stuck on the desk and I shook it loose, spilling all my acrylic paints. But I could not paint and I was not very good at drawing. And I probably should have been the one to get kidnapped because I would lose at any pageant. I did not even have inner beauty which counted sometimes. Everything else I would lose because I was fat. I pulled out the bottom drawer and the cork bottom of it fell out, spilling all my markers onto the ground.
What are you doing, a voice said.
I turned around and saw my brother, standing at the door.
Leave me alone, I said. I threw a tube of paint at him and it bounced off the door. I hate you, I said, and kept throwing tubes of paint. Little tubes though. He kept approaching anyways. Like Terminator he just kept walking. Coming soon: sixth grader who cannot get hurt. Who can hurt others but cannot be hurt. I sat down in the pile of markers and started tearing up the kid catalog with my fists. He knelt down and grabbed me by my wrists. I started screaming for Mom. Mom, Mom. I am going to get kidnapped, come help.
He wiggled one piece of paper out of my hands and unwrinkled it on his knee. I hit him as hard as I could and then let my hands fall into my lap, crying. It was the page with him on one side and me on the other. He read it out loud.
Eats his own farts, he said. Please don’t tell Mom, I said.
He turned it over, and turned it back again.
Please don’t kidnap me, I said. I wiped my eyes with my palm.
He smelled the page up close. He smelled everything before he made up his mind about it.
I think it’s cool, he said at last. Yeah. It’s cool. It looks like graffiti.
I sniffled. Maybe he could not read, I thought. Because I already know he is stupid. I pulled the page away from him and wadded it up again. I started to talk, and then I stopped myself. I felt a big and sudden aloneness that started in my stomach. I wanted to say I love you, but not because I loved him, because that is what someone says when they do not want to be alone anymore. Those are the words good people use. Who you can see through and see all the good inside them, sunny and calm as a sandy beach. I looked at my brother, his eyes like a fish, a dumb fish. I started to cry again. He hugged me. It only made it worse.