We shouldn’t be surprised. Not really. It was there in all the old photos. You can see it. The hollow core. Sure, the lips are stretched into a smile while she was mugging for daddy’s camera, happy balloons surrounding the chair, one fork hovering above a frosted cake, but there, at the corner of her mouth, where the cheek and grin meet, it’s perfectly visible. Not in the early shots, of course. But a dozen chocolate icings later, you can see it, if you look.
What do you mean you never looked? Or do you mean you look and turn away? Because you can’t bear it? Or are you just taken in by the Anne Hathaway dresses, all velvety and sweet? We never had those. Sure, she was spoiled, but that doesn’t change anything.
We both know that things were easier by the time she came along. I mean financially easier. Papa working at the bank, his own secretary, Momma with that little fur she kept in a vault at Beidermeyer’s, and her hair set each week at that beauty parlor down town. They could afford a new baby by then. And Momma and Papa loved her to pieces. Momma said she was a gift. A late season baby.
I have to say that I was crazy about her from the minute Momma brought her home, dusty with talcum powder, before they knew that talc was bad for babies. Her neck smelled sweet like corn. “This is my new sister,” I told my high school friends. You were already in college. Wagging tongues thought she might have been yours. Or mine. I was sixteen, virginal and unpopular, but you had that gorgeous red hair. People thought you were wild.
Sometimes I wonder why Jarvis Maple picked her. Of all of us. Why her? If we look at all three of us objectively, it’s clear that you were the prettiest. She was second. And I was third. That’s all there is to it. But he picked her. He had been around all through our childhoods, right? There’s that photo of you, maybe three years old, sitting on his lap. And then another one of me, at the same age. He’s wearing a three-piece suit, a crisp white shirt. My chubby arm is resting on his cuff. Remember the Easter candy he would bring, sometimes those decorated eggs with a hole cut out, little bunny scenes on the inside? He was there for every holiday. We called him Uncle, but he was no blood relation. Never married. He was one of the bank officers. Vice-President or something. Papa always said he owed his job, and so much more, to Mr. Maple.
So you think it’s because she was docile? That’s ridiculous. How can you say that? She was as spunky as either of us. Maybe more so. You’ve forgotten now, what she was like before. You’ve forgotten how she could stamp her foot. Or refuse to wear hair ribbons to church. She must have been six or seven. We were both out of the house by then. But I remember seeing her connive for a later bedtime, or argue for adopting another cat. I must have been home for Christmas, and I remember thinking that no one was ever going to push her around.
Sometimes I think about Jarvis Maple. It’s a good thing he’s dead. Because I would like to personally scorch his scrotum with a cigarette lighter. Or make julienne slices out of his dick with a kitchen knife.
Don’t tell me not to say things like that, for god’s sake. I’ll say whatever I goddamn feel like.
No, I don’t feel better. How can I feel better? Take a picture of her now, goddamnit. You’ll see.
What do you mean, calm down? Ever since it all came spilling out, I can’t get it out of my mind. That goddamn Uncle. All the goddamn so-called uncles, everywhere. I start thinking about it, and that’s when I want to reach for a large, sharp instrument. The kind you might use to shuck oysters. But then I realize that Jarvis Maple is already dead. Heart attack a few years back. All the bank people at the funeral. Papa in a black suit, praying, probably, for Mr. Maple’s eternal rest.
Neither he nor Momma ever knew what happened. All those trips to the circus, the state fair. Our little sister in her Anne Hathaway dress. That goddamn son of a bitch.
So we’re the only ones who know. And we don’t really know.
I saw her the other day. She’s bat shit crazy. She’s breathing and living, but her eyes are dead. And she used to smell like talcum and sweet corn. And there were balloons and glitter and tinsel and sparkly things, and those little Easter eggs. Remember?