Lily was born six years after me. She was as delicate as her name suggests but not half as beautiful. A ghastly reddish-brown birthmark stretched from her forehead to her dimples, overshadowing the sweetness of her smile, the brightness of her eyes. Mother and Father doted on her with a frenzied determination and Lily responded with affection. I watched from the outskirts, peering into their tactile cocoon of love with envy. I watched obsessively. Did they love her the most because she was the youngest, or because she was their only daughter, or because of her disfigurement? Mother slapped me when I used the D word. There’s nothing wrong with our Lily, I was told. My eyes watered, my cheek burned.
Lily was the youngest. Lenny was the eldest. I was in the middle. But the middle’s the tastiest part of the sandwich, Mother once told me and I clung to that remark desperately. As proof of what? I do not know.
We were off for the summer. We were the noisy kids, shrieking loudly, colliding into hedges on bikes and roller skates. Mother and Father worked. They placed Lenny in charge. He was a good kid, he was getting top grades, three years away from college and they were sure he’d get in. Me? I was the question mark in the family.
That summer we spent our days pressing the doorbells of elderly neighbors, sniggering and running away, or sprinting beneath sprinklers to cool from the glistening heat. Our bodies grew leaner, our complexions more golden, but we didn’t appreciate how good we had it, that it would never be this good again. Instead we complained of the heat, of boredom, of hunger, we complained to our parents the moment we heard the rattle of keys against the front door.
It was Lenny’s turn to seek. Lily was trying to squeeze behind the ancient freezer in the garage. Its milky white exterior had long since faded into a sickly yellow. It was heavy and humming and lodged against the brick wall. Sure Lily was small for a five year old, but anyone could see she wouldn’t fit there.
“Get inside it.”
“He’ll never find you in it.”
She couldn’t open the heavy door so I helped. She crouched above packets of frozen peas and pizzas. She smiled as I closed the door, that innocuous toothy smile that was almost adorable, if only it wasn’t competing with the monstrosity hijacking her face.
When Lenny found me we looked for Lily. We searched the garden. We searched our cluttered, rambling home. Lenny screamed her name. He ran up the street. His shirt was covered in sweat, his face was a sickly yellow. He shouted at me to search harder. He called Mother. She came home and we searched again. By the time Father was back the police were involved. I knew Lily was waiting. I knew she wouldn’t be able to escape from the inside. I intended to reveal her hiding place and yet somehow, somehow the words did not escape me. I knew they’d never forgive me. I did not foresee the alternative being far worse.
Her body was found three days later. Mother collapsed like a heap of stacked cards, Father busied himself with funeral arrangements, and Lenny grew awfully quiet, except at night when I heard his muffled cries drift up from the lower bunk. The evil belonged to me but the guilt was communal, it spread like a cancer. Lenny had been in charge that day. Lenny felt responsible. He needed to eradicate his guilt and the only way to do that is to leave this cruel world forever.
His body was fished out of the school lake. It was floating beside water lilies. Mother found solace in that detail at least. They say there’s only so much sorrow one marriage can survive. Father left us next.
Mother never remarried and I never married. In the evenings we watch movies and order burritos or pizza. We cleanse our palates with root beer and ice cream. I place a large scoop in my bowl. I add a little chocolate sauce, deliberately trickling the sticky dark liquid from an imaginary forehead down to the dimples. I like the way she looks in my bowl. I like the way she stares up at me sweetly, forgivingly.
About the author:
Hannah Sloane lives in New York and is working on her first novel. More of her fiction and essays can be found here. Find her on twitter @hansloane.