A Thing That Should Be Beautiful

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A Thing That Should Be Beautiful“There is a temptation to eulogize that which I do not understand

and to think of a sister as a thing that should be beautiful.

A thing that does not bleed at night. Whose horrors are lesser than

or equal to my own. As if I could know my own.”

Sister, Alicia Jo Rabins

 

I was named for roots and nostalgia, a country whose tongue is knife and earth. My sister’s name is bread broken and given, first my father’s and then my mother’s. Body and blood.

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Our mother taught us songs to spell our names. They sounded suspiciously like jingles from cereal commercials.

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You called me Sissy. I called you Bissy. We caught frogs in Grandma’s back yard and named them after each other.

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You were small and loud and bright, like a city filtered through a keyhole.

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On the afternoon of my sister’s wedding, we are drinking mimosas from paper cups in a stranger’s kitchen. In an hour, she will get married in a stranger’s living room. The doors and shutters are closed, and bodies are rustling outside. She is wearing white. My dress is black lace.

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When she went to rehab, we found her toy box filled with cans of Budweiser and Four Loco, her backpack stuffed with aluminum and glass. Behind her dresser: eyeshadows stolen from Sephora, and a $1200 camera stolen from my mother.

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I was sitting in my car in the Wendy’s parking lot when she called and told me she was pregnant. She was freshly eighteen and dating her boyfriend for three months. I said: Holy shit, Jesus Christ. She said: I’m going to keep it. We hung up the phone and I cried.

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When she came back from rehab, her hair was short and her face was the kind of gnarled swamp I’ve only seen in the eyes of evangelicals. She painted her walls blue and my mom bought her brand-new furniture. I locked my bedroom door at night.

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At our father’s funeral we made everyone leave the room. We dared each other to inch closer to the casket, into the yellow light.

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Remember when we played house and dolls were children? When the rooster crowed we’d sit up from the carpet, wipe the fake sleep from the corners of our eyelids? And the rooster sounded like a villain in the basement of a haunted mansion?

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Items at my sister’s wedding: Three Christmas trees. Two strings of pearls my mother wore at her wedding. A picture of my dead father on the fireplace mantle.

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You were always the beautiful one.

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In a dirty Dollar General, my sister tells me the baby’s name will be Gracelyn, and for days afterwards, my heart echoes: Gracie.

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When we were young I promised you that once older and able, I would buy you a kitten. Now I have a cat, and you have two bloodhounds. You have a daughter, and I have only these stories.

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When she was pregnant, I met her for lunch to convince her that she shouldn’t disown our mother. She said our mom was weak, she didn’t trust her with her child, didn’t care. In the restaurant bathroom, she lifted her shirt and said: Feel, the baby’s kicking.

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My father called her the son he always wanted.

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When my niece was born, my mom only saw her granddaughter through pictures on my phone. The neighbor’s wife had a baby girl and my mother cried every day.

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The story goes: when you were a toddler you bit me so hard you caused welts, drew blood. Mom took us to the doctor, and the doctor said you would only learn to stop if I bit you back. I began to cry and said: But I could never hurt my little sister.

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The story goes: I told you that you would fly if you jumped from the top of the swing-set, but you fell and broke your arm. When I saw the cast, glorious purple and waterproof, I practiced jumping from the fence every day.

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You were always the beautiful one and you knew it.

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Stephanie is a shame that lives in my blood, like my father; the shame of family members awful and loved and not loved well enough. The difference is in breath, in pulse. The difference is that she’s alive, and there is no eulogy for the living.

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My sister is an item on a to-do list, a trip to the post office, a story still moving, dancing, shifting like smoke.

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I call you to ask what we called the sticks we used to beat our father with when he screamed at our mother, and you were too young, you don’t remember, but I know it’s not your fault.


Photo used under CC.

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About Author

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Erin Slaughter is the author of two poetry chapbooks: Elegy for the Body (Slash Pine Press, 2017), and GIRLFIRE (dancing girl press, 2018). She holds an MFA from Western Kentucky University, and is editor and co-founder of literary journal The Hunger. You can find her writing in F(r)iction, Bellingham Review, Sundog Lit, Tishman Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Nashville.

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