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Sometimes I find myself wishing. Wishing horrible things that have no place other than the dark cage in the back of my brain where all my most wretched thoughts go. Things like how I sometimes wish that my sister was dead. That her heart stopped in the first three months, like the white-haired doctor said it would, like – and I'll go to hell for saying it – it was supposed to.
I look at my sister across the school lot. The early morning fog that usually turns everything milky and vague has lifted, and I can see her clearly – though I don't need to. I know her eyes are wool-covered, set thickly in her skull as they always are. I know her lips protrude, almost ape-like, over a sheen of teeth, and her hair is in plastic barrettes that Mother hastily put in this morning. Her heavyset body is hunched defensively.
We call her Bug. Her real name is Marjorie-Ellen, the perfect name for a picture-book child. But people expect a lot from someone named Marjorie-Ellen. They don't expect a lot from a person named Bug.
The morning is a gray kind of cold. Wet and fresh, as if dew blanketed the air, and the sound of plastic laughter creeps to me. I see flips of boyish hair, and hear the confident slap of basketball shoes on pavement. I bite the inside of my cheek – harder, harder – until I can barely stand it.
I know what's coming. I know what he is going to do, and already there is acid guilt seeping up from my chest. It's not that this boy is a particularly bad human. He's just human. And in his mind, my sister is not.
“Bug,” he calls, and the sound grates in the air. My sister hears her name and smiles, an ungraceful heaving of the cheeks. My lungs feel sick. I never do anything to stop him – what's the use? She won't change, neither will he.
He throws something – an eraser – and I see it arc through the air before it bounces off her face. She stumbles, frightened, before clumsily reaching out a hand to try to catch it.
“Ouch,” she says, slowly, smiling.
“Too bad,” he snickers, swooping down to pick up his eraser. “Maybe you'll catch it the next time. Like, how about now?” He throws it again.
She turns in a circle trying to follow it, and while her back is toward him, he grabs the strap of her red-velvet purse, the one I got her for Christmas when I was seven, and pulls it from her arm.
“Love your purse. Mind if I borrow it?” He shoves it under his arm and turns in a circle to display it.
Usually people leave him to his wickedness, but today a crowd has gathered. Some look uncomfortable. Most snicker. Bug is confused. She yells, “My purse! My purse!” She remembers what Mother told her about using her words – “I don't like that. I don't like that!”
Her voice is background noise to the sound of the crowd. He has emptied her purse, and her buttons, which she placed one by one into the bag, are rolling on the ground. One falls through the rusty rain grate. I know Bug is trying to figure out whether she should scream or cry.
She is wearing purple, velcro Sketchers. She is sixteen years old.
How can they stand there and watch? Why don't they do something? You are one of those people. I know it even before the voice in my subconscious reminds me. You're her sister, and you wish she was dead. But I don't! I never meant it, did I?
The air around me breaks, and I jerk forward. The strap of her purse rips and she starts to wail and the boys cackle. Now that I am decided, I snap the rein of my emotions, and let myself feel angry. Angry for every single time he has made my sister cry, every time he has turned me into a coward.
My heart feels hot. So hot and slippery, and I wish I could punch a fist through my chest to silence it. The pavement is moving. All I can think about is how to hurt that boy.
Hot breath in. Hot breath out.
I look down at my hands and realize they have turned into white-knuckled fists, and I wonder if I'm supposed to tuck my thumb or not, and then I realize that it doesn't matter because things are hurtling too quickly. My blood scorches, and I take only a second to blink.
And when my eyes open, the boy is lying on the ground beneath me.
The air stills. My own trembling breath clouds my ears. At my feet, blood begins to mar the space between his lips and nose. My body cools, and Bug stops wailing.
People yell. The boy swears. I'm sure adults are being called. I'm sure my perfect record is being slashed in half, but I cannot find it in myself to care. I am looking at Bug and I can still feel the boy's face pressed to my fist, and for every reason and no reason at all, I start to cry.
Bug drops to her knees to retrieve the purse, and when she stands, she has an odd look, like she wants to smile but can't. She touches my hand, where a bruise is starting to shadow the peaks of my knuckles.
“I don't like that,” she says, too loudly.
“I did that for you, Bug,” I whisper, my throat scorching from the weight of the tears.
“I don't like that.”
My breath shudders. “I love you, Bug.”
Her head rolls to her shoulder and she vacantly stares past my face, one hand stroking the torn velvet purse.
“I love you, Marjorie-Ellen.” I shove the words against her through the thick air, digging into her eyes with my own, desperately hoping to see a spark there. Nothing.
“I love you,” I whisper again. But it is only a broken, meaningless afterthought, because by now I've realized my sister will never understand what that means.