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Sharks and Minnows
My sister Margaret was always my mother's favorite child. Her friends would coo over her strawberry blond curls that danced in the wind, her rosy cheeks that looked like perfect little raspberries that have nestled on her face, and her deep blue eyes that resembled tiny gems smiling at you. I was just the same, however my curls didn't dance, my cheeks needed to be slapped for color, and my eyes just seemed to sit in the sockets. I may sound bitter but I am not. I know that there was nothing wrong that Margaret did or didn't do, it was by destiny that she turned out the way she did, which many considered as close to perfect as you could get.
We played and we fought, like normal sisters I suppose. She seemed to whine at the smallest indiscretion, and complain to mother that it was my doing. My mother was certainly not a slight woman. She used to be a yoga instructor before giving it up when Margaret and I were born. Since then, she was never able to find the inner peace she once had when practicing yoga. Her brows were always intensely furrowed. She would crack her fingers, and take pleasure in the loud popping noises. She also had this tendency to yank out single strands of hair and flick them onto the floor. Margaret of course had probably never seen this side of her; it was reserved for me only. Most of my childhood was spent bent over my mother's knee, feeling the fury of my mother through her palm onto my bottom.
Margaret was never spanked. She never even came close to a single form of punishment, from my mother at least. My father never punished her either; he was much too timid a person to act in any sort of passionate way. He played with his hands quite often, especially when mother was in the room, to keep them busy and prevent them from doing something regretful. With his fingertips of one hand he would circle the balls of his knuckle joints of the other, at a constant rhythm, like he was pacing. She was certainly a frightening creature; I don't blame my father for never having stood up to her. He would spend as much time as he could in his office, to get away from my mother and consequently ignore my abuse. He worked as an accountant for a small office supply store. His job was dull and tedious and made him want to blow his brains out, but it was the least painful part of his day. I do love my father, more than I have ever had the capacity to do so. My father taught me how to swim. Whenever I take a dive into our pool, I feel enraptured by a cool blanket of water which fills me with an overwhelming sense of peace. In the water, I am surrounded by a different world, one where I feel like all of my desires could be achieved. Whenever I am forced to reach up to take a breath, I catch a glimpse of reality, and all is almost ruined. By my mother's peevish looks or my sister's piercing laughter or my father's squeeming, but as soon as I go back down, everything is silent, and all I can see is a clear blue blur ahead of me.
My parents put both Margaret and I on a swim team when we were seven years old. Although Margaret was perfect on the outside, it certainly didn't affect her swimming talents. She was a perfectly average swimmer, in my opinion. I was finally the superstar. I was beating swimmers left and right. I finally saw what jealousy looks like, not pity or irritatedness, but to finally have something that someone else wanted. It was like a dream to me: an imaginable fantasy.
The night of the awards ceremony, I sat next to my sister, mother, and father as we waited to find out who received the Most Valuable Player award for our age group. Mother kept assuring my worrisome sister that she would win, while father sat silently, caressing his knuckles. Either mother would be ecstatic for Margaret's victory, or spend the evening inflicting pain upon us as Margaret pouts. That's possibly the other reason why I love my father, he also sees the viciousness of mother, and I don't feel so alone. Of course, he has much more options than I do. Marrying mother was his choice, and he can choose to get out of the relationship if he wishes, or at least finds the courage and money to do so. I am trapped to forever be my mother's daughter.
That night, we awaited patiently for the head of our swim team to get to our age group. He was wearing a bright blue tuxedo which my mother found quite unnerving, and was not shy about sharing that fact. "For the girl's seven to eight age group, there was one swimmer who stood out the most," he said monotonously, as if he didn't believe what he was saying, but did anyways because that was what expected of him. He continued to list achievements and the "special" qualities of this swimmer.
He announced my name. There was mild applause. It was like at graduation ceremonies when the popular girl gets her diploma and the whole audience and class are cheering. But the unpopular girl after her only gets light hand smacks and embarrassing standing ovations from her grandparents. All I could do was smile, grab my trophy, and run off the stage before I made a fool of myself. My sister began to cry, and my mother held her without even saying a word of congratulations to me. Of course my father wouldn't dare to do so either, because he knew that compliments to me would be akin to betraying her and Margaret. I clenched the golden plastic of the trophy as my hands began to sweat and making it increasingly difficult to hold onto it.
"Mother..." I said softly, hoping for a response. "I got MVP! Aren't you proud of me?" She pretended not to hear me. We left early, so the pulsating vein in my mother's forehead would burst where it was less public.
It was silent when we got home. All I could hear were our shoes echoing as they hit the wooden floors and my mother's heavy breathing. She gave Margaret a kiss good night, and sent us to our rooms. The walls suddenly seemed paper thin as I heard every condescending word out of my mother's mouth. To my mother, she and my father were having a "conversation," but from what I could tell it sounded like the beating of a lifetime for my father, and for me.
"We have a heart broken daughter upstairs," she shouts, "are you okay with that?"
"Of course not dear..." father says weakly.
"Margaret is meant for greatness! She's not any ordinary child, you know."
"Yes, I know. But maybe this is a chance for her to learn something. That sometimes you won't get what you want."
"So now you’re the parenting expert? Who was the one who quit the job they love in order to take care of your children? And who is the one now that will have to deal with Margaret's disappointment and unhappiness? I am. I'm the only one who's ever there for our child."
My mother stormed up to her bedroom, stomping on the stairs so my father could be sure of just how angry she is. I then wanted to sleep but I couldn't. My mother's voice was still ringing in my ears. "Margaret is so this, and Margaret is so that," I thought, mimicking my mother in the cruelest voice possible.
My existence was never expected. One child for my parents was all they could afford, but I snuck my way in there and now they must deal with me. At birth, mother held Margaret in her arms as she gazed into her dazzling blue eyes, when "Oh! Another one's coming along!" and I plopped out.
Margaret woke up the next morning more vibrant than ever. Last night's events gave her a reason to actually try, and maybe become a better swimmer. After breakfast she ran up to her room, found her favorite yellow polka dot bathing suit, hopped into it, ran downstairs and out the door. With a running start, she cannon balled into the pool. My mother watched this, and smiled proudly at her accomplishment for raising such an amazing daughter. She was so impatient to get started that she had forgotten her swim goggles. I was following in her footsteps and went to put on my swim team suit, the only one I ever got, and went towards the pool outside, carrying an extra pair of goggles for my sister.
I was walking downstairs just after Margaret did when I saw mother throw my trophy in the garbage.
"I don't want your sister to see this," she said coldly, "and you are not on the swim team anymore! I've had it with you showing off and always trying to make your sister feel bad. She's had enough, and I have too." I suddenly felt hollow. I continued walking towards the pool; I knew by now that crying or screaming wouldn't do any good, that my mother would just get annoyed and send me to my room. I cried as I slinked outside, my eyes began to burn like when the chlorinated pool water seeps into a hole in your goggles. I didn't see Margaret. It wasn't the fact that my vision was worsened by the tears, but she literally wasn't in sight. Mother had gone upstairs to read one of her pretentious crime novels while father was, as usual, in his office. I knew that they could hear me shout from where I was, but I didn't. As I got closer to the water, I saw the shape of Margaret under the water. I waited for her to swim up, but she didn't. I kept seeing her struggle underwater: her foot was caught in the ventilation system. This happened often to me, but I usually managed to wiggle mine out. I told my mother that it was a hazard, but she dismissed it, and she didn't want to waste money on buying a new system. My feet however, were always slightly smaller than Margaret's, and she remained trapped.
My feet wouldn't move. I stared and watched as my flailing sister slowly became motionless. Then I tossed into the pool the goggles I had grabbed for her, dipped my feet and then my whole body into the pool, and went back into my underwater world. I pretended still as if Margaret wasn't there.
As I said before, there was nothing Margaret did or didn't do; I honestly have nothing against her. She was destined to die that day, and I was destined to be the child my parents had the capacity to love and care for.
Every year on Margaret's birthday, mother wouldn't come out of her room. Father remained mostly himself, except a tad gloomier and even more involved in his work. I spend the day mostly alone, wishing myself happy birthday, staring at that girl I killed in the mirror: the one who looked just like me.