You know I find this “joke” incredibly tiresome, right? Badly timed and creepy? Ask yourself, Ethan: what exactly are you trying to convey?
Because if the point of folding your arms and grinning at me is to communicate to me that I am all alone in the world, believe me, I get that! I already know you’re not there for me.
News flash: you never were. Or rather, you were only in the sickest and most paradoxical sense. You were there to “toughen me up,” as you like to put it. Remember how you would wrench my fingers when we were kids, and I’d cry out, and Mom would ask from the front seat, “What the hell are you kids doing?”
“Nothing,” you’d say.
“Just playing,” I’d say.
Because I defended you. I actually believed you were looking out for me, trying to make me strong, so I could withstand suffering, so I could hold my own under torture.
What torture were you envisioning?
And I know you thought I was a fool, but here’s another news flash: kids assume their older brothers will protect them and are looking out for their interests. That’s the default position. So it takes a lot of evidence to the contrary to dispel that particular fantasy. To stop expecting your brother to actually show up for you. To believe you when, for example, three years ago his college roommate raped you. A whole lot of evidence has to pile the fuck up.
But eventually, Ethan, it’s pretty goddamn persuasive.
And now that Mom’s dead, off to follow Dad in whatever void he’s in (I’d like to believe Heaven, that they’re together somewhere holding hands, kidding around, her head on his shoulder, no more pain, no more loneliness. But I’m fully aware that seems implausible), I get, believe me I get, that there is nothing anymore holding you and me together. No parents to appease, no reason I ever again have to look at you again.
So go ahead, grin while I say “Who’s there?” Grin and fold your arms. Wow, it’s so hilarious that you’ve made Amy lose her cool again, while everyone holds their cocktail napkins and stares at us like we’re lunatics.
Who’s there? Who’s fucking there?
Not you. Yeah, I get it, asshole.
Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing (2018) won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her novel The Light Source is forthcoming from 7.13 Books in 2019. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Smokelong Quarterly, and many other journals. Her story “Madlib” was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019 (Sonder Press). Her story “Surfaces” was selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50 2019. She is the Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel.