To Willan Lepra
MY SISTER'S BACK. She strips down to her underwear and covers her breasts with a shirt. The bathroom is small and the walls are covered with little yellow and orange flowers on wallpaper from the seventies. Above the mirror, light bulbs blush like the color of peach lemonade or a kind of sweet tea. The walls react to the covered lights and help the room settle at an even dusk. Every corner seems to swell and tighten, rippling and contracting in every crack of brown stone honeycomb tile that is patterned on the floor, hugging the base of the bathtub.
I sit at the edge of the toilet seat-the lip of the toilet seat-and slide my glasses to the top of my head. My sister stands and I squint to get a better look at her. Her skin is a kind of burnt umber and she hands me the tube of medicine. Don't use too much, okay? she always warns me, knowing very well that I always use too much.
My sister's back is cluttered with little islands. Some are as small as a fingernail, others like silver dollars with asymmetrical borders. The topography of her back is uneven and checkered with rough patches of dry skin-sheets of skin that have piled, one on top of the other, to create secluded mounds of knotted hills. Hills that, for now, have not bumped into each other and have not been given names. I imagine her as a sort of Aztec princess, never La Malinche, and these markings prove to be badges that foster her from evil or even stupid and unlucky men.
Make sure to get all of them if you can, and she hunches a little so that I can see better; I notice them spreading to her arms and the backs of her legs and I worry. We are used to this nightly ritual. I inspect, try to use the ointment sparingly, and treat the beige and pink tattoo-like patches that pepper her dark skin. And she tells me how she wishes she could have my back or a back like mine. And I know that if I could, I would give mine to her. She tells me that my skin is baby soft, and I tell her, it is not so soft.
I look her over and am sure I have gotten every one. I ask her if there's anything else she needs and she looks at her back in the mirror. They're getting better, aren't they? I nod and she quickly puts her shirt back on. She leaves the bathroom and tells me she'll take me out later, a drive, she says. I stand in front of the mirror, take a white bar of soap and wash my hands in the sink while the peach tea light bathes me from all directions.
* * *
SISTERS OFTEN GROW UP. They get older. And my sister starts to ask harder questions. Do you think any man will find me attractive with all of this? With all of these? She looks herself over. She is four years older than me and I tell her Of Course. Don't be stupid. She doesn't believe me. This isn't a game, you know. It's not like I say this and you have to say that. I don't say anything. Mom says, they will never go away. Mom says, maybe you should try falling in love with someone who has it, too? I don't think mom knows anything about that. I think she should keep those things to herself, and I finally get ready for bed.
* * *
THE ISLAND IS ALWAYS a popular trip on weekends. My father loves to hunt for fish and uses a sort of junkyard method: a coke can and some wire. A stuffed ice chest wobbles in the back seat and the condensation from the cooler dampens the over-sized fluorescent beach towels. My father parks near the jetties and my mother complains about how wet the towels are, and about how cold her ass will get because of it, and she unwraps a tuna sandwich. Nothing can bother my father, though-he's at the beach. His beach, I think he said once.
I am too fat for swimsuits and I swim in my usual black T-shirt and shorts. If I could swim in pants without it being entirely uncomfortable, I would. I usually keep close to the shore. My sister is covered, too. She is embarrassed to take her shirt off and argues with my mother underneath a giant umbrella. The sun will do you some good. The doctor says the sand has special minerals in it that can reduce the redness. Let's bury you in some sand. My sister has only taken off her shorts and my mother grabs the back of my sister's shirt and pulls it over halfway. Look, your sister already dug a hole for you. Just take the damn thing off. My sister takes the rest of the shirt off, painfully slow, and rushes to the pit to get buried so that these magical minerals can exfoliate her skin.
My sister is buried up to her neck and she squints and asks where her glasses are. I put them on her face, she tells me, sand feels gritty; silt feels like flour. I'd rather be buried in flour. And my mother unwraps another tuna sandwich. Sand will have to do for now. My sister's face isn't covered by the shade and her face bakes in one hundred degree weather. You look like that guy from Creepshow. Remember? He's buried close to the shore so he'll eventually drown and then comes back to life? My sister remembers and the conversation takes her mind off the heat and the sand and our mother with her sandwiches. She finally settles her shoulders in the busted rock and forgets all that for now.
There are girls on the beach-girls that my sister probably goes to school with-and suddenly her chin sinks into the sand and she sulks. There are boys in swim trunks that are teaching the girls how to serve volleyballs or beach balls or any kind of ball. I try to cheer my sister up: I guess some girls need to be taught how to toss a ball in the air. We should throw a sandwich at them. My mother gets a towel ready for my sister and tells her that she should get out before she gets sunburned. I'm already sunburned and I'm not ready to get out. The sounds of fists punching beach balls and guys smacking their girlfriends' asses overwhelm the sandscape, so much that we can't hear the water moving anymore. That should never happen.
My sister cries by herself in the pit that I dug out and my mother finally realizes. And with salad dressing smeared on her bottom lip she suggests, How about we get some raspas? I'll tell your dad to go get us some snow cones, okay? Start thinking about what flavor you want. I wipe the grit off my sister's lenses. You sure you don't wanna come out? She nods and reminds me that she hates snow cones as my mother runs to the pier, past the neighboring beach bums sun-bathing and children building houses out of wet dirt, kicking up sand all around her.
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