Scuttling by Felicia Ferrara
“I’d trust a lion to bite my head off, but I wouldn’t trust a president, pilot, the UPS lady, my principal, Dad, or you, to do their jobs,” I said.
“Understandable, with all the late night tiptoeing that went on around you in your little years,” said Welcome Tom while he chewed on meatball.
“Pardon me, Welcome Tom, but you don’t know a mole from a jetty, a mollusk from a mountain oyster, a switch from a blade about me when my feet were a size two,” I said.
Welcome Tom had been counting stars and rolling in sheets with Mom for two years, which means he’s known me for little more than one – a small fraction of most lives. Mom gave me the wonder look with why so spiteful? She knew why, so she was joke telling me with her wonder eyes that she’s the only one that can say destructive things. Like, Welcome Tom loves it when Mom tells him she hates the way he thinks. It’s a relief for them. As if the worst has already happened. The world has already ended and fear has taken its last breath.
Sitting next to me, Sister Margaret laughed when I asked her to pass the peas, please. She’d laugh at a dying horse, so it was less like everything was funny to her, more like everything was serious. Plus, she smoked way too much hash way too many times while watching Walter Huston laugh in the movie, Treasure of the Sierra Madre. If only her rapist therapist knew that, he would have made a more accurate diagnosis. But she doesn’t see rapist therapist once a week anymore. Instead, going on three years, she receives unconditional love from the invisible J-man who’s with her all the time. Accordingly, he’s with her while we’re eating peas and mash. “Was the J-man with you when you just smelled your feet?” I asked her. “Is he with you when you put a tampon in, or take it from Pete from behind? Where was the J-man when Dad fell off the wagon?”
She laughed peas out her nose. “That’s when the J-man’s with me the most,” she said.
“Whatever floats your boat,” I said. “Just because you’re not afraid to die doesn’t make you a better person.”
“Yes it does,” she said. Sister Margaret’s my least favorite sister, but she’s my favorite Margaret. I’d already known a few rash Marges throughout my twelve years, but this Margaret of Margarets sure knew how to make an older brother weep and a younger sister silent. Across the table Tristan wiped away tears from his absent girlfriend’s plate. Tristan saved Sister Margaret from blame by begging Mom to condemn peas and the willful nature of bodily fluids instead of Sister Margaret.
Silence. Silence. Keep your silence. Don’t scuttle this one, I told myself. Even if what Sister Margaret said made sense under dinner table context, it’s not always the case. Like that boy who shot up Bur Oak High, he wasn’t afraid to die. Well, he seemed unafraid. Then again, we do things everyday despite the fears we have about doing them. Copy that. Maybe he was afraid, but it was secondary, and maybe Sister Margaret’s afraid sometimes. Regardless, keep your silence. Silence is your answer for what she said was bullshit.
Then Sister Margaret laughed so hard the dog barked back and Tristan stopped sobbing like how you scare a boy and his hiccups go away.
There was a rumor going around the social net that Tristan made all his girlfriends mad-sick, but Tristan wouldn’t hurt a lamp if it meant his life. Tristan was the most honest, steadfast, funny guy a girl could ever lay on hay with. His devotion was unbelievable, convincing girl after girl that there were other girls out there that had more dye in their wool than them. Little did they know this foolish idea of betrayal would never make its ill-fated way into Tristan’s thick, unwavering heart. Alas, symptoms manifested, attitudes changed, anxiety overcame, the weight slipped away, and depressions of a teenage girl couldn’t be more commonplace.
Tristan’s girlfriend Miriam returned to the dinner table from the bathroom, and Tristan needed something to say to make Miriam’s presence less of a statement. He gets embarrassed for everyone about anything.
“Have you been high today?” Tristan sang.
“I like you inside me!” Sister Margaret sang back, louder.
“Holla!” Tristan shouted.
“-Lujah!” Sister Margaret shouted back.
Tristan took Miriam’s hand in his right and touched her forehead with his left. Her face was flushed. I had to give Tristan the benefit of doubt that he had no idea Miriam just puked out three of Mom’s homemade meatballs. She was starting to show signs of mad Miriam. I would have offered her Tums or a napkin to go with that bib, but I was soft crust from what Sister Margaret said about being a better person and the fact that my sweet brother touched Miriam’s hand. He always touched her hand before any other part of her.
Mom asked Miriam to walk the dog with me, under the impression creeps would leave the two of us alone as opposed to one. I carry Mace, Miriam assured Mom. Miriam was from the city, so she didn’t know anything about suburban creeps and she didn’t have a lot of experience walking along lightless streets and dewy lawns. Miriam slipped on acorns and Cleo dragged her into peed-on bushes. While Cleo sniffed and squatted, I felt like I should make Miriam feel more at ease, so I mentioned that I was the normal one in the family, like, I can keep a job and have no problem sending out Christmas cards on time every year.
“You’re twelve years old. That’s not normal,” she said.
I compromised, “Okay, Tristan first, then me. You know, you shouldn’t worry about Tristan,” I said.
“But you said it yourself at dinner you wouldn’t trust anyone,” she said.
“Yeah, but Tristan’s a lion. So it’s not his job to bite your face off, but it is your job to protect him, to love him,” I said. “That’s the problem.”
Drew Dingle dropped onto the sidewalk out of nowhere. He had been dropping in on me a lot lately, but managed to say only a few words and was always hiding his hands behind his back. He used to never act weird around me despite the pitiful moniker he had to carry around school. “Why are you acting weird around me like you feel shame like one moonless night you thought of touching my hair while you rubbed and tugged down there,” I jabbed. I was waiting for him to call me a Jabberwocky or say something like all that glitters is not gold. Instead, he held my hand and said, “Your Dad’s been drawing circles around your house.” I looked behind Drew Dingle’s shoulder and there was Dad’s truck sitting near the curb blocking Mom’s garage. I took my hand away from Drew’s and told him, “I hate the way you think.” He said, “I think you’re great.” “Should I Mace this kid?” Miriam asked, and Drew ran.
Everyone around the block knew my Dad sold his Jaguar four years ago and left us and a mortgage for a nudist colony. A bunch of naked hippies, I thought, over us. He told Mom it was his way of finding peace, to meditate all day and ride the waves of breath. A bunch of naked hippies, I thought, their breath probably smelled bad. For all I knew, he could have left us for a vaudeville mother carrying a fatherless child.
I didn’t know what to expect when Miriam and I stepped into the house but I felt betrayed for not knowing why Welcome Tom had a shotgun in his hands. I always knew that Mom having a thing for war veterans would turn out bad, which might have something to do with this massacre of a situation. Cleo peed on the carpet. Maybe it wasn’t for me to understand why Mom and Dad were lying uncomfortably on the living room floor, more silent than I’d ever seen them together. The same feeling came to me late at night when I was eight and I walked in on them, Mom on Dad. Really, I wasn’t supposed to see what I was seeing.
Tristan told Welcome Tom that he was no longer welcome in our house. Tom aimed at the lion’s heart and Tristan jumped on Miriam and then it stupidly occurred to me that fear was secondary to love and I shielded them both. Tom knelt down, barrel between his knees and pointed at his face. Sister Margaret laughed harder than ever she choked herself to oblivion and Cleo barked and Tom shot and I would have thought, the J-man really was there for Sister Margaret, and I would have said, Dad, whatever just happened, you did a good job.
Felicia Ferrara is a writer and filmmaker living in Chicago. She is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Notably, she has survived unrequited love for a Hungarian, a plane crash, and seven years of boarding school in Southern Africa. Felicia is a very popular first name for women (#283 out of 4276) and a slightly less popular surname or last name for all people (#73045 out of 88799).