My mom doesn’t work but she acts like everything in the house is hers, like my dad should ask permission to touch anything. We hardly see him. He leaves before we get up and when he gets home he rides the stationary bike in the garage for an hour and then eats dinner with my mom in the dining room while we eat off trays in the living room. Sarah is 3 years older than I am, but she eats like a total child. When she laughs, chunks of food shoot out of her mouth and once even out of her nose. She sits hunched over her tray, which is Garfield, and totally ridiculous. I try to sit up straight, which is hard on an overstuffed couch. I try to look dignified, which is difficult, considering my own Holly Hobby tray. Mom and dad eat on placemats, sit on actual chairs.
On Monday, Sarah wanted to watch Scarecrow and Mrs. King even though Bloopers was on and she got so mad when I sat on the remote that she started choking. I just watched her, her face turning blue, her eyes bulging, her fat hands on her throat. She couldn’t make a sound but when she kicked her tray over mom ran in. Mom grabbed her from behind, right under her training bra, and pounded her there with both fists. I don’t think that’s technically how you’re supposed to do it, but it worked. Sarah said mom bruised her ribs, and she got to pick the show because of it. They kicked us both out to watch Newhart at 9 anyway, even though they have their own whole living room in their bedroom if they want to watch TV.
School starts in two weeks, and mom said it was time for back-to-school shopping. Sarah refused to go because her ribs still hurt, and mom told her it was fine with her, that she could wear the same shorts as last year even though it looked like her ass was eating them. I had to go alone with mom in our mini van. It has wood paneling on the side that is actually a sticker and once when I peeled it off a little Mom smacked me on my thigh so hard it left a handprint. It’s so hot here all the time, mom had to wait like five minutes until the air conditioning blew cold and cooled off the steering wheel enough that she could touch it. She sang along to the radio while we waited, Puttin on the Ritz by Taco, which is a song I hate and which reminds me of gymnastics class and hanging motionless from the uneven parallel bars because I wasn’t strong enough to pull myself up. Mom smiled at me while she sang it and there was a bit of salad in her teeth from lunch. I adjusted the vent of the ac and the hot air blew my bangs back off my face. “We’ll get you a hair cut while we’re out,” mom said.
On the way to Fashion Square mall, past where they piled everything up after the hurricane, there were Navy guys walking down Colonial. Sarah calls them Squids and says she’d flash one for $10 if they ever asked. They wore heavy white pants and hats that looked like Dixie cups. They must be wet underneath all that fabric. It’s so dense and thick, and the air here is so thirsty, it sucks the sweat out of you, like it can never be humid enough. My shorts were taxed at my thighs, my shirt bunched up in my armpits. When I looked down I saw white cuffs, brown legs with beads of sweat forming under little blond hairs. When I looked up I saw Squids, walking in pairs, their shirts tucked in, their pleat-less pants stretched at the crotch like mine. Mom saw me watching them and smiled, looked like she had caught me doing something. “They’re just men,” she told me. “No different from your father,” and then looking down at my shirt, at nipples now slightly visible through my thin cotton shirt, “We’ll get you a training bra while we’re out.”
Jill Summers writes short stories, puppet shows, and, once, a play. Her work has been featured by Chicago Public Radio, Stop Smiling Magazine, Ninth Letter, ACM, Featherproof, and MAKE Magazine, among others.