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by Meg Tuite

Older sister tells me not to go out on a Friday night because there are predators on the streets, gets picked up by a boyfriend who smacks her every time they’re together. She smacks back, but he is an ex-Marine and clocks her face more than she does his.

Everyone adores the guy in our high school. He broods the demeanor of that unreachable assurance that everybody yearns. The confidence, the chiseled face, the smirking mouth that always looks like he’s in on a private joke. Steel-toe boots, straight-leg jeans, and the badass bomber jacket they all wear. He was a Marine so god knows how old he really is. He calls my dad, Sir, and shakes his hand. Older sister narrows her eyes. Dad looks relieved that she’s in her boyfriend’s care and not Dad’s. She tries to rip Dad’s hair off his scalp when they go head to head.

I’m not like older sister. Reciprocating hasn’t been in my agenda. My cheek was planked against my dad’s palm more than a few times. My boyfriends are chronically shy, like me, and we take on conversation in stilted movements.

But let us go back to when the Marine was just a kid. His eyes were soft as rotten melons. Hatred was the atmosphere created by violence and frustration, and his will to live was as strong as his dad’s fist. There was a hierarchy to the beatings and torture that follow a pattern. Dad beats Mom. Dad beats the kid. Kid tortures the dog and various animals in the neighborhood. Kid tortures younger kids. Kid grows taller and stronger than Dad. Kid beats Dad. Kid gets kicked out of the house.

Kid sleeps in his car and stays overnight on weekends for a year in different friends’ houses and streets. He gets a job as a janitor at the high school. When he is sixteen he is accepted by the Marines.

I’m not going to guess how many years he spends as a soldier. Up until this point, these are all journal entries of what I guess the Marine did and how he grew up.

Sister doesn’t ask. I have prodded her for information and she ignores me. But, you see, it all grows dim and forested. The Marine comes back and goes to high school with us. He smokes pot and drinks beer. His back is straight up, obedient.

Sister and him fight and have sex. One night I am the last girl, besides Sister, in the park with about ten older guys. I am trying to act as though Sister, the Marine, and I are a trio when they’ve long forgotten me. I am sitting on the bumper of the station wagon drinking a beer when the car starts to rock up and down. Moans crescendo from inside. My face turns purple and my body shakes. The guys snicker as they watch me. I want to dismember my sister. Time is lewd and gives no reprieve. Every humiliating moment I’ve lived clasps hands and circles around me as I bounce up and down with the car. The windows steam up. I can’t even write in my journal for weeks. I’m sick with cringing.

Sister and the Marine have the fight of all fights when she smacks him a final time.

“You want it straight? Well, guess what? I’m not.”

The Marine is shocked. I’m confused. He’s screaming “Queer. Fucking queer,” over and over. Sister has run inside.

“She’s a bastard sissy. She don’t go with guys.”

He is not one for defeat. Flowers are delivered to the house. He parks outside our house for weeks. Whenever she goes out she leaves by the back door. Sometime after that a magazine in a brown paper wrapper appears with Sister’s name on it.

No one gets magazines in our family. Mom is a librarian and doesn’t believe in what she calls ‘journalistic jackasses’. But when Sister opens the wrapper, there’s a girl in half a bikini with huge boobs she’s hugging with her arms and Playboy in huge letters across the front.

“That fucker,” Sister says and runs upstairs crying.

It can’t be that bad. I pick up the magazine and quietly take it to my room.

Meg Tuite is author of four story collections and five chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Poetry award for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging. She teaches at Santa Fe Community College, and is senior editor at Connotation Press, associate editor at Narrative Magazine and fiction editor at Bending Genres. megtuite.com