Fiction · 11/30/2011

Growling

When my brother gets mad at his daughters, he takes Xanax with a bottle of wine. He thinks he blacks out because he never remembers what happens after. His daughters — identical twin girls who just turned 14 — meticulously document their lives on the Internet; I’m their Facebook friend and something like an informant. I report to their dad things like: I saw photos of the girls smoking cigarettes at a party; some weird old guy joked with them about anal sex. I omit things like: one is desperately in love with her math teacher; the other one is writing a series of poems about cutting her wrists, though it is unclear if these are fictional or not.

During our family reunion, I’m sitting with the girls at a picnic bench, waiting for the rest of the extended family to return from their game. It’s called Bear Hunt: the adult male cousins, including my brother, hide in the woods, making loud bear growls, shaking the trees. The younger children run through, terrified and giddy. The adult women watch and cheer, take pictures, reassure the especially confused children, promising them it’s only a game. Someone has to take care of the grill, which is why I’m here with the twins. It was mostly voluntary anyway; the noises the men make have started to bother me.

I get up to poke the charcoals, check for signs of charred meat. The girls say they think Bear Hunt is retarded. They want to get to the hamburgers before anyone else does; they plan to eat four each. They are so hungry they could find actual bears, kill them, and eat them. They laugh at themselves. They are wearing very small denim cut-offs, and they are big girls; when I get up to flip the burgers I see their ass cracks.

“Your shoes are hot,” one says to me. “Are they Michael Kors?”

I got the shoes as a gift from a lover after we broke up for the third time then got back together for the third time. I lie, saying, “I found them at Goodwill. It was amazing luck they turned out to be Michel Kors.”

“Wow,” the other says. “We go to thrift stores too — we never find anything good, but we can’t afford to shop at real stores. We’re saving money for our truck.”

“Your truck?”

“When we turn 16, we’re buying a truck.”

“I like that,” I say.

“You do?”

“It seems like a worthwhile investment to me.”

“You’re cool. Our dad says if we get a truck we’ll look like we’re lesbians.” They glance at each other, suddenly panicked. “No offense.”

“None taken.” I unwrap a plastic bag full of buns, split each open then set onto a paper plate. I’m surprised they know — their father won’t tell them anything, including the fact that their mother has left him. He just keeps saying to them, “She’s having a really good time in Las Vegas.” She’s not even in Las Vegas, she’s going to art school somewhere in Canada.

They complain that their dad spies on them, that he somehow finds out about things they post to Facebook. In a rush of either pity or guilt — they throw themselves out into the world so thoughtlessly; they believe I’m their weird aunt who would never judge them — I offer them my sandals. I bend down, remove them, set them on the grass. “They’re yours,” I say. “Remember, they’re from Goodwill, they were cheap? It’s just a little gift.” They accept reluctantly, then fight over who gets to wear them.

Bear Hunt ends; the rest of the family approaches, breathless and giggling. My brother is still growing. The youngest of the group, a five-year-old girl who is so timid that last year she peed her pants instead of telling anyone she had to use the restroom, is sucking her thumb in the arms of her mother, trying to comfort herself without telling anyone she had been scared.

The twins do eat four hamburgers each — with cheese. They chew with their mouths open. They are considering moving on to hotdogs when their dad says, “Girls, quit. You aren’t proving anything to anyone.” They want to ride back to the cabins with me. The sun is going down. They sit in the backseat and I feel like a chauffeur. I drive with my bare feet since they now have my sandals. They tell me that when their dad gets drunk, he will answer anything they ask him and then the next day he won’t even remember. They asked him about their mom. He said he loves her more than she loves him. They asked him about me.

“You did?” I ask, panic creeping up my throat. I know I shouldn’t press for more information, but I can’t stop myself. “What did he say?”

“That you’re obsessed with this crazy married woman. Is that true?”

“Well,” I say, sick, scrambling. “That’s not — she doesn’t actually really talk to me any more — ”

“But you still really miss her?”

“Don’t,” one says to the other. “It’s none of our business. We shouldn’t have asked Dad in the first place. We’re sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“You’re nice to us, we don’t care what you do.”

Back in the cabin, I close my bedroom door and sit on the floor because suddenly the idea of lying on a bed disgusts me. The last time I saw my crazy married woman was months ago; she wanted me to have watch her have sex with her husband. There had been a lot of grunting, it was really ugly, and I had wanted to turn away, but I hadn’t.

Leaning against a wall that’s so thin I can hear someone clearing his throat in the adjacent bathroom, I check my phone to see what the girls are saying on Facebook about their family reunion. So far they’re just complaining that their dad won’t let them eat any hotdogs. I wonder when they will realize I’m the person telling their dad about all the trouble they get into. They’ll probably figure it out sooner or later. They’ll de-friend me, and their stories will disappear from me. The person in the bathroom next to me coughs and doesn’t stop until he’s spitting something out. I imagine the girls taking road trips, to amusement parks or concerts or wherever teenage girls go when they go away. I imagine them throwing shit out the windows of their truck, watching it blow away along the highway — cigarettes, fast food wrappers, failed math tests, dirty bandages — one of them is wearing my shoes — I imagine that as they do this someone in the car behind them honks at them, they use swear words they’re still growing into, they let go of things they don’t get back, they don’t slow down.

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Rebekah Matthews lives in Boston, enjoys a good Yellow Tail merlot, and presently struggles with Angry Birds. Her stories have appeared in such publications as Storyglossia, Prick of the Spindle, and decomP. In 2010 and in 2011 she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. More information about her writing can be found at rebekahmatthews.com.