by Dawn West
Madeleine Dunn wants to ask about the bruises. She watches them on the small of her stepsister’s back, as if the watercolor gray haloing purple rain will explain so she won’t have to ask. As if their bodies can become oral historians on command. Madeleine forms a silent kiss with her lips at the black wolf head tattooed above Amy Harrow’s bruises, the twin of her own; tattoos they acquired the week they turned eighteen and thought they would run away together, a life or nine months ago.
“Somewhere like Iowa, or Montana,” Amy said, sucking a pen cap during the six days she tried to quit cigarettes. Madeleine licked the paper of a joint closed, lit it, blew smoke rings into Amy’s redwood curls, and said, “I love you, Amy, but you’re fucking high if you think I’m moving to Montana.”
Madeleine is electric tonight. She’s shocked herself twice on Amy’s bed, now watching her floss in the bureau mirror like her body isn’t the most remarkable personification of the theory that only the fittest organisms will prevail. Madeleine pushes up the bedroom window an inch and lights a cigarette from a silver case, listening for her mother’s sound machine to begin its lullaby of white noise. When it does, Amy tosses her used floss and presses play on the stereo. The Magnetic Fields’ In My Secret Place colors the static between them. For a few moments before Amy speaks, Madeleine wants to be eight years old and dancing alone in her room again so bad that it hurts the back of her throat.
“David said hi,” Amy says, swaying to the song. “You missed him by like twenty minutes.”
“Well now I’m glad I got a flat tire,” Madeleine says, her heart reaching out of place. She holds a hand to her chest until it settles down.
“It wasn’t weird.” Amy picks up and sets down her pink tweezers. Madeleine sits up, allowing Amy to join her on the bed. Amy leans back and hugs her coltish legs. Madeleine counts the four freckles on Amy’s right thigh, remembers kissing them like a hand around her mouth.
“He’s an asshole,” Madeleine says. She sends a silent Fuck You to the tears in her eyes.
“He’s my brother,” Amy says, small now.
“I’m sorry, it’s just… I…” Madeleine hiccups and covers her eyes with a forearm. Amy reaches out to caress her rainbow-rinsed waves, but when Amy speaks again she pulls away. “Why did he have to walk in and look at us like that? What the fuck is so perfect about him? And why did you go so fucking far away?” Madeleine tries to roll herself into the smallest ball possible. She tries to focus on an old daydream of herself as a world-class gymnast, contorting her body into striking suitcase carry-able poses.
Amy shakes Madeleine’s shoulder until Madeleine faces her, eyes silvered and animal. “What are you afraid of? Don’t you want me anymore?” Madeleine asks, every shamed part of her burning leaf-fast.
Amy coaxes Madeleine to her feet and wreathes an arm around her waist, playing the man in a slow dance to In My Car. “It’s not like that,” Amy says to the shore of Madeleine’s neck. “He won’t tell.”
“Taking a ride to somewhere inside, where you never left me, and I never cried, at the speed of light, in my car,” Madeleine sings along, twining her hands through Amy’s hair and down her back, over the secret bruises and the rest of the prodigal body and in seconds their wolves are loose and glaring, pelts basking in the warm artificial air.
The front door slamming wakes Amy at nine-fifteen in the morning. Her parents, off to their psychiatry practice for the day. She slowly transfers Madeleine’s arm from across her breasts to her left side, and tries her best to rise out of bed like Dracula in the classics, like the door of a bomb shelter swooning out of the ground. She finds her panties in a fist on the floor and steps into them, acquires a black leotard, a slim white cardigan, and the previous night’s tube socks. She sniffs her fingers, smells her stepsister. The twist in her stomach is a familiar blend, all moxie and terror. She’s felt it ever since David walked in on them, their graduation dresses purled around their waists, hands between each other’s legs, panting I love yous and I’m gonna comes. The road to her last-minute acceptance to an out of state college was paved with the look in his eyes. Like she wasn’t his at all.
Their final plan was to run away to University of Utah, say they were high school sweethearts, rent a studio apartment and find part-time jobs. Madeleine even knew a girl who went there, named Lady. “Apparently all the gays are doing it,” Madeleine teased, wrapping her arms around Amy from behind. “I’m not gay,” Amy whispered. Madeleine snorted, “Yeah, sure,” and kissed the valley where her neck and shoulder meet, “and I’m Kate Middleton.” Amy said, “It’s Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge now,” but Madeleine was focused on pulling their skirts down and locking the door behind them.
Madeleine is awake now. Amy knows because she can hear In My Secret Place again. The hardwood creaks under Madeleine’s feet. Amy reads the note their parents left, then crumples it and puts it in her mouth. She chews until it’s an inky pulp on her tongue, listening to Madeleine play the song again, and again. Amy splashes warm water on her face and climbs the stairs, David’s private questions from yesterday forming a river in her head, carrying things away with it, leaving water damaged rooms behind.
“By the way, where did those come from?” Madeleine points at the florid blooms on Amy’s back. Amy leans against her bureau and shrugs her shoulders forward, collar bones like flamingo legs. Madeleine turns down I Can’t Touch You Anymore a little and looks at Amy. “Are you seeing somebody?” she asks, eyes unreachable.
“Did I ever tell you that a deer crashed through a window in our student union like six weeks ago?” Amy asks, pulling off her cardigan and folding it into a meticulous square on her bureau. She turns back around, tries to smile.
“No.” Madeleine crosses her legs at the knee, something Amy remembers her mother calling slutty, one of the few memories she still has.
“It was fucking crazy,” Amy laughs, looking at Madeleine’s shins, tanner than hers, with two more freckles. “Like total pandemonium. It was a twelve-point buck. I had totally forgotten it was their rut, you know.”
“Amy.” Madeleine puts her fingertips over her eyes. “Just tell me.”
“Madeleine, please calm down—”
“Amy.” Madeleine rises, clenching her teeth to keep from crying. “Who are you fucking?”
“Henry,” Amy says, willing her hands steady, failing to turn her gaze above Madeleine’s waist. “He’s a friend of David’s. We go to the same school. I’m sorry. I thought Dad already told you.”
“Fuck you.” Madeleine crosses the room and slaps Amy once, twice, three times across the cheek. Amy covers her face and wails. Madeleine wants to kiss her and say she’s sorry, but feels her body step back, so she watches the blood gallop to her palm, waits for the sting to subside. When she looks up again, Amy is doubled over and howling, her black wolf watching Madeleine, ravenous.