My Parents Are Cruel to My Brother

Robin Black

My parents are cruel to my brother. He says they are cruel to me too, but that I have, we both have, become blind and deaf and numb to their cruelty — for ourselves, not for the other. He says that we have switched our skins so I feel his hurt and he feels mine. He says that when they stand close to him, he isn’t there, when they are near enough to breathe on me, I disappear. He says I don’t remember, because you don’t. He says it is like death that way.

My brother is the one who says cruel, not mean. He wants me to say it too. He says it is better because it is worse, that we don’t live the kind of life that lets you cling to childish words, that our parents berate and belittle us both, that he abominates and abhors them. He says they are abusive. He says he doesn’t believe in absolution. Words are weapons, he says. Artillery. Armaments. We don’t need spitballs, he says.

He writes his words for me on my wall, behind my bed, long, light lists of them in pencil, barely touching the surface of the paint with the point he keeps so sharp. I watch his hand, the skin he says I wear. I watch his eyes that see things done to me, when I’m not there. I lie beneath his lists and listen to the words, which chatter at me through the night. I try to learn them, but can’t, because they are a magic I’m not yet allowed to use, he says to me.

He writes them like whispers and I know they are invisible from the doorway where my mother stands and smiles and says sweet dreams and turns off my light, and sometimes asks me if everything is okay and I tell her it is and I wonder if she notices that the wall behind my bed is growing darker, the pink she painted there, fading to pencil gray.

My brother says since he is older, it’s his job to take care of me. No one else is doing it, he says. No one else cares the way he does. No one else can see what he sees, can drape themselves in me, can be in the world and absorb my pain while I am gone. He says that I never have to worry. I never have to be afraid. He says that eventually he will fill my walls with all his words, that I will understand then, that I will know everything when he is done. He says this is a promise, from me to you. He talks to me about transcendence and transmogrification while he writes. About transformation. About translucence. He asks me if I feel it, the way he does, if I feel how badly he has been hurt. Am I there when he is gone? Can I see what he can’t see? I tell him, of course I am. I tell him, of course I can. I tell him to hurry up.

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