By Molly McCaffrey
My brother Andy ironed his collar with his shirt still on, leaving a scar on his neck that looks like a caterpillar. He’d landed a new job at the Big Lots uptown and wanted to look fancy. Andy is the oldest boy but only third in a line of six.
Jeannie was the first. She works for a dentist and believes in commercials: if she sees it on TV, then it must be true. Andy calls her a zombie, but he watches too.
Next is Rosie. She does three hundred sit-ups a night and circles her eyes with fat blue liner. Everyone says she’ll be pregnant by the end of sophomore year.
Martin, the youngest, plays dress-up with our cousin Jessica: stained red lips and purple feather boas that used to belong to Rosie.
They all think Henry is weird. He likes to read and stay inside all summer.
My mother teaches special ed. She calls her students retards, but insists, I’m the only one who can say that, when Martin protests and Henry gives her a dirty look. She settled for Dad when she was two months pregnant with someone else’s kid. Jeannie doesn’t know he isn’t her real father.
Dad eats with his mouth open, and Mom has given up on telling him to shut his trap. I just look away.
Me, I’m the only normal one. I figured out how to beat the system: how to get boys off without getting knocked up, how to earn good grades without cracking a book, how to convince Dad to give me his loose change.
I’ll be gone by the time Martin comes out of the closet and Rosie’s given birth, before Henry kills himself and Jeannie cries herself to sleep. Before Andy sets the house on fire. I’m saving up for a ticket to Los Angeles. I get the boys at school to pay me when I’m nice to them. The teachers give the most: one time, fifty bucks. By the end of the school year, I’ll have enough to make it three months.
I don’t want to be a superstar or a model or anything stupid like that. I just want to be different than my family. I want to leave them behind and never come back. I want to be new.
Molly McCaffrey received her Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati and currently teaches creative writing at St. Andrews College, where she also runs the college’s Press. The prologue of her novel was recognized in the NCSU Brenda L. Smart Fiction Contest, and she has an essay forthcoming in Gilmore Girls and the Politics of Identity. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, the novelist David Jack Bell.