by Saundra Mitchell
When my brother went away to college, he left me everything.
He left a bed with a Sean-shaped dent in it. Pillows that smelled like aftershave. A closet full of clothes that didn’t fit, but I wore them anyway.
The jeans hesitated at my hips. They gaped at my waist; they were tight and wrong, but I made them fit, because Sean left a son-place in our house that somebody had to fill.
I’d already failed at ice. Ice, slick and smooth—I could go forward, around in circles, then into the boards, every time. Sean figured out how to pull a single axel out of a pair of hockey skates—magic with no toe-pick. Sean breathed impossible.
Once, he fished a fat, pale catfish out of the sewer, just past our driveway. We went to the pond sometimes, but nothing bit. Nothing ever did, really, and what would we have done with a pail full of runty sunfish anyway?
It was the blues catfish, Blind Blubber Wally, that mattered—more everyday impossible, like asking, “What’s the first line of the third paragraph of page thirty-seven of the “’The Wind and the Willows,’ Sean?”
”Well,” he said, pretending I’d stumped him.
”You don’t know, you don’t know,” I’d sing, then shut up so he could recite pages thirty-seven, thirty-eight, and thirty-nine from memory. He could do it for any page, any three, but three was the limit.
When Sean went away to college, he left me his Playboys, though really, I think he was probably just hiding them from Mom. The back of the linen closet in our bathroom, that’s where he stuck them—maybe he knew The Shrine was coming.
Maybe he knew Dad would stand at the doorway to stare into Seanless space; maybe he knew Mom would go through all the drawers and refold his leftover clothes. Maybe he knew that our parents would gut where he slept and read and walked and lived to make the room an architectural son—a son gracious enough to hide his whack magazines.
My magazines, now.
The girls in those pages looked like parfaits, the kinds in commercials. They glistened and they stood unnaturally tall, creamy or chocolate, but perfect—nutmeg freckles, cherry blush.
They were like and unlike the girl I brought to Sean’s bed: same ingredients, different result.
Since I had the room, the clothes, the book, the magazines, the fishing pole, the legacy, all of Sean’s essentials down to DNA, Sherry didn’t have to be a lesbian, and I didn’t have to be the leftover stub in the family, the accidentally-smooth-between-the-legs Not-Sean. The daughter; the useless, the merely decorative.
God knew we needed a Sean, to make the sun rise and the sun set, to direct the wind and pull in the tide, to work blind catfish miracles on ice. We needed a Sean and he left me his skin.
I just had to learn to wear it.