“I’ll take you.”
“No, thank you,” I said, drawing it out.
“Would you? Stop. Please.”
She took a sip of coffee and slammed a bite of toast. She looked at me as it all went down. I looked back.
“You’re being weird,” she said.
My half-sister was overbearing. She felt she had a lot to make up for. Years spent gallivanting and what not. Tattoos in Indonesia administered the traditional way. A shaman, a branch, a nail. An optimal amount of pain and a suboptimal amount of sterility. She had to fly home because of the infection.
“So, what does it mean?” Mom asked. My sister dropped her bags as we sat down for breakfast.
“Honey,” Dad did his best to interject.
“Charlotte, what does it mean?”
“John,” she said, holding her hand up, “my daughter has a what is either a sun or a large beetle on her neck and I would like to understand the meaning behind it.”
“It’s a Mentawi symbol.”
“English,” she said, rubbing her forehead, “please God, English.”
“It’s a crab.”
Silence swept over the breakfast nook. My fork hitting the table was the thing that broke it. I can’t remember why it fell out of my hand but if I had to guess, the brain power required to Rorschach a crab out of the infected pattern was overriding. Functions autonomous and regulatory failed for a brief moment. I blinked it all back into place as Dad sat down next to me. We both watched on as things escalated.
“It is not a crab.”
“It is a crab.”
“Why is it a crab?”
“What? Why is it a crab?”
“Yes, why is it a crab, Charlotte?”
“It’s a symbol.”
“Of what, Charlotte?”
Silence once again made its way into the kitchen. Mom scratched her head and I couldn’t help but laugh. Dad smacked me in the arm with the arts section and a smile.
“It is not a symbol of memory.”
“Not to you.”
“Not to anyone, Charlotte."
“It is a humor filled beetle on your fucking collar bone- I can’t,” she said, turning towards the coffee maker.
“Honey,” Dad tried again.
“John!” Mom said, spinning around.
“Sorry,” he said and sank back into the nook with me where her oddness seemed to still follow.
“I am not being weird,” I said, taking a sip of coffee, “I just don’t want you taking me to the airport, Char.”
I got up and made my way to the sink. The coffee was cold at this point and I didn’t have enough on my stomach for this be an enjoyable last few sips. Not to mention I was in a pastel-tiled black site being interrogated by my sister. It was quite a break from my usual sun-kissed ritual.
“I don’t need all the…”
My hands paddled through the air as I looked for the words.
“All the what?”
I poured my cup into the sink. “All the catching up and how are things going? I just- I can’t.”
“I’m taking you to the fucking airport.”
I closed my eyes and leaned against the cabinets. I took as big a breath as my nostrils would allow. What entered into my visual purview was a peacefulness. It was dark and colored and aided in softening my fate. I opened my eyes and she remained rooted and staring. It looked absolutely nothing a like crab.
“Thank you,” she said and stormed out of the room.
“We’re leaving in half an hour!”
“Fine!” she said.
I slammed the trunk shut and watched the dust and pine needles jump startled from the caverns of the unwashed window seal.
“Get in!” she yelled from the front seat.
I made my way around the right flank of the Saab. Mom and Dad got it for her when I was six. I thought it was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen. She was my hero pulling out of the driveway and waving to us and putting me in her lap and letting me pretend to drive. Mom always made sure she wasn’t going to start the car.
“I’m not going to turn the fucking car on!”
Dad joined in, “Char can you not curse in front of your brother please?”
“You’re not my real dad.”
“Jesus Charlotte,” Dad said, reeling.
“Charlotte Coleman!” Mom screamed stomping towards the car.
I plopped into the passenger seat and the door hinges screamed shut. The dust that lay dormant in the velour spat up sneeze inducing and danced in before noon light. The oat milk dried in the three to four Starbucks cups looked back at me as did the date and dried fruit remnants left behind on the various Larabar wrappers strewn throughout the cabin.
“It’s revolting in here.”
“Calm down,” she said, key in the ignition.
She revved the engine and the vehicle choked to life. The transmission broke through crust as she yanked down into first and we were off. For the next forty-five minutes, traffic depending, I was hers.
“So,” she said, sheepishly looking over.
“See, this is-”
“Char, I’m not going to get into who I’m fucking with you.”
“Who you’re fucking? Wow!” she said with a Cheshire smile.
“Figuratively,” I said with an eye roll. “I mean ‘dating.’”
“Why didn’t you say dating?”
“Why didn’t you say dating?”
“Why do we have to lead with boys?”
“Oh am I supposed to be asking about girls?” she said with a laugh almost from the belly. It was insulting. I could read straight. I could walk through the halls or, rows or, aisles of Home Depot. No one would know the wiser.
“You could ask about,” I said as we approached the 405’s gridlock. “anything else.”
“Boys are a fun topic of conversation,” she said, and raised her shoulders playfully.
“So is school, movies, politics… God,” I said, forehead conceding into my palm.
“You want to talk about God?”
“No,” I said, head still hanging. I brought myself back to posture and steered my shoulders toward her. “I don’t know why you assume I’m dating guys.”
“Oscar,” she said, fatigued by it.
“What? We haven’t had that conversation.”
“We don’t need to have that conversation.”
“And why is that Charlotte?” I said, tilting my head confused.
“Ok. Why do you love Jeff Buckley so much, Oscar?”
I didn’t have to think hard.
“Because he’s one of the greatest singers of all time.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Well you would be incorrect in that thinking.”
“Ok. Why do you The Women so much?”
“Because it’s a perfect movie.”
She looked at me with a hoisted eyebrow.
She turned back towards the road and with a smile told me, “I love you.”
“I love you too,” I said, begrudgingly.
She turned to NPR and we sat and crawled and listened to dulcet tones reporting on house races and hospitality unions until I finally broke.
“How are you?”
Her head recoiled in a hammed up shock.
“Jesus,” I said, looking out of the passenger window. Anything to avoid the guilt she took so much glee in raining down on me.
“That’s so nice, Oz.”
“Thank you for asking.”
I wasn’t looking but I could feel her thinking. Taking inventory of how she was. Weighing whether or not to tell me.
“I’m okay,” she said.
I broke from the window and looked over at her. She smiled at me with wet eyes.
I leaned over, negotiating past the seat belt and squeezed her as best I could. Her hand left the steering wheel and squeezed my forearm back. We broke and I looked up at her.
“Talk to me-”
It was more or less destiny. Obvious fate. The car was one part vehicle and four parts waste bin. I couldn’t guess the last time she had gotten an oil change and she definitely couldn’t tell you. It was because of that neglect that the car was not in good spirits.
It lurched back and violently forward before it slammed to a complete stop. Black smoke began careening out underneath the hood. Not long after, the orchestra of honks behind us began.
“What the fuck was that?” I yelled.
“It does this sometimes,” she said, getting out of the car.
“It does this sometimes?”
“Yes!” she said, slamming the door shut.
She propped open the hood and immediately leaped back into the shoulder trying to wave away the soot that was already forcing a cough.
“Pull over!” was yelled by more than one pleasant passerby who sped around us en route to their own emergency. Charlotte got back in the car and looked at me with a new film to her.
“I can’t fix it.”
“You’re not being helpful.”
“Neither are you,” I said, dropping my shoulders in defeat. “Miss Mechanic.”
“I’ll call Triple A.”
“You have Triple A?”
She raised her hand to strike me and it worked. I flinched back with a grin.
The tow truck came an hour or so later. It goes without saying that I missed my flight. Char and I sat while people honked and yelled. One person threw a double gulp that hit the front bumper.
“Fuck you!” Charlotte shouted, almost standing up to lean out of the window.
“Was that Mountain Dew?”
“Yes,” she said, slumping back in.
“Who drinks Mountain Dew?”
We shouted back from time to time and called Mom and Dad. They were glad we were okay. They offered to take me to the airport.
“What are we going to do a handoff?”
“Yes,” Mom said.
“It’ll take you an hour to get through the traffic, Mom.”
“Well, it’s worth a shot.”
I looked at Charlotte. She was forlorn and down at her steering wheel.
“I’m good, Mom.”
“You’re going to miss your flight, son.”
“I’ll call the airline.”
“He’ll call the airline!” Charlotte yelled.
I flew to New York the next day and landed in the city just in time for my first class of the semester. The cab slogged through Kew Gardens and over the expressway and I looked out the window and I thought of her. I thought back to yesterday and what she said she was going through. I thought about how clueless I was to all of it. She was my big sister. She had never needed anyone’s help.
Mom picked me up from the mechanic that evening.
“You don’t want a ride home honey?”
“No it’s okay. Jane’s coming to grab me.”
“It’s a little…”
“Mom," Charlotte said, cutting her off.
“What? It’s just a little worn down here.”
“Mom, I’m fine,” Charlotte said.
I threw my stuff in the trunk and gave her the biggest hug I could give her.
“You okay?” I asked.
“I love you.”
“Love you too.”
I got in the car and Mom looked back at me stunned.
“What is going on?”
“What is going on?”
I landed at LAX over Thanksgiving and she was there to pick me up. The Saab was back up and running.
“You understand my hesitation with entering this vehicle.”
“Please get in the car.”
I flew back and forth a few more times before I graduated and a few more after deciding to stay in New York. My family would always be far away and I would always fly home to see them. After that day spent on the shoulder with her, she was always the one to pick me up, and drop me off.
“I don’t know why people say that,” I said, hoisting the duffle over my shoulder.
“It’s a thing to say, Oscar.”
“I’m not flying the plane, Char.”
“Go back to New York now.”
“Love you!” she yelled, hurling into oncoming traffic.
“Love you too.”