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I watched my sister break both her arms on television. ESPN2, the 2016 tryouts for the winter Olympics. She was that good. But being that good in Giant Slalom meant that when her left ski caught something – some divot, some stupid imperfection in the ice-slick snow over which she was hurtling, she went down arms first onto a frozen surface that was as hard as concrete. If you’re a skiing fan or a sadist you’ve seen the fall on You Tube, and its aftermath: the tall girl, crumpled against orange fencing at the edge of the course, writhing in pain after her endless, rag doll tumble, her helmet lost, long dark hair pitched across the snow, both of her arms splayed uselessly at her sides, the bones between her wrists and elbows twisted into impossible angles.
Fast forward two weeks. My parents’ home on a mountainside in North Conway in New Hampshire, Mount Washington in the distance. I pull up in my rented car, on a month’s Family Medical leave from my job on the West Coast.
The conversation with my mother. Their trip planned for months, their tickets bought and paid for. 40th Anniversary. A cruise. South America, where they’d never been, and where, in all likelihood, they’d never manage to go if they didn’t do it now. But Maggie, home, broken, helpless, depressed. Shit, who wouldn’t be? Dreams crushed, maybe for four years, maybe forever. Thinking, shit, Ma, sure Ma, both of you go. It’s never been about anybody but you two. That’s why I put a continent of distance between us. While Maggie stayed at home and worked and worked at pleasing you, impressing you, trying all the way to the doorstep of the Olympics to satisfy whatever could never be satisfied in the two of you (and should have been by the simple decency of having children. Me. Maggie. Us.). And look where that got her.
Saying, instead, “Of course I can, Ma. I can find a way to make it work. It’s only the 21st Century, I don’t have to be there to work from here. Of course I can. I will. I wanna. She’s my little sister, Ma. I’ll take good care of her. I totally will. I love her. I love her.
I just didn’t know, right then, how crazy much.
And so walking up the front walk to the doorway. Letting myself in. To my wood-paneled, throw-rugged childhood, to my sister Mags, one-time Olympic hopeful, sitting on a couch, quilt-wrapped, wearing a tank top that exposes both of her arms swathed in casts from above the elbow. She is watching TV: the first season of Jessica Jones on Netflix. Our beloved parents already gone on their second fucking honeymoon. And Mags, pale-skinned, wan with pain, giving me from the couch a smile that I didn’t think she could be capable of, waving one cast-encrusted arm at me.
“Hey, Johnny,” she greets me. The words mean nothing. But her voice says that she understands everything, and that, in the end in this house, she knows (we both know) that it’s only ever us. Two fundamentally unloved children, bound to each other by love. “You here to take care of me, big bro?” she asks.
“Who else?” I ask her.
Who else, I think, in this whole fucking world?
“Okay,” Maggie says. “The list of things I cannot do.”
We are sitting in the kitchen, drinking hot chocolate that I’ve made from a pair of Swiss Maid packets.
“Well, some shit I can do first. Okay? Shit. And piss. I can shit and piss. And wipe myself after both. I can sorta struggle into and out of my own clothes. I cannot reach behind myself to do my own bra. Which I’m accommodating myself to, you’ll be very glad to know, by just not wearing one. Bathing is a ridiculous challenge. Mom’s been helping me and now I’ll have some woman from Visiting Nurses coming in three times a week to help me with that. So I need you to cook for me but not feed me. I can manage a fork and spoon. I can make coffee and I can even pour milk in it.”
“I can’t believe they just dumped out on you,” I say to her.
“Oh, yeah, Maggie says. “And Percocet. Every four hours like clockwork. Helps with the arms too.”
Our first dinner: fresh pasta from a Whole Foods that didn’t exist in this town when I left, with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella rounds; and a cheap but decent cabernet from Trader Joe’s. We are both oppressed by being in our parents’ house. Me more than Mags, I suppose, since I’m the one who ran away the farthest.
For a long time, we dance around the main event, but eventually I ask,
“So what happened?”
“Where? On the slope?”
“Nothing. Everything. It was good run. My turns were all crisp, I wasn’t nicking the poles at all, I had control of my speed. Then my left ski hit something, some little mogul-ette or something I’ll never know what, and the next thing you know, my left leg’s distended, and I couldn’t control it, and I, like, totally knew I was fucked. And so I put my arms up to shield my face and when they hit, I mean, the ice was hard, Johnny – concrete hard. They had me clocked at seventy-four when I went down. When they hit, I heard elmadağ escort them both just snap. And I have never, ever, felt so much pain. And then I do the whole tumble thing. You saw that on You Tube, right?”
“Oh yeah, babe. It looked awful.”
“It totally was. So I just crashed into the barrier at the side of the track, and then it was just hurt, hurt, like, you wanna die hurt. And there’s everybody running over. And, god, you know, Johhny, what I was thinking while I’m, like screaming there on the ground?”
“No, what, babe?”
“I mean, I knew I was fucked, okay? But what I felt really pissed about was that, Jesus, I had obeyed every rule there is, I’d been a good student, I’d been this, like, totally dedicated, like, Olympic level athlete. And they should have been proud of me, you know? Mom and Dad?”
I waited. There was nothing for me to say. I knew what they were like.
But instead, “Hey, I’m cold,” Maggie says. “There’s a reindeer sweater on my bed upstairs. Wouldja?”
I smile, run my hand across the top of her head as I go. Her skull feels delicate beneath her hair.
Her room, upstairs, hasn’t changed since she was a kid. That thought makes me sad and fills me with a fierce protective love for Maggie. They should have been proud of her. They should have been anything. They should have been there when she got hurt. They should be here now.
We had shitty parents.
There was only us.
I loved her.
I love her now.
Back downstairs, with the thick, woolen sweater, its woven reindeer gamboling from shoulder to shoulder.
“You’ll have to help me put it on,” Maggie says miserably.
So I do.
She raises her arms to receive it, and when I bend to pull it over her, she gives me a brief kiss on my forehead.
“So you wanna know what I was thinking, big brother?”
“Sure: I tell her. Tug the sweater over her shoulders, her outstretched arms in their snow-white casts.
“That I’d always lived by every rule. That you got away, and I stayed and I obeyed and I did all the right things, and now it was all gone, just ruined, y’know?”
“I know, Mags.”
“And I was laying in the snow, in more pain than I could ever imagine being, and I could see, hear people hovering around me, saying things like, oh shit, which really helped. And I decided right then that I wasn’t going to obey a single goddamn, fucking rule for the rest of my life. That I wanted to be like you and get away and never do what was expected for me for the rest of my life.
“I’m not sure I’m all that rebellious, hon.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s just that, right then, I wanted to be as brave as I always thought you were, and just be done with all the rules and all the shit. I just wanted to, like, float outside my body and find you and just hold you and cling to you, coz’ we’re it babe, we’re all we got is each other.
“And at the worst moment of my whole fuckin’ like, Johhny. I just wanted to be with you. Does that make any goddamn sense at all?”
“I dunno, Mags. But it almost makes me happy.”
“Yeah. Made me kinda happy too.”
She moves her cast-bandaged hand on top of mine on the kitchen table.
“I’m glad you’re here now, Johnny. There’s nobody else I wanna be with right now, okay? Just you.”
“I love you too, Mags.”
And I don’t know if I’ve ever said anything that true to anyone else.
She takes her hand from mine, tries to stand up from the table (How did it get to be ten o’clock?), half falls back into her chair. Says: “Fuck, I shouldn’t’ve drunk that wine with the Perc’s in my system. My head’s whirling.” Stands again, more deliberately, more successfully, but winces at having to balance herself with her left hand on a chair back. “Double Fuck. I think I need to go to bed. Can I leave you with the clean up?”
I look at her arms.
“Could you, like, even help with the clean up?” I ask.
“No, but I could keep you company. But I feel, like, too wasted to keep anybody company right now. Like maybe I talked too much.”
“You didn’t. Go to bed, sis. I got it here.”
She leans to plant another kiss on my forehead. It is sloppier than the first one. Says, “Your drunk sister loves you.” Then wanders out of the kitchen.
I listen to the sound of her stockinged feet move down the hallway and up some stairs before turning back to the table. I am rinsing dishes and stacking them in the dishwasher when I hear her voice from upstairs, yelling
I go to the foot of the stairs. Look up past the rows of pictures of the two of us, growing. From kids to almost-grown-ups.
With bruised souls.
And one broken body.
“Mags, you okay?”
“No. Doublefuck! No. Fuck. Help.”
Upstairs. The door to her childhood room half-open. Still, I knock.
A muffled “Come in.”
I do. And burst out laughing.
It’s the reindeer sweater. She couldn’t esenyurt escort get it off over the casts. And now, somehow, it had gotten entangled in her tank top and the whole mess of her shirt and sweater was wrapped around her head. As promised, she wasn’t wearing a bra.
My sister, tits out, head lost in fabric.
You had to admit, it was kinda funny in a kinda pitiful way.
Muffled “Fuck you, Johnny. Just help me get this off, okay?”
I sit beside her, manipulate the sweater and the tangled tank top up over her neck, head, upraised arms.
When freed, she says, “Don’t laugh, you asshole. Then gestures with her head to a long blue t-shirt draped over a chair beside her bed.
I get it for her.
She is sufficiently defeated by the whole experience that she simply raises her arms and lets me slide it over her. I watch, with muted admiration, her breasts rise and fall with the movement of her arms. They are not large, but they are beautifully shaped. Pale pears of flesh, topped by pink, visibly bisected nipples. On a girl who is not my sister, they would, I think, be more than simply admirable.
Mags lifts her bottom to let the shirt slide comfortably over her. I watch her admirable tits disappear under fabric. I work on separating and folding her tank top and sweater as she fumbles with the belt at the top of her jeans. Then, “Fuck,” she whispers and looking, I see tears forming in the corner of her eyes.
“Hey,” I tell her, “let me.”
I unlatch her belt for her. Look at her. She nods and I undo the jeans A top button, then three more. I am briefly, uncomfortably conscious of where my hands and fingers are and then she is loose. I stand away, and again we exchange looks that amount to a silent giving of undignified permission.
“Sure,” I say, then, pulling from the cuffs, I tug her jeans down her legs. Again admiring, half against my will the skier’s firm musculature beneath her skin. She raises and lowers her bottom again to ease the process. I fold, look at her, watch real tears coursing down her cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I won’t laugh at you again.”
“It’s not you,” she says. “It’s them, It’s everything. Two weeks ago, I could … I don’t know, I could do stuff. I could ski Grand Slalom like only maybe a dozen women in the country. Now I can’t even take off my own fucking shirt. I feel like complete useless shit. And I didn’t want you to see me like that, Johnny.”
“What, your boobs? Mags, I’ve seen boobs before.”
“No, not just that. Yeah, that too, I guess. But I mean, just so, totally, y’know, helpless.”
I reach for her. Move a hand across one cheek, wiping .
“Would it help if I told you that, as long as I had to see your boobs, they’re kinda nice?”
“Oh great. My life has gone to total shit and the only one who admires my boobs is my brother.”
“Better than nobody?” I suggest.
She smiles at me. Sadly. Happily. But at least not crying anymore.
She leans into me. I wrap an arm around her shoulder.
I whisper at her,
“It’s alright, Mags. You can do no wrong with me, you know? I love you.”
A long time passes
Holding her, I grow aware of:
The athlete’s muscles of her back and shoulders beneath her t-shirt
The hard plaster of a cast surrounding one arm beneath my fingers.
The quiet harmony of our breath
The softness of those admirable breasts moving with every breath she takes against my chest
until the combination of wine and Percocet bring her slowly to unconsciousness. When I know she’s asleep, I lower her onto bed., lift and tuck her legs beneath the covers Although she is a strong girl, she feels incredibly delicate in my arms. “It’ll be alright,” I whisper at my sweet and broken sister as release her. “I totally love you, sis.”
So when did we move from a simple fractured siblings to what seems in retrospect inevitable? I’d like to think it wasn’t the relatively little moment of seeing my sister half naked and effectively headless that first night. That would be kind of tawdry and, I don’t know, not much more than biological. And we were so much more than that. Whatever it was made of, our love was built on years and years of parents who never loved us enough, from whom we could never run far enough, or to whom we could never prove enough. What happened between us happened because we were alone in our childhood home, where we couldn’t hide from those shared and isolating feelings behind the lives we’d built for ourselves outside those doors. Our love was built on a loneliness that only one other person in the world could understand. And maybe the fact that, at the moment I found myself in my childhood home with my sister, there was no one else in my life, or in hers.
There was only us.
And, because she was broken, and needed help, there was between us an enforced ridiculous intimacy of the body that, at that time, in that place, for the two of us, became etiler anal yapan escort as well, an unavoidable intimacy of soul. That took, in turn, our bodies down a strange and fractured road toward what the word might have a label for, but what to me was always and only about love.
So. First there was the intimacy of bathing.
On Wednesday, after a couple uneventful days together, her pre-arranged visit from the visiting nurse. A sweet-tempered French Canadian woman named Gaudette, who was built like boulders and would have been adept at the lifting and moving of injured bodies in and out of bedsbathtubs. Rooms away, I listen to the low women’s voices floating from behind a closed door. I am preoccupied skypeing with work back home. Coding issues with the company’s Chinese website. Somewhere, somehow, somebody had pasted in the wrong PinYin characters and our speakers were now advertising a sexual capacity undreamed of by its designers. Our software engineers were amused, Chinese executives predictably less so.
When I switch off, the nurse is standing in the doorway.
“How’d it go?”
“Not great. She’s still in the tub. She asked me to leave. She’s pretty upset.”
I take this in.
“We all know her, y’know. In town. Since she started skiing competitively in high school. We’ve all followed her. I mean, Jeez, the Olympics and all. What happened was just so awful.”
“I’ll talk to her,” I tell her.
“You want me to stay? I could help her get out…”
“It’s okay,” I say. “We’ll be okay.”
I slide down the wall outside the bathroom door. Late afternoon sun bathes the hallway in crisp winter light.
“Hey, babe, how you doin’?”
“Great, Johnny. Totally fucking great.”
Then, after a while.
“I lost it, Johnny. She touched me and I just lost it with her.”
“No, it’s not. She was nice enough and I shit on her. Now I didn’t get washed and I can’t even get myself out of the bathtub and I’m wet and I’m dirty and I’m cold …”
“Wet, dirty, cold … You by any chance trying to seduce me, Mags?”
Snort of laughter.
“You want me to come in?”
“Like we have a choice?”
“I guess not.”
I push up, put my hand on the glass knob, twist, push.
Mags in the bathtub, sitting upright, arms resting on each side of the old clawfoot tub.
“Look at me,” she says. “I can’t even cover myself in front of you.”
I sit on the toilet at the end of the tub. Look.
Those admirable boobs. Tight muscles of her torso. Hint of the shaved area below. She is objectively beautiful, my sister. Even with two broken arms.
“You want me get you a towel?” I ask.
She shakes her head. It’s alright, she is telling me silently. It’s us. We’re alone in the world. You can look at me. It’s fine.
“Hot water’d be good,” she says.
I reach and turn on the spigot. Hot water gushes onto her feet.
“Look what I can do,” she says, and, reaching a leg up, manipulates the opened spigot with her toes.
“Gifted,” I tell her.
“Olympics,” she says, half-laughing. She is a picture of naked rue.
“I still need a bath,” she says.
And when I don’t move,
“Don’t worry,” she says. “No rules.”
Or, more to the point, only one rule: to care for her.
I use a washcloth to avoid touching her while touching her.
Leaning forward as I soap her muscled back.
What we talk about:
“So, on a scale of one to a hundred, how weird is this, big brother?”
“One twenty-five. At least.”
I move the washcloth down her spine between the wing bones of her back. I grow acutely aware of the thinness of the terry cloth between my hand and my sister’s body.
“Lean forward more,” I tell her.
She does. I move my washcloth’d hand around her neck, behind the thin shells of her ears. Then, squatting further forward, I gesture her to move her head back. Her neck, when she does, is long and delicate. To reach her, I lean across her body, bracing myself on the far rim of the tub. Mags is broadly open to me, beautifully so. I move the washcloth around her neck, cheeks, eyes, forehead. She closes her eyes as the washcloth passes, then opens them. We are looking right at each other, barely a foot of distance between us. I dip the washcloth into water beside her hip, find soap and lather it up for more.
“Front?” I ask her.
In answer she raises her useless, cast covered arms.
“No rules,” she says.
“No rules,” I tell her back. “Okay.”
I move the washcloth down from her neck along the hard bone between her admirable breasts, then across her taut belly and along her laddered ribs, then there is nowhere else to go.
I look at her. She nods permission.
“You said they were nice.”
“Then go ahead.”
I let the washcloth drift across her: first left, then right. My palms pausing, circling above her areolae. Hearing, but not reacting to, the slight indrawing of her breath as I touch, wash, caress through the mediating cloth. Her eyes closing. I feel the faint but undeniable hardening of her nipples beneath the veil of fabric.
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