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Behind our parents’ dresser, my sister finds a photograph along with a bunch of old papers in an orange plastic folder.
“Oh my God,” she says. “It’s Anton.”
I’m in the closet going through my father’s pants pockets. “Who’s Anton?” I ask.
It’s Saturday night and we’ve been left alone while Mom and Dad are out playing pinochle. We like to do things we’re not supposed to, which is why we’re in here snooping around.
“Are you stupid?” she says. “Anton’s our brother. The one who died.”
Lizzie’s four years older than me—she turned fifteen last April—which is why she thinks she’s the boss.
“Newsflash to me,” I say.
“They never said anything because they didn’t want you to freak out.”
My sister’s known to make up stories. She told one of her teachers that our mother was married to an undocumented worker, and she told our grandfather that she’d been elected class president when she didn’t even run.
I walk over and take the photograph. It shows a kid in a green onesie standing in the sand on some crowded beach. A person mostly outside the frame holds him up.
I flip it over and see something penciled on the back.
“This is me,” I say. “Look at the date.”
Lizzie snaps back the photograph.
“This was only written to protect the innocent,” she says.
She returns the photo and carefully puts the folder back where it was. Then she goes to our mother’s vanity and starts fooling with the makeup. It’s nine o’clock. We’ve had pizza from Papa John’s and chocolate pudding pops, and now we’re in our pajamas.
“Guess what,” Lizzie says. “There’s this guy in Comp 201 who’s hot for my body. Gina Devlin? She doesn’t believe me. Says she needs proof.”
“How old was he?”
Lizzie picks up Mom’s comb and pulls it through her hair.
“I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe like ..one. I was only three and you weren’t even born yet.”
“Liar,” I say.
She returns the comb, dabs some perfume on her wrist, rubs, sniffs.
“Anton was perfect. After he died, the doctor told Mama she couldn’t have any more babies. But then you came along and you were about as far from perfect as you can get.”
This last part I know is true. I was born premature and underweight and kept in the hospital in an incubator. “It was right before Thanksgiving,” the way my mother tells it. “We were hoping for a plump turkey, but we got a scrawny chicken.”
She doesn’t say this in any mean way. She says it as if she expects me to laugh.
“Would you call me more pretty or more cute?” Lizzie asks as she studies her reflection.
The phone on the nightstand rings, but it isn’t our parents signal. Their signal is one ring, hang up, call right back.
“That’s probably the guy I was talking about,” Lizzie says. “Wants to ask me out.”
“I doubt it.”
“Either him or Anton calling from the grave.”
The phone stops after maybe six or seven rings. Lizzie flops on our parents’ bed, flat on her back. She begins talking about this guy she claims is crushing on her, but she’s planted a thought in my mind.
“Come lie down next to me,” she says.
Our dad has gotten close to this kid down the block. His name is Cal and he’s fourteen and he has this terrible case of acne. His own father isn’t around. Cal loves baseball, and my father loves baseball, so Cal has asked my dad to take him to a father/son communion breakfast at Saint Bernadette’s where they show old Red Sox highlights while you eat pancakes.
My dad said, “Sure.”
I lie down next to my sister.
“You should go out with Cal,” I tell her.
“Are you kidding?” she says. “He looks like his face caught on fire and somebody tried to put it out with a porcupine.”
The phone rings again. One ring, then two, then three.
“Maybe we should pick up,” I say.
Lizzie pushes up on one elbow and looks down at me.
“I have a better idea,” she says. “Let’s give hickeys.”