Our brother was good at making himself look like a giant tarantula. When my little sister and I played in the backyard on bluish summer evenings, we would see through the tall grass and trees the long black legs of a tarantula scuttling towards us, and even though we saw as it approached that it had only four limbs and a little nub of human head, never until the tarantula had straightened itself up and walked past us without a word did we realize that it was our brother.
We had an understanding that every time he was not the tarantula meant that the tarantula had not yet come. And only that.
When the tarantula did finally come, on a white day when my sister and I sat on her bed in our room, we did not turn our eyes from the television even as the tarantula crept closer, close enough for us to see the array of black globular eyes in its recessed face and the one hundred thousand barbs of its eight slender legs. We could not let ourselves believe, although our limbs were now dead and our tiny mouths open, that it wasn’t really our brother.
Any cooked meat on a table at all. For example: the turkey. Stripped, basted, and made to wear paper slippers like an asylum inmate. While no one in the family openly reproaches the turkey its insanity, they are implicit in its binding and breaking. Not even the most progressive-minded among them indicts the cook for what in virtually any other case would be an indisputable violation of humane practices.
Therefore I cannot feel much sympathy for anyone who, upon realizing what the youngest sister’s and my hands were doing to various parts of our respective persons under the table at the most recent Thanksgiving dinner, responded with an expression of anything other than hunger. Which is to say, everyone but the dog.
“I just prefer to think of you as a brother,” the youngest sister said later, after we had been put to bed, and fed me some leftover turkey. I did not object then, though after some subsequent rumination, was forced to conclude that to eat anything—anything at all—is unforgivable.
Night of the Living Dead 1999
My sister came over to my little house in the woods unexpected, but not unexpectedly. She had to stoop under the doorway, which made me cringe. I’m sorry, I said.
Can I get you some water, I said, but it won’t taste good, my well’s gone all weird and I’m too lazy to call anybody.
She said yes she’d like some water, she’d taste and decide.
I said okay but stay right here in the hallway, don’t turn the light on, don’t go in the living room, it’s all in disarray. She went in anyway. I followed after her saying all right but don’t turn that light on either, or sit on the furniture, it’s covered in filth, I mean literally shit.
“I want some meat,” she said. I had no choice. She was after all a blood relation. I brought her a piece of steak and she lapped at it.
The light was upsetting me and I could see that her shoes were getting dirty.
Please stop that, I said.
She kept on eating the meat, silent except for the gristling of her tongue, and looking right at me.
Okay, I said, you win, you got me. Mom and Dad are all ripped apart in the basement, I know that’s why you’ve come, but don’t go down there, I mean it this time, don’t look at them, I did such a sloppy job of it, and I haven’t made my bed, either.
She went down anyway.
Profile: Annaliese Downey