Abe and I are pressed against each other in the backseat even though we are alone. His sneakers are tangled in red jumper cables, mine resting on an open Crosby Stills and Nash CD case. The car smells of menthol and old wheat bread. A square of heat softened cheddar cheese has slipped out of its saran wrap casing and has left trail of oily perspiration onto the gray upholstered seats. Our parents—my dad, his mom –are in the front playing parent music, but we don’t care. We have learned to block out Rufus Wainwright and Buena Vista Social Club. There is a bottle of flat Vintage Seltzer squished between our thighs. Abe grabs the top, tugging the plastic from the pull of our sticky skin. He methodically unscrews the cap, places it between his thumb and forefinger, and with one hand pours out a few drops of seltzer. It is our game – his and mine – to drink from the lid while our parents hum. They are driving us to a home in Red Hook far away from the babysitters and the playgrounds. We are seven.
Abe has a blonde bowl cut and sharp blue eyes. He is lanky and allergic to dairy. His pale ankles peak out from below his jeans, as his graying white socks sink beneath the dips in his low top converse. When he gets worked up he raises his hands in fists, strains his neck so his whole body shakes, and holds his breath until his face turns a beet red. Somebody always has to calm him down.
We turn to face the window. Abe presses his forehead against the glass and stretches his eyebrows, folding the skin beneath his hairline into thin creases. I curl my neck around his trying to gaze out, but his breath has drawn a circular blotch in front of my eyes. Our seltzer, cap replaced, has fallen to the ground and is now rolling between the metal sliders in the front seat. The volume on the radio goes up and Rufus’ voice has made its way into the back. It’s time for a new game.
If you like a house, it’s a candy house. You say ‘Candy House’ and it’s yours.
We have grown up together, Abe and I. We share a babysitter, Toni, many vacations, Italy included, a dentist, Dr. Wild, and all foods that don’t have trace amounts of dairy. Abe is my brother and my best friend. We take baths together, pull our teeth out together, push our beds together, and write each other letters about marriage. We plan our futures together. Our idealized images of adulthood can fit anything. We can be siblings and we can get married. We are too young to know, but young enough to be content.
Our hands leave oily stains on the glass as we prepare ourselves for candy houses. We scan the edge of the road for the pastels, the shingles, and the white picket fences. At first we reserve our voices, not wanting to get ahead of ourselves, and lose our chance to find the best home. Eventually we give up.
Candy house! Candy house! Candy HOUSE!
Our voices overlap as we press our faces closer to the window taking in the clean cut grass, the rusting red mailboxes, and the tall decaying chimneys. Rufus is gone, and our parents are far away. My chest falls in front of his as I try to edge myself closer to the door. He throws his head back exposing his perfectly aligned baby teeth and lets out a loud chuckle.
Abe’s head hangs between his bony knees and I rest on the curve of his back, the only thing protecting me from his thin spine a cotton pillow in the shape of a dog bone. The car slows to a stop and my eyes open as the glare of a distant tree swing fades with the headlights. Rufus is gone, but our parents are back. My dad unlocks the passenger door and massages Abe’s shoulder, lifting him from his deep sleep. We fumble with our seatbelts and step down from the back. We follow our parents to the front door in silence. Someone turns on the lights and we see the inside of a candy house.
We spit blue Dr. Wild toothpaste into the sink, dry our mouths on unfamiliar hand towels, and make our way down the long wood floor to a bedroom. We grab the quilt, pulling ourselves onto the tall mattress, and slide our bodies under the thick blankets. Abe’s feet curl behind him, his warm heels pressed against my calves, and we shut our eyes. We have been here before. It’s familiar and unfamiliar. Our parent’s voices seep through the doorway, distinguishable but not distinct. Abe smells sweet of bubblegum scented toothpaste. His breathing slows.
Anya Katz, Age 17, Grade 12, Berkeley Carroll School, Gold Key