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M Thompson

Home Movie


     As a boy, I was mute and when left alone with my sister in the dark days of winter, we’d tie a string to our waists and weave through our home without making a sound. She was older by an hour and would always go first; the pale braid of her hair danced at her back, the blue hem of her nightgown skimmed over the floor and the soles of her feet turned ashy as I chased her through unheated, thick-curtained rooms, down a dimly lit hall, behind the backs of heavy furniture and beneath big-legged tables. There were mornings where she kept me at a room’s distance, evenings where I was reeled in so closely that the perspiration along her neck shimmered back to me and with a fingertip I could touch the pink lobe of her ear. Often, in these brief moments of closeness where we ran together, I detected a delicate, incessant susurration from over my sister’s shoulder. And while it sounded like her voice murmuring my name, the tone was so soft and distant it seemed more that she wanted no one to hear her, as if she were singing to herself, or saying nothing at all, and it was only the shuffling of our feet, the high silence of our house that I had been hearing and, in my exhaustion, turning into words: “Hum hum hum. Where is the scar, Charlie? Above the left eye or the right? Hum hum.” I answered her, always, with a dry and empty pant, a kind of exasperated paaaah. At which point she giggled and, with a jerk of her head, rushed suddenly away, down a stairwell or through some small door, vanishing from sight.

    In this way, she would lead me. In this way, I was dragged. The string remained taut and I followed her down. Suppose what really happened was the string became a bird’s nest that twisted up her feet. Suppose the string was at my neck and in the end what I realized was that I had been tied to a bathtub. In the evenings, when I lost her, her string would always lead me upward as a white line over the banister snaking up each step, to the top floor of the house where, for a moment, it disappeared into the thick, white rug stretched over the landing, only to re-emerge at the doorframe and slip through the cracked doorway of our parent’s empty bedroom.

    Had they been there, the room would have been locked. Then again, had they been there, the heat would have been working and our breaths would not have been showing. Inside, the windows were covered and all was arranged as if at any moment they’d be back: the shadow of the armoire shut neatly in the corner, a row of black shoes aligned along the baseboard, ending at the spidery back legs of a wooden chair where a glass of tap water collected dust on the seat. The bed’s massive white surface took up the whole room, glowing in the near darkness as a bare lake at night frozen over with ice. There at its center was a neatly tucked shape, as if the bed had been made with her lying in it - the outline of my sister. Through the blankets I could see the toe points to her feet, a stirring at her sides. What I watched was the string as it inched across the floor, rose up the bed frame and slid under the covers. Where she pulled me in.

    There was a small hand at my temple, another wrapped at my neck. They ran down my chest and began binding my arms.

    Here is what is called a down-facing knot, an open-mouthed slip, and overhand tangle.

    Hum hum hum. A-ok, Charlie?

    With each twist we grew closer until there was nothing between us. My body was out and pulled tight together. The string looped its last loop and with a sound that was as fragile, and as short, and as final as that last gasp of air before diving under, it cinched itself shut.

.

    Afterward, we fell into a black hibernation. Curled into each other, tied together as stones, an undisentangleable knot sinking from its weight to the bed’s deep center. Through our blankets came the whispers of a frozen snowy outside: wind against the window, a grainy hush upon the glass as sand being blown in from the beach. In my mind, these memories play as shaky home movies and, as always, dissolve into fragments and blackness, as if the camera and its lens and rotating gears were from the inside slowly filling up with water. In each scene, she’s turned away: running ahead, or buried in blankets, face down in the ocean, arms out, adrift. Still, what I hear is her slipping deeper into sleep and her breath subsiding behind me into a kind of low tide. What I feel is her rib cage, are her organs expanding, into my back and pushing me forward, then pulling me in. At night, I am alone and what I taste is my tongue, is her tongue and salt water and as I sink what I see is William Vollmann’s white eyes at the foot of my bed, looking to my forehead as the title page of a book, the index finger from each hand tracing through the darkness, one side to the other, then meeting together and folding into a fist. From his moving lips I read, we lay together on the beach and on the beach we are kissing and when I kiss her mouth, I am kissing her skull.

 

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