This is what Ro’s holy confirmation means. It means she’s a woman in the eyes of God. It means she’s almost done with the eighth grade. It means she’s wearing a new white dress and gets to pick what the family is having for dinner after the ceremony.
She picks fried chicken. This becomes the joke of the night—the fat girl said she wanted fried chicken after church.
They sit around the dinner table, reaching their hands into the giant grease-stained bag of wings. They’re celebrating; wine for everyone, kids too. Lyle is sitting in his old spot across from his sister instead of eating in his room. Ro’s father is smiling big, and he doesn’t do that often. She tilts her head toward his side of the table so he can see the lily in her hair.
"To think I named you after a flower," Ro’s mother squeals, holding a drumstick as a microphone. A few hours earlier, standing in front of the mirror with her, stroking her powdered cheek, her mom told her she was the prettiest girl in the world.
Ro’s mother tells Lyle to bring up another bottle for her. She puts on music that’s too loud and no one says anything. It’s a scratchy song about love. It’s at this point, the point when Ro gets dizzy with chicken and wine and music, that she knows something is going to go wrong.
Ro’s mother gets up from her chair and dances. She closes her eyes sways her arms above her head like she’s floating in the backyard pool. She walks over to Ro’s father and strokes his arm. He acts like nothing is happening, spears a chicken leg with his fork.
Ro looks across the table and sees her brother staring at their mom. His lips are stained with red wine. His nose wrinkles.
“What?” She says, staring back at him. “I can touch him if I want.”
Lyle stays silent, traces the edge of his plate with his finger.
“I can kiss him if I want.” She steps away from their father and shakes her hips. “I can dance.”
She shimmies over to Lyle and plays with his red tie, his shaggy black hair. “Look at this handsome young man.”
For a split second, Ro sees the hint of a smile on her brother’s lips. But then their mom laughs, her head thrown back, and he realizes that she’s making a joke.
“You better fix that face, or no girl’s ever going to touch you.” She pokes a large pimple on the left side of his neck. “Look at this. Horrible.”
Lyle swats her arm away, mutters something. Ro’s mother stays where she is, tells her husband to come over and take a look at his only son. Ro’s father chews slowly, like the meat turned to rubber. Lyle’s face, already red and pitted, darkens to rust.
He drops his voice. “That’s enough.”
She pokes his shoulder. “I’ll tell you when it’s enough.”
Lyle sucks his lips in towards his teeth and grabs her hand. He pulls it away from his shoulder. He stands up and pushes her into the white wall, pins her there with all six feet of him. At first she laughs.
“Let go.” She says. Lyle grins when she tries to twist away from him. His laugh is high and squeaky. “Let go of me you fucking brat.”
Ro’s mother can’t get away from her son. She grabs the edge of the wall and he peels her fingers off. Even though he’s impossibly skinny, his hands are gigantic compared to hers. Ro thinks back to a story Lyle told her last summer, while they were picking weeds between the stones lining the driveway.
“She kicked me down the stairs once, when I was three. It’s the first thing I remember. I read that you can’t remember anything that young unless it’s traumatic.”
“Why she’d do it?”
“Why do you always ask retarded questions?”
He kept pulling up weeds like he hated them, his fingernails black with dirt and roots and gravel.
Ro’s mother is screaming. She’s yelling her father’s name over and over. Gasping do something. Someone is laughing hysterically. A wine glass falls, cracks; it leaks onto Ro’s plate, making her chicken soggy. She goes to the bathroom to wash her hands.
While the water runs over her fingers, she says the alphabet. She washes again, in case she didn’t get clean enough the first time. Small armpit stains show through her dress fabric. The pearl buttons running down the back feel tight from eating too much. Ro pretends she’s still in the church, which is beautiful to her even though she doesn’t believe in God. She clasps her hands together and closes her eyes. All the white things come back to her—the slender wrists of girls, the window panes, the headlights of cars cutting through the early evening. Her father, acting as her sponsor, had put his hand on her shoulder.
In the kitchen, there’s the scratching of chairs on wood. Silverware clattering. The short, hard phrases of men echoing through the hall. She can’t tell which are her father’s and which are Lyle’s. Quiet sets in, broken by a woman’s sob. It doesn’t sound like her mom’s voice—low and with sharp teeth—at all. Ro glimpses Lyle walking past the bathroom through the mirror. She hears the front door whine open.
Ro follows her brother, staring at the back of his navy suit jacket. The spring air comes into her lungs sharp and wet. Ro walks five feet behind Lyle up their empty street, towards the main road. He talks into the air in front of him.
“I had to do something. He won’t do it so I have to.”
“Who won’t do it?” She realizes she knows the answer after she asks. In this moment, she can only imagine their father placing each piece of broken glass into a dustpan, his fingers methodically searching through the little heaps of leftovers.
“He lets her do whatever she wants. Treat us like shit.”
Ro’s white ballet flats are specked with dirt. Lyle stops and turns around. His blue eyes are bloodshot. His hands tremble like there are tiny lightning bolts running through them, trying to get out.
“Who’s going to stop her? Huh?”
Standing there with nowhere to go, trembling, his bird-wing shoulders slumped toward the ground, Lyle has never looked more like a boy. This makes Ro wonder whom she saw in the kitchen, holding their mother down. Because there was a man in there. Some man lurching, finding muscle and bone in his hands. Squeezing until he got to the fear underneath.
She doesn’t answer Lyle. Instead, she walks over to him, puts both her hands on his shoulders, and prays. Even though she doesn’t think anyone is listening, she pins her eyes shut and prays for the man she saw to crawl back inside her brother and stay there like a dog lost in the woods.