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"Sister Gwendolyn" by Antonios Maltezos
Even as she was falling, all she could think about were the bugs in the dirt, and that blue/green beetle with the pincers from so long ago. She didn’t mind bugs, though she certainly didn’t want them sliming their way into her mouth, her ears – in her head feeding on what she could still remember.
She landed hard on her tailbone, struggled to control her breathing. Her husband was the first to peer over the edge, make eye contact. She was able to read his lips before he disappeared from view. What the fuck, Gwen? She didn’t care. He could drown his shame in a bottle of whiskey if he liked, and she wouldn’t say a word about it.
“It’s my sister,” she moaned.
They both squatted down, whispered as if it was the proper thing to do. Gwendolyn positioned the little stones into a corral, trapping the bug. She wanted to touch its back, stroke the metallic shade of blue/green, see if the color would come off on her finger. But the beetle was quick with the pincers and she pulled away suddenly, upsetting her sister.
“He didn’t bite me, Catsie. He didn’t bite me.” But it was too late. Her little sister was already sprinting out of the clearing, her arms flailing.
Gwendolyn leaned in closer to get a better look at the beetle before Catsie could come back with their father. He’d be furious, pulled away from his chores.
The beetle wasn’t moving, but there was something menacing about the way it held its pincers off the ground. What’s the worst that could happen, she wondered, a little pinch? She’d squish it with her bare foot.
“It’s my sister,” she was finally able to call out with her first big breath.
The man in black seemed unfazed. He motioned with his book and the two men who’d been shoveling the dirt dropped their spades and got down on their knees, leaned in to help her out. Her back ached and her hip felt like it had come undone, but she was still able to keep out of their reach.
“Give us your hand, Sister Gwendolyn,” one of the men pleaded.
She felt a tickle on the nape of her neck. She tried to ignore it. It’s just a tickle, she told herself, but it quickly moved into her hair, sending shivers up her spine. It would come down between her eyes in a moment, but she refused to move, jump up and flail her arms as her sister had done. She didn’t want to lose her concentration.
She pointed her finger at the blue/green beetle, shut her eyes as the pincers snipped through her fingertip, cutting deeper than she’d expected.
She pushed aside two of the stones and waited for the beetle to escape. Once it was gone, safe under the matted grass, she stood, waited for the one in her hair to crawl onto her forehead before flicking it off, before running for the edge of the clearing so her little sister wouldn’t ever have to step here again. She could hear Catsie’s voice up in the leaves of the surrounding leaves.
“It’s my sister,” she whispered so only the worms and the bugs could hear, her fingers moving slowly over the dirt like a blind person touching. "She was my little sister."