Quietly

Upstairs that night, my mother and sister and I
piled the bedroom bookshelves against the door
and stood with our backs pressed there, waiting
to hear my father and brother fight him off.

But we heard nothing. We heard his footsteps —
first up the staircase, then right outside. The door
shook against a shelf and knocked a glass
jar of coins to the floor. Jackpot. And then

Mimi and I really started screaming. I remember
pounding against the windows, seeing all the docked
boats flashing in the harbor, the rows of headlights
easing their way across the bridge. Nowhere near us.

Along the Chesapeake Bay, maybe a woman sat in a car,
resting her head on her husband’s shoulder. All she saw
when she looked towards us was a blank square of brightness —
not my sister, trying to shatter the window with a lamp.

Lately, I feel like that all over again. Even crowded
around the table at lunch with everyone. Like my friends
are drinking soda while I’m sipping gasoline. My teeth hurt
from remembering. My throat hurts from not telling.

The Specifics

When we talk about
it, and we hardly ever
talk about it, each of us
calls it by a different
name. Mom calls it
The Attack and I
can’t tell if she means
seeing the man crash
through the window
or finding Dad on his
knees, tearing at the buttons of his shirt.
Paulie refers to it as
That Night like it was
the only night and I’ve
found myself saying
just Baltimore as if
the whole city was
responsible. And Mimi?
Doesn’t call it anything.
She never mentions it,
and if we do, she goes
silent, searching out
the nearest exit, and
leaves the room.

The Leading Lady

Beforehand, someone could have shot Mimi’s life
for one of those glossy magazine spreads: Women
With Everything. My sister the professor, posed
in front of the lecture hall. The sexy intellectual
with those notable diplomas displayed in her office.

And the husband: Preppy specimen bent over
the drafting table, redesigning the bedroom skylights
so that the sun didn’t wake Mimi up on the mornings
she wanted to sleep in. My last birthday she sent
a train ticket and let me stay there over spring break.

I spent the whole vacation trying on her suits,
pretending to set down a briefcase on the bench
beside the front door. Entering the apartment
again and again, calling out Honey, I’m home.
Beforehand, had someone offered me the chance

to step seamlessly into my sister’s life, I wouldn’t
have hesitated. Even if that meant she’d need
to disappear. Let’s face it — I’m fifteen, staring down
three more years of dealing with my mother.
Beforehand, Mimi had a life that anyone

would have stolen. Six-thirty, she’d float in
with a sack of take-out, daffodils wrapped
in white paper beneath her arm. I bet even after
Matthew’s mistress started claiming higher
status, Mimi found a way to see herself as lucky.

Then less and less. Until it was the life I envied
that vanished. As if it was only a set some director
ordered dismantled. Beforehand, she could act as if
none of it had happened. And then that man showed up,
tearing down the walls, proving they were hollow.