Editor’s note: Thomas Kearnes is an excellent writer. This is probably the most challenging, sobering piece we’ve published, and I don’t know if we’ll go this dark again. We have faith in Thomas Kearnes’ handling of this subject, and few writers could do it justice as we believe he has. This story contains a sexual assault scene, and can be difficult to read. But if you do read it, we hope it provokes the same anger against the world-as-it-is-now in you that it provokes in us.
Our home had one bedroom too many. There was a vast backyard that the junior-high kid next door clipped. Complete satisfaction with ourselves and our lives seemed ordained. I’ve never believed in guilt, certainly not over the comforts one has earned. When Bennett said he loved me, I said the same. Sometimes, I even said it first.
I knew letting Berlin, his sister, hole up in our rear cottage was a mistake. I think Bennett knew it, too, but the guilt I eluded without effort made itself comfy at his feet.
She was ten years younger than us. She should’ve been in college. She should’ve been scamming free cocktails off horny frat boys. Instead, she rented a stream of blu-rays from the Redbox outside the corner store. Bennett let her smoke indoors. He bought her groceries. I couldn’t bring myself to hate her with abandon. Instead, I let it fester. It kept me company.
Whenever I tried to make conversation, she talked around me. Once, a few days after she nested. I asked about her weekend, her last weekend before coming here. She kept focused on the flat-screen, told me she’d stepped quietly into her friend’s upstairs bedroom. A party simmered below. Some beefy dude in a Texans jersey was fucking her friend on the daybed. Across from me, Berlin laughed softly. She was watching a sitcom with a sassy housekeeper. The beefy dude hadn’t bothered to undress. Her friend was unconscious, limp body jutting back and forth with the man’s thrusts. He was raping her, I asked. I wanted to be sure Berlin registered my contempt. She never said yes, Berlin replied. In his defense, she added, she never said no, either. Berlin watched the two fuck. Soft grunts from her friend, breathy gasps from the Texans fan. Then, she told me, I decided to join them. She whipped off her t-shirt, her small and hard breasts just a foot from the beefy dude’s flushed face. He ignored her. After a while, Berlin screamed. She’s passed out! She might as well be dead! What about me? Right then, a sharp shudder signaled the beefy man was through. Finally, he noticed my husband’s sister, her woebegone tits. For fuck’s sake, he cried, cover up! Dumb fuckin’ slut…
She looked at me, finally. The sassy housekeeper kept right on sassing. I think she wanted my insight. Instead, I made an excuse. Instead, I left the cottage.
Bennett and I fought over his sister’s fate. Soon enough, we were screaming every night. All the while, Berlin chain-smoked and gaped at television. She wasn’t alive, I insisted. Not like us.
I can’t toss her to the wolves. That’s how he phrased it.
That’s exactly what she wants you to think!
I admired her ability to manipulate my husband while never leaving the couch. She’d pinpointed our weakness. His weakness, at least. I’d given up evicting her. When I found her sprawled nude in the backyard, throat crudely slashed, I couldn’t help resenting her. She got to check out when she fucking chose. The cottage reeked of smoke. I had to hire professionals.
There was no need for a funeral.
Bennett, himself, moved into the cottage. He swore it wasn’t to hurt me. He just needed to feel closer to her memory. I could’ve fought. I could’ve tried. Instead, I packed my bags and checked into a cheap motel. Before I left, I made sure to inform him this was only temporary. Did he feel likewise? He stared at his shoes. He never said yes. In his defense, though, he never said no, either.
Thomas Kearnes graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with an MA in film writing. His fiction has appeared in Hobart, Gertrude, Berkeley Fiction Review, PANK, BULL: Men’s Fiction, Split Lip Magazine, Night Train, Word Riot, Storyglossia, Driftwood Press, Adroit Journal, Eclectica, wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, Sundog Lit, The Citron Review, The James Franco Review and elsewhere. He is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Originally from East Texas, he now lives near Houston and works as a cashier.