I am breathing flesh.
I start to stretch, but the walls are close.
The smell of wood itches my nose.
My brother is in the room next to me, I can see him through the laths. We look at each other. Brown eyes like mine, with lashes as long and thick as mine. The girls loved the sad turn of his eyes, made him seem sensitive, but the boys never really liked mine, made me seem obsessed.
We do not talk. His mouth is gagged, and I do not want to make it worse by asserting my freedom where he has none. Like when we were kids.
I always stood up for him, or defended him to Mom when he was in trouble, even if it was for something he did mean to me. Like the time we were playing in the dirt, making mud pies. We started throwing them at each other, one got me in my eye, and so Mom was about to ground him but I convinced her not to. I said I started it, that it was my fault, and it didn’t really hurt anyway. But he never stood up for me. I told him secrets and he’d tell them. Like when I stole from the blonde neighbor and he told her the hiding place. And still, the silly sister, I stayed loyal to him.
Mom and Dad are here. So are some others I know. That one I never liked. The blonde. She got all the guys. Her shapely thighs, her muscled belly. No meat on her bones. I was always too fat.
After they arrived, we were loaded onto trucks. The guys who took us thought I was better than the blonde. She liked my brother. They all liked my brother, all my friends always liked my brother. I’d have parties and he’d be the center of them. I have pictures. I am frowning in the background as I watch the blonde chase my brother through the frame.
The guys who took us thought I was better than the blonde I never liked, maybe better than my brother, even.
Finally. I win.
The truck. Inside, we stood so close the smell of sweat became a taste. Tiny noises, like skin rubbing, loud. The loudness of outside distant. I could not see outside. Just the shoulders of my mother in front of me. Her familiar slope, one I simultaneously despised and needed.
The truck hits something. The floor shifts beneath us, and we shift with it. My dad almost topples, but my brother, so close to him, steadies him. Mom watches, and I watch her watching. Weirdly, comfortingly, it is as if Mom and Dad are married again. But allies this time.
It scared me when Dad lost his balance, his eyes a little wild. He always seemed all-powerful.
We don’t get to listen to any music we like; the driver chooses. I don’t like what he chooses. I cannot see him, but I imagine his smiling mouth, his muscled arms, his square nails. Traffic flies.
The driver is laughing, arm out the window, feeling the air. I can hear his hand keeping time to the music on the side of the truck. I want to hang out too, and keep time, my face to the sun, wind in my hair, but no way.
I could pretend to be him, and enjoy outside that way. But hatred of him keeps me from closing my eyes and dreaming of being him.
Over there, Mom winks at me to make me feel better. She’s so rock-n-roll. We loved listening to music together. I bet she’s wishing she could feel the sunny breeze too. So cramped in here, calves cramping.
Getting off the truck, fresh air. Lots of trees and pretty flowers. Smells good. Walking in a quiet line, one behind the other, off a wooden board creaking. Not a fancy truck. Suddenly polite, giving each other room. I don’t even like my family. Now there is this closeness, more intimate than our history. The sky is blue and clear. The place we approach is a reddish brown. It sits on dirt.
Faces in the green growing, and flowers opening as we pass. I take their joy, not mine, and in seeing theirs, make it mine.
It is a long way to the house. We walk and walk. My brother says something, and then something else. Sometimes I want to laugh, and when I do it makes him laugh. My brother is gagged. I keep my head down.
Dirt in my hair. Dirt in my throat. Too scared to shake it off or cough it out. The rich oil of earth choking, the trees far behind me now.
Dirt flies underfoot. I wish I could kick something.
We each get our own room, a billet. It’s so small I can barely move. I am suddenly lonely. I would like some water. Even that bad music.
My brother is in the room next to me, just like when we were little. I can hear Mom and Dad, not their voices, but their breathing. I wish I could see them. I wish they’d tell me something. My brother and I stare at each other through the cracks in the wall. We do this for what feels like hours; hours become seconds, when it ends.
There are footsteps. Maybe it’s the driver in his big boots. My tummy lurches. This surprises me. It is. He. He opens the gate and grabs me rough. I am breathing flesh. He smells clean, and like work. He smells like soap and blood. He leads me away. I am first because I win.
Everything a shambles.
I am sad to leave the sad eyes of my brother. I turn my head to look at him some more as much as I can, looking back through the slats of the slaughterhouse as I go.
Abattoir. Such a pretty name for something so ugly. I’m glad I don’t speak a language that lies. But then, slaughterhouse is as it sounds, a language that is not lying.