Lieblingskind | a short story

The way you boiled your eggs made me understand that I had lost. That I’d always lose in your house, in your world that was fashioned after people like you, for people like you, to win and own what I knew to be mine. A spoon turned into an instrument of violence in your hand. In an instant, the egg was exposed. And your mouth that was so rancid with death salivated around the damage it could do. Taste what was hurt to death and barely touched, you called it breakfast. The chunk of butter that you hid on a plate in the cupboard and that was now pierced alongside the edge of your knife, like skin left on the laces of an over-worn corset, you forced it onto your sourdough, sprinkled salt on it like earth on a coffin, into the silent grave that is your mouth where everything finds its end.

You had taken my words from me. All I had was the word love, short changed, that felt sore in my lap. And my hands that seemed detached from my body, misguided, not mine anymore. Everything was the same, nothing had collapsed, the clock was ticking, there was mail, a newspaper, a fresh pot of filter coffee and the sun had risen with you. How could my world that you broke with your hands feel so incompatible with the world that I was born into that you perpetuated, this system that had been in place long before me, how come routine and silence became irreversible acts of betrayal? Nobody was afraid of me because I was a child and my powerlessness was conveyed to me.

I can’t remember whether I dared to enter the kitchen at that time of day. I was ashamed to wake up in my body and to be seen in daylight as if I only belonged in the bedroom, not in the kitchen all of a sudden. And I was afraid of the fact that I had survived, that nothing was visible, that I was considered compliant and resilient. I understood where I lived. I think that I envied my sister’s memories, that I took hers and made them my own, to override mine, to kill mine, to exchange the image she had of you with the one I had, that was forced upon me, destroyed, like I exchanged my faceless Lego figurines with my cousin’s intact ones, there’s a corpse in the house, there’s damage in the house.

My sister was the one at the breakfast table, the one bathed in sunshine that flooded in through the kitchen windows. We fought over these memories, who they belonged to. We were possessive over them, over you. I was jealous of her and furious that you had made me feel unworthy to be seated next to you, to be given food, too dirty to belong. I contained your dirt. I was jealous because this image of you did not correspond with mine, I knew that the power of this image would hurt me, would find a way to ridicule me and negate everything I knew to be true. You weren’t abstract. All I could think about was everything that she had and was that I hadn’t and wasn’t. How you had categorised us and put us in our places to maintain your perfect image. Even the one with me in your bedroom you nurtured to perfection, I wanted to be saved, I believed in my powerlessness and you embodied a hero who taught me how to love and be loved. You knew how to mismatch words and actions.

I vilified my sister. That’s the system. She was too good to be touched and spoiled. She was the one who deserved you on your best behaviour, who needed to be protected and cared for, she was so delicate and fragile and petite, she belonged in the limelight. But I could take it. My skin was deemed thick enough for your appetite, your transgressions. I knew how to exist in the dark. I was a child too. I wanted her version of you. Your version of her. We competed for your attention and love. The difference between the way you looked her and the way you looked at me was that her you wanted to keep intact and me you wanted to tear into. I think we were both played. I think we both made the big picture work in your favour. I blamed her for not having been submitted to the same things and everyone respecting her vulnerability and childhood. I blamed her for not sharing my pain, for helping you be such a good person on the outside, for holding on to and emphasising that little piece of the puzzle. She embodied the girl I wanted to be and that I felt I had been robbed of, when she was praised I was slandered, and I became violent, not towards you, but towards her. Well played.

My own drawing © Laura Gentile 2023 | Instagram: croque_melpomene

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