I'm the Sister Who Stands in Front of Houses.
He's the brother sitting across from me at the pancake place,
who takes my photograph. In case I forget,
he says. But I want them to give me that new drug. Then I'll know
what's delusion and what's true.
He tears the lid off a jam packet. The bad things that have happened to
me are because of the bad things I've done. Like Kennedy--I feel
responsible. I know who was in Dallas that day, hiding under the manhole
cover. I was in the Air Force, the Secret Service.
I say, No. You were in the Army, in Vietnam. Before that, we were at
college together. Your apartment on 18th Street. I gave you a yellow
He reaches for the syrup. My life has been a long forgetting. Sometimes
I think our great-grandmother is dying. Mother is smothering her with a
pillow. Do you think our mother would do that?
I say, That sounds like a bad dream, or one of those fairy tales she
used to read to us.
He says, The correct word, the word you want, is confabulation.
I pay our bill, drive across town to the old neighborhood where we both
knew from the beginning we were going. We park by our grade school and
start walking. Halfway across the playground, he stops. It was the time
of the Tet, the new moon, that's when you think they're out
there, sneaking up on you through the fields, in camouflage. I was all
alone, on guard duty. I called for Spooky then, or Puff, the Magic
Dragon, we called it. Said, "Looks like we've got a situation
here." Spooky laid blankets of bullets the size of football fields.
He takes my picture by the closed craft center. Summers, we painted
plaster of paris animals and braided plastic string into key chains. I
don't know if they were there, or I just imagined them.
We walk down familiar streets as if heading home. I applied for PTSD.
They told me I don't have it. So I asked them, "How could you
send a crazy man to Vietnam?"
He points to a tired building. A drunks' bar. Used to stop here
Sunday mornings, after my paper route. They'd dump out the bottles
from Saturday night. I'd drink whatever was left from each one.
Paydays, our father bought rounds for the house.
I tell him, I don't remember any of this.
He says, You wouldn't. You were little. But I was in the kitchen,
We walk, and he says, The shrink mentioned the new drug has side
We keep walking. He says, I thought I saw our father on the bus. And I
think it was a double in the car that day in Dallas. Kennedy's
somewhere else right now, lying in the sun.
I say, That might be a, what do you call it? Confabulation.
He laughs. The old house looks small and unprotected. Someone has
chopped down all the trees we used to climb, even the bushes we hid
behind playing hide and seek. They put a prefab box in what used to be
the vegetable garden. He takes my picture in front of the old house, in
front of the house down the street that's still a church--silent
today. It seemed the choir was always singing then. I pose by the house
that was a restaurant, where I got a job making pickle plates and
salads. And I smile once more, before the corner grocery, where the
owners lived upstairs. When we walked in, a bell would ring, and someone
would appear. We'd pay the quarter our mother had given us for a
loaf of bread, then spend our own nickels on candy. He says, I want to
write my autobiography, but I'm not sure anything I remember really
There never used to be a sidewalk here. The weeds grew into the
street. When that new house with all the windows was a one-room shack.
I ask, Didn't the woman who lived there then tell fortunes?
Didn't she tell your fortune?
He says, I paid a hundred bucks. She looked into a crystal ball. And it
was a bad fortune, a misfortune. Look what happened to my life.
He shakes his head. The shrink thinks, maybe I'd miss the
delusions. He says they might he comforting. But, if I don't take
the drug, how will I know what's true?
I look at the sidewalk. The last time he told me that story, he said
she used cards. Maybe, in some way I don't understand, it's
all true. We start walking.