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I once had a glass ball, with a little purple- scaled gummy fish that swam around inside.
My sister would always ask me, “Brother, ain’t it too tiny? That fishy can’t swim very far, ain’t that fishy lonely in there too?”
“It doesn’t have to swim,” I’d say back, “it’s not real, dumby, and it doesn’t feel anything.”
She’d nod, so I’d think she’d understand, but I knew she didn’t.
This is because my sister was born with Autism. She was named Scarlet Anne Bees, but our Uncle Roost pointed out that she wasn’t really a brilliant, beautiful red, scarlet, but more like a duller pink due to her unresponsiveness and newborn- bodily color.
Therefore, we called her Pinky. Mother at first did not accept the name and snapped at us whenever we used it, but it grew on her and she began using it too, reluctantly.
Often, Pinky had fits. She would lash out for no reason, throw things and scream. It scared Mother at first, but we learned how to control it, mostly by giving her medicine and using different soothing methods.
She could not go to school with me until she was seven, and by then everybody knew what she acted like. I was often teased by school mates and humiliated by her when Mother had to come get her at school because of one of her hysteric fits. Constantly, she would follow me, refusing to stray an inch or two away, and because of this, I was restricted to one or two friends, who in the end, became annoyed and frightened with her because they did not understand her.
I was ashamed of her beyond belief, but did not express this feeling to Mother. I’m sure Pinky was aware, but did not openly acknowledge it, as if saying it aloud would doom it to be true.
I hated the late night runs to the store for her emergency medicine pickup, and food and toy cravings she had, where she would not quiet until satisfied. I hated the extensive doctor visits and questioning looks from other people. We lived in a small, rural town and everybody knew everything about everybody, including the abnormalities of the daughter of Sarah Bees, sister to me, Slater Bees.
They were afraid of her, of what she could grow up into; a delinquent, a bum, a violent human-being.
But what they didn’t know that I knew was that she loved daisies. Wherever they were she would sit beside them for hours and make sure no one picked them or stepped on them.
She loved to draw and paint. Every scrap piece of paper we had, every piece of wood we owned, we would give to her so that she could create. She was very good too. And getting better fast.
She loved to swim in the creek that ran back behind our house. Mother would always make me go watch her, another activity I detested doing, but I couldn’t help but to be amazed at how gracefully she flitted through the water, diving and jumping like some kind of regal ocean- creature.
She was very observant and sensitive so even the smallest wrong look would drive her to tears. She was forever obsessive with earning attention and praise and acceptance. She did receive much attention, but I did not commend her as much as I should have, or as much as she deserved.
All of this about her I knew, but did not share, and did not recognize as her. I looked at her and saw broken, different, and defective. I did not appreciate her personality, her quirks, or talents.
She was eight years old when she developed a new fetish: crown making. She was totally fanatical about paper folding and decorating into delicate, striking crowns. She would sit in her toy room for hours, constructing and fiddling with different sheets. Sometimes, she would become so frustrated with her shaking hands she would again slip into frenzy, ending with Mother and me, holding her down to calm her.
This went on for a year, before Mother decided we should throw her a surprise birthday party, a gift for all her work and perseverance in an activity, (an outlet, the Doctor called it.)
For weeks she prepared her party hat, telling Mother and I it had to be PERFECT, or she could not wear it. She refused that Mother go buy her one, and made absolutely clear we knew that she was capable of making her own.
I could hear her from my room, at all hours, crumbling up paper, mumbling angrily, and trying again and again and again. Mother was worried about the paper cuts on her hands and fingers.
But she was busy with convincing the other mothers to bring their children, saying Pinky would be on her best behavior, then to worry about the tiny sores. Politely, but grudgingly, all of the families agreed to show for the party, (expect ones going out of town, for it was the Friday before Easter weekend), giving Mother and I a week of preparation.
I picked up so many extra hours stocking at the local grocery store, that I all but fell over by the time I got home, and Pinky was still fashioning her “idyllic” crown, and Mother was still slaving away over decorations.
When at last I had saved up enough money to buy her the ideal cake, she whined to come with me until, exasperated, Mother agreed, warned her to be good, and shot me a distressed glance.
She nodded and hiccupped, her thoughts already clouded, and we headed to the wild, unknown Piggly Wiggly in our neighboring city.
Mother and I had already preordered a throne looking cake, in relation to her crown passion. The lady behind the counter handed me the white box tied with a royal purple bow and smiled down at my sister pityingly.
“Isn’t she a cutie?”
I looked at Pinky, and then back at the lady clerk placarded JANE and stared pointedly at my change. The money I had just spent made me wobble on my toes. And the blistering headache I had did not put me in the mood for niceties.
“Oh- yes,” the clerk, JANE said, miffed, her rosy cheeks deepening in color, a strand of hair from her flawless bun falling in front of her eyes.
“Hey wait,” Pinky said, staring down at an elephant balancing on a colorful ball cake. “I want that one, Brother. Get me that?”
“No, I’ve already gotten you a cake.”
“I want this one!” she screamed pointing to the elephant, attracting curious stares.
“No,” I said again, firmly.
“We can exchange it,” piped JANE, clicking her manicured fingers on the top of the display case.
“No,” I practically growled at her, “That cake is part of the theme.”
“I want elephant, brother! ELEPHANT! ELEPHANT ELEPHANT!” Pinky squealed kicking at the glass case.
“Ok stop, we’ll get you one some other time. Right now you get this.”
“I don’t want it!!” she screeched, kicking in the case with a mighty swing of her small leg. It cracked and, now fascinated, Pinky kicked it again before I could stop her.
The cakes were now covered in glass and Pinky was giggling with excitement and people were glaring and JANE was mortified.
“She has Autism,” I blurted, “she’s not normal.”
Mother was called and came to pick us up.
I stood by the door to open it every time a party member came. The kids danced inside the house, then, as if remembering where they were, timorously removed their shoes and wandered about to find familiar faces.
Parents floated around for a while, having heard about the cake incident at Piggly Wiggly. Mother had to pay for the display case, but since they felt sorry for us, the manager let us off without paying for all six of the glass-smitten cakes. Mother almost fell to her knees in gratitude.
I had to keep the cake hidden very well because, if she remembered, Pinky would set off on a journey to find it and would stick her fingers in it. I managed to keep it hidden for the day and a half to the party.
Pinky was dressed in a baby blue party dress with silky white ribbons in her curly black hair. Resting upon her head, her final product was purple dotted with silver stars and white lace on the tips. She plotted a few fake jewels around the side and sprinkled it with glitter. Actually, it was a very beautiful crown, and I felt a spark of pride. But it faded away when she started asking the other children rude questions like, ‘“What happened to your stomach, Cynthia?”’ Who was just fat, and ‘“your Dad’s not here George! Why?” whose father passed away last year.
She was just not aware of her faults, and it was as if her Autism had taken the filter out of her mind, so whatever she thought, she said. I grimaced in embarrassment once again.
After a few games with no fits from Pinky, Mother and I nervously moved on to the eating part.
Pinky was stationed at the head of the table, overlooking her classmates. She surveyed the cake in the middle, with gold trimming and red frosting and the presents off to the side. She straightened her precious party hat and announced loudly that she wanted to sit on the cake.
“It is my throne!” she screamed.
“Pinky, stop yelling. No, you can’t sit on the cake. It’s for eating not sitting.” Mother said, with an intense stare.
“Sit!! I want to sit on it! My birthday!! It is my throne!” Pinky stood up in her chair. The children around the table quieted and gaped at her.
Mother’s teeth were bared, “Pinky, sit down. Now.” I could see sweat beads break out on her forehead as Pinky did not obey.
Pinky smiled a gap-toothed smile and climbed onto the table, her newly- shined shoes shimmering. Mother shot me a look of desperation and I started to go for Pinky.
“NO! BROTHER! MY THRONE!” she screeched and ran towards the cake. All of the kids shot back at least two feet, ogling at her disrespect.
As I reached quickly for her, her small frame darted out of my way and she splashed knee deep in the cake, splattering the party guests and herself.
“Da** it Pinky!” I yelled and grabbed her harshly by the arm.
She turned to scream at me, “STOP! You hurt me brother! Stop!” and proceeded to bite me.
I wrenched my arm away, shocked at the blood that was dribbling from the wound. I reached for her again, catching her head and taking hold of her crown. She crowed in infuriation and grabbed hold of the other side. The combined efforts of both of us tore the crown in two.
The sight of her face, horror-stricken, her beloved crown torn in half on the table almost made me feel bad, until I again was reminded of the squashed, expensive cake and terrified children and my own distraught Mother surrounding me.
I felt nothing for her, except blame that she had caused this. Blame that she could not just be normal, and have a normal nine-year-old birthday party and talk to people without offending them.
I was reminded again of how ashamed I was of my sister.
I could have sworn she saw it in my eyes at that moment, and jumped from the table, through a broken throng of kids. She ran screaming up the stairs, mashing cake into the floor with ever footfall she made. She ran into my room and starting throwing my pillows in the foyer, my papers, my backpack, and pencils.
Mother looked at me in panic and helplessness. I shook my head, dismissing her fit and waiting for the worst to end.
At last she emerged from my room with the glass ball she adored and chucked it on the ground. It smashed into tiny smithereens. And the fish gullied and swiveled down the sea of liquid that had housed it, down the hallway and leaked over the banister.
I stared up at her in outrage and contempt. “Look what you did!”
Pinky wiped at her tears, her face scrunched up and pink like a newborn baby. She waited a moment before she said, “Wait, okay, Brother, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do it!” She lurched forward, “I’m sorry Brother! I will get it!”
“Pinky! Careful!” Mother said cautioning her.
Pinky’s classmates had filed by the kitchen door, peeking up at her. Their eyes were wide with timid amusement.
She quivered on the staircase, hers eyes blinking rapidly.
“Brother, come get me, I’m sorry.”
“Mother, let’s take them back into the kitchen, give them some ice cream in the freezer.”
Mother mechanically moved the kids back through the doorway and sat them down.
“Is Pinky going to come down and blow out her candles?” asked a little boy, while picking his nose.
“...No, Pinky needs some time to calm down,” I said to gold digger, coming back through the door. I could hear Pinky sniffling and moaning my name from the top of the stairs.
After fifteen minutes all of the kids had chocolate ice cream dripping from their faces and giggles on their lips. They had all but forgotten Pinky.
I could see the worry on Mother’s face, and the way her body moved, it was like she was gravitating towards the staircase, to comfort Pinky. I kept giving her warning glances that said, ‘do you want another fit?’ And she would stop and attend to the children.
After the last slow-eaters finished, we told everyone that Pinky would open her presents later. The parents tenderly thanked us, pity leaking from their mouths.
After everyone left, Mother collapsed on the couch, “Please make sure she’s okay,” she whispered before slipping off.
I sighed, reached on top of the fridge and retrieved my present for Pinky, brought it gingerly up the stairs.
There were towels lying on the floor from where she had tried to soak up the water. All of my things were placed in a neat pile on my bed. The glass shards were still lodged in the carpet. Pinky was in the bathroom. There was blood all over the sink and countertops.
She was standing fully clothed in the shower, rinsing blood off of her feet.
The door creaked when I opened it wider and Pinky whipped her head at me.
“Hi, Pinky,” I said weakly.
“Hi Brother. I stepped on sharp things and got red on the carpet. I’m really sorry, Brother.”
“That’s alright Pinky, we can clean it up. Let me help you with that.”
I finished washing her off, applied some medicine and swaddled her feet in bandages.
“Hey Brother, what’s that?”
She was pointing to my present for her, lying underneath the cabinet. I picked it up; it was a fish swimming inside a plastic bag. I wasn’t sure what type it was, but it was a real pretty green with flashes of aqua scales and long, flowing fins.
“It’s so pretty,” she said, stroking the bag, “for me, Brother?”
“Yes. It’s for you.”
“For both of us. Sharing,” said Pinky, burying her face into my stomach.
“Wait I know what to do. Follow me.”
Pinky and I crept out the back door, headed to the creek.
Lily pads swirled in the murky water, birds sang in the trees. We stepped through the long weeds, parted the wild flowers, and stooped down to the bank.
“Ready?” I asked, holding the bag over the water.
“Yes!” she said excitedly and untied the string. The little fish squirmed out and rained down into the creek. He plopped in and flicked his tail up, disappearing beneath the surface.
“Free,” Pinky murmured.
“Free,” I echoed.
“I do love you, Brother,” she said seriously, staring at me with her big, beautiful eyes.
“I love you too, Pinky,” I said, realizing I meant it.
I kissed her on the cheek and we watched as the frogs croaked out a summer song.
“You’re not still mad at me, are you?” she asked.
“No. It’s who you are, Pinky. You’re always going to be a handful,” I said, ruffling her hair.
“Your handful,” she giggled, and nuzzled into me.
We stayed out there together until the sun faded and the barn owls started to hoot and Mother’s worried voice called us back home.