The Girl Under The Stairs Ch. 01

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College

Ch. 1: Big Apple

Okay.

This a story about incest.

Or, to be, less delicate about it — to be as harsh about it as society wants to make it — there was a time in my life when I fucked my sister.

I think of it as a love story.

Like any love story, it’s about how two people found each other and gave each other a little peace and happiness, at least for a little while.

And it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t end happily ever.

Not all love stories do.

And this is a love story.

Here’s what happened:

*

I washed up on a couch in my sister’s apartment in New York after I lost my job and my girlfriend in Boston in one spectacular week.

Boss: You really don’t want to be here Jimmy, do you? Maybe it’s just better if …

(Me sitting on a stool in a studio, thinking, no, asshole, I spent all those years in art school just so I could sit here building babes with pneumatic boobs and M-15’s for a MM shooter called Virgin Territory. And then wondering who I was calling an asshole in my head.

Girlfriend: I mean, we were never really all that serious, were we, Jimmy? Maybe we’d both be better off if …

(Me lying in bed beside her, looking at her boobs and thinking, Yeah, actually, I kinda did.

You get the picture.

So I spent a couple months living on severance, going to movies in the afternoon, eating tons of take- out, and smoking way too much weed.

But eventually, the money stops coming and there’s still rent and food and all the stuff you take for granted when you’re getting a paycheck. I mean, drycleaning, you know? Dr. Bronner’s miracle soap.

In the end, I ended up with only one options.

Maura:

You could come down here. New York, Jimmy. Boston’s, like, small compared. My roommate’ll be gone for at least another three months and you can have her room. You can get yourself set up. And anyway, we’ll have fun. It’ll be like it was when we were kids, y’know? Only without them. C’mon, babe. You know you wanna. And I’d really like to see you again, Jimmy. I mean, I really loved you back then, y’know? And since we both moved out it’s been, we really don’t see each other any more. I miss you, Jimmy. Really I do. Come on down. Please.

*

Okay.

Stop right there.

It wasn’t like that.

Not at first.

I didn’t go down there looking for what happened.

Furthest goddamn thing from my mind, you ask me.

She was my sister.

Maura. Mo. My little sister.

She’d got out of our house when she was sixteen. A year after I’d wangled a scholarship to art school down in Boston.

Colorado, Florida, California, New York

On fake IDs that got her jobs in restaurants, bars.

Lost touch. Got it back.

Our parents gone to live in fucking Arizona.

Still together.

Maybe sober.

Which didn’t make either of us any less orphans.

Then a year ago, New York City.

Calling to tell me to watch for her on TV.

All of a sudden she ‘s livin’ the dream. Actually almost supporting herself as an actress. Which should not have surprised anybody. My little sister got all the talent in the family, most of the brains, all of the looks. I’d already seen her in commercials for Foxwoods Casino and a laxative called — honest to god — EZ-GO. And as a school girl witness on SVU telling a cop that a dead girl didn’t do drugs.

She was our golden girl.

I was the fuck up.

Every family needs one.

I was busy losing my job

Thinking I might be falling in something a little short of love with a girl named Rachel, who worked in a downtown law firm and, in the end, had her sights set a good bit higher than me

My sister had SAG and Equity cards.

My sister maybe could sing and dance.

My sister telling Detective Benson what she needed to know.

My little sister telling me what to do.

She was right though. There was nothing left for me in Boston. I needed a fresh start.

Maura.

New York.

She was all of twenty two years old..

*

So I spent nineteen of my last two hundred dollars on a BinWah Transit bus from South Station to Chinatown. And ended up in a third floor walk up in a brownstone in Prospect Heights, just off the park. Sleeping on a futon in the bedroom of a girl who was on tour in a Jersey Boys, with a window that looked out over the roofs and steeples of Brooklyn to the Statue of Liberty.

My Mo. Standing in late afternoon sunshine as I got off the bus at the corner of Houston and Canal. I hadn’t seen her in a couple years and there she was, undeniably beautiful and, to tell you the truth, the first thing I thought as I got down onto the hot bright sidewalk, and my nostrils got assaulted with the smells of food and garbage – New York in high summer — was damn, my sister is hot.

She was wearing a sun hat, tight jeans and a paisley shirt straight out of the Summer of Love, top two buttons open to a hint of cleavage. She had electric blue eyes that always seemed bigger and more intense on TV, but were still ataşehir escort amazing in real life. And her smile, with its small pretty imperfection: an out of place left canine tooth.

My Mo. Wrapping me up in a hug.

Saying my name

Making me feel like home.

For the first time in a really long time.

In a month, I would be sleeping with her.

Chapter 2: The Girl Under the Stairs

Okay.

Maybe you want to assign a pathology to what I’m going to tell you.

I don’t want to.

I know I don’t need to.

Maybe you do.

Maybe everybody does.

So, if you want to make it about something other than just love, try this.

Our parents were crazy.

They both drank. Our dad ran though jobs like water.

Nothing was ever calm.

We both got out as soon as we could.

One story:

One story’ll do.

Night time.

Crash of furniture; glass breaking, voices, yelling.

I stumble out of bed, out of my bedroom.

Mo already in the hall: little, in a nightgown, skinny legged-girl, shaking.

Voices.

Somebody fucked somebody. Somebody fucked somebody else.

These goddamn people acting like they didn’t have kids right upstairs, listening.

Shit kids shouldn’t hear.

But we heard it.

Mo and me in the hallway, holding each other , listening.

How the voices faded as the fight moved into the kitchen, and out into the back yard

Then a crash, one voice louder than the other, then quiet.

Scary quiet.

Everything when we were kids was scary.

Scary loud. Scary quiet.

Scary.

We made our way to the top of the stairs, then down.

Empty kitchen, white-lit

Back door open to dark and night scent of lavender bushes that lined the fence in our back yard, wild, untended,. planted by another family, ignore by ours, allowed to run to seed.

But in the summer, filling the air with perfume.

The two of them rolling on the grass, swearing, somewhere between fighting and making love.

Our father’s hands at our mother’s throat.

Her hands below his stomach, moving.

Our mother crying, swearing, crying in the lavender scented dark.

And when, after forever, the stopped and began to pick themselves up from the grass, we darted back and, afraid to be caught seeing something we shouldn’t, ducked into a closet at the foot of the stairs

Looking out through the cracked door: our dark their light.

On the couch, sitting,

My father: Face, hair, nose, lips bleeding from a cut somewhere just above his eye..

Voices low, angry, pleading: Fuck him didn’t Fuck him. Should have Sorry.

The lousy two of them talking, pouring drinks, talking.

Their kids beneath the stairs, unheard, unseen.

She was little, Mo. Eventually she fell asleep in her nightgown in my arms.

My arm asleep beneath her bony shoulder.

Smell of her hair against my cheek.

Warm sound of her breathing:

(To sleep next to someone is to trust them not to hurt you.)

The voices of our careless parents: soft, sorry music deep into the night.

We did not trust the voices of our parents not to hurt us.

When we woke up, the house was full of morning sunlight, smell of whisky.

They were gone.

They had hurt us enough for one night.

And there were still years to go.

And so we left.

And why, I suppose, we hid so long from each other.

Until they were as gone as we could make them in our heads.

And Maura hugged me in the damp heat of July in Manhattan, on the corner of Houston.

And each of us was the only one who could ever understand.

Chapter 3 Third Floor Walkup

We were tentative with each other at first.

City. Subway. City again. Brooklyn now. Prospect Park.

We talked mostly about me — my lost job, my lost girlfriend. The whole of my life that had ended at age 26.

And now I was here.

With Maura

With my girl under the stairs.

Afternoon sun through trees and buildings.

My sister’s hair auburn and golden in the sunshine.

She had metamorphosed in our years apart. Scared girl when I left her. Not scared anymore. Her face the same but there was something more knowing about her eyes. She had been a wary child — always alert for ways our parents could hurt us. Now, with them declining, unseen in the desert, she seemed freer, less burdened than I remembered.

We sat on a hillside, watching black men in cricket whites on a pitch.

Jamaican voices.

“So how about you?” I asked her.

Shrug.

“I don’t know. California. Colorado. I’m pretty happy now. “I don’t know. California. Colorado. I’m pretty happy now. This acting gig is crazy ok. Good money when I’m working. But no money when I’m not. I swear to god , it makes a girl think about being a whore.”

“You trying to tell me something?”

“No. Not really. I’m just glad you’re here, that’s all. I missed you Jimmy. I’ve kadıköy escort missed you for years.”

*

Dinner.

A small place on Garfield Street. Hipsters. Hipster food.

“Tell me about Mariska Hargitay,”

She shook her head.

“She didn’t talk to me. I was one step up from an extra. You wanna hear my lines?

“Sure.”

She sat up in her seat, transformed herself into a schoolgirl, said: “Sarah’s not the kind of girl who hooks up, y’know? But she had a boyfriend. … Yeah, he goes to Horace Mann … But we never met him or anything. He was like big Mr. Mystery, yah know? Do you think he’s the one who hurt her?”

I clapped.

She bowed in her chair.

“I’m in a play right now,” she said.

“What’s it about?”

She ducked her head

“Not yet. I’ll tell you about it later.”

Looking at me across the table from under a fall of hair.

My sister.

Shy.

*

And finally home.

A brownstone on Ferris Street in Green Point. Gutted. Reconstituted into three apartments. Mo on the third floor.

“This is it” she told me. “This is where I finally washed up.”

Standing on the sidewalk in the warm summer night. The Statue of Liberty in the harbor in the distance. We had shared a bottle of wine at dinner and were both slightly drunk. She stood on tip toes and kissed me. Soft and sloppy, half on the cheek, half on the corner of my mouth. I held her as she subsided onto the sidewalk, kissed the top of her head, was aware of the warmth and curvature of her body against mine.

“Where we washed up,” I told her.

“Yeah, we. I like that, Jimmy. I’m glad you’re here.”

*

Up the narrow staircase. Maura unlocking the door, flipping on lights.

Living room and kitchen space. Two bedrooms.

Opening the left door; pointing into another person’s space. Mine. Sort of. For a moment.

She walks ahead of me, sits on the bed.

I bring my one duffel bag in after her, toss it on the floor, sit next to her. The mattress sinks beneath our shared weight, throwing us together, shoulder to shoulder.

“I’m so happy,” she told me.

The wine in our bodies making us float.

Maura leans into me, gives me another kiss.

One of her breasts soft against my arm.

It feels briefly like she is someone else.

Ch. 4: The Play

She’d been gone about 20 minutes.

I’d lit up, but only did a couple tokes, so I was more mellow than stoned.

I wandered out of my borrowed bedroom into the front room and the first thing I saw was Mo’s script laying on the kitchen table.

Thinking, she’ll want that, I shot her a quick text and she texted back: Shit. Oh well, we’re sposed to be off book now, so it’ll prob b ok. Don’t worry about.

So for a few minutes, I didn’t.

But then I did.

It was sunny out — shorts hot, but not oppressive and I wanted a walk anyways .So I headed out, with the script folded up and sticking out of my back pocket.

GPS’d the theater which was on 5th Avenue between Lincoln and Madison streets. Cut through Prospect Park past the big Civil War Arch and down through Park Slope. At 7th, the brownstones stopped being renovated, and by 5th, things were in that half dilapidated state that says early gentrification. The theater building, Mo had told me, was an old car repair joint that had been repurposed with moveable seats to create different theater spaces in the large open area that had once housed the repair bays.

People with ideas.

People doing things with their lives.

God, I hated their guts.

Not enough to not ring the buzzer, though.

Female voice on the other end.

I told it who I was.

There was a loud buzz and the door opened on a woman with her hair tied back in a bandana. Wisps of frizzy hair escaping. Torn up blue jean shorts. Bright yellow shirt, with spaghetti and bra straps intertwined over freckled shoulders. Cute, I thought: the way guys do in a nanosecond when they meet a new woman. Nice smile that made pale skin around her eyes crinkle as she looked at me.

“You’re Jimmy,” she told me.

I gave her back an acknowledgement smile. Yep, that’s who I am.

“I’m Megan,” she said. “Meg. I’m doing the lighting. Maura told me about you. You’re living with her this summer, huh?”

I pulled out the script.

“She forgot this. I was taking a walk. Thought I’d drop it off.”

“Cool,” Meg. “They’re rehearsing, she said, indicating some place behind a partition with a toss of her head. “you can … yeah, I guess it’s okay. You should come on in.”

Her hand on my free arm, guiding me inside.

“They don’t like to be interrupted.. I mean, it’s a pretty intense day, y’know. But you could maybe give it to her when they take a break. Come on.”

She led me from the light of 5th Avenue into the shade inside. No windows this side of the partition, so I was blind for a moment, with flares of sunshine dancing behind my retinas.

A door opens, and we’re inside.

“We haven’t set the seats yet, bostancı escort bayan but there’ll be bleachers so it’ll be in the round. You can wait here.

My eyes adjusted.

The flares died down.

A circle of warm light in the center of the cavernous space.

Two people sitting at a table.

At first I didn’t recognize her.

Then I did.

My sister Mo, sitting on a hard backed chair, at a kitchen table, playing cards.

Naked.

“Okay, this is officially weird,” I found myself saying to Megan.

“What, you didn’t know? Oh yeah, this is the first day they’re doing full costume, which for Maura means bare-assed pretty much the whole play. That’s why I said it was a little intense today. I mean, it always kind of is …

“Look,” I said. “No. I didn’t. know. I mean, kind of, at all. I’m a little weirded out here, okay?” I pushed the script into one of her hands.

“Lissen, you give it to her, okay? I really can’t stick around for this, you know?”

And turned around and just about ran out the door into the vestibule. I was halfway out the door to the street when Meg caught up to me. I heard her voice as the heavy metal door clanged shut behind me:

“But, hey, you’re gonna come see the play aren’t you?”

*

I spent a long day hanging around the apartment, waiting for Mo to come home. Started to text her a couple times, didn’t. When she still wasn’t home at around eleven, I went to bed. I was still awake at eleven thirty when I heard her come in.

Sounds of her bustling around the front rooms, opening and closing a refrigerator. Keys hitting a table. Finally a tapping on my door.

“Jimmy, you awake?”

I debated not answering, but then I figured I’d worry all night about what to say to her in the morning. I mean, this was embarrassing. But maybe, I thought, that’s all it was: just something dumb and embarrassing.

“No,” I answered through the closed door. I sat up in bed, smoothed my t-shirt, smoothed the sheets. “C’mon in, sis.”

Door opened, throwing light in a rectangle of the floor at the foot of my bed.

Mo coming in to sit next to me.

“Well,” she said. “That was a little bit awkward, huh?”

“I guess. I was just taking a walk, figured you might need it after all. I mean, I had no clue.”

Her soft laugh in the dark.

“You never looked at the script?”

“I mean, read it? no. I just y’know, brought it.”

“So. Big fat misunderstanding. Meg thought you knew, you were cool about it.”

“Jesus, Mo. I was anything but cool. Does she think I’m like a complete dork?”

“No, she just thought it was kinda funny. I mean, it kinda is, you know?”

“Funny was not my first thought there. Sorry.”

“I mean, look. I was gonna ask you if you want to come see the show when it goes up. So sooner or later … I mean, I’m an actress. This is what I do. So I don’t get all embarrassed over stuff like that. I mean, I do, sorta. At first. But you get over it. Eventually. I think.”

“You think?”

“Well, yeah, I mean, I haven’t done this before. Not like this. I mean, naked on a stage. I mean, we’re trained not to do that kind of thing. Us. People. And then you’re an actor and you have to lose all that conditioning. And you do , you know? Eventually. But even then, there’ll be an audience and the other actors. They’re easier, I guess. They understand that it’s acting, right? I mean, your body’s an instrument and all that shit, so you use it. Sometimes you use all of it. But I don’t have any clothes on for like an hour of the hour and a half up there; so it’s a little bit weird, for me. But I mean, for you to be in the audience, that’s really no weirder than the whole thing, you know? So it’s really alright., I guess.”

“Okay,” I remember saying to my sister. “If you’re alright with it, I guess I can be too.”

Then she put this totally chaste, sisterly kiss on my forehead.

And then she got up and was gone.

It was after she left that I realized that I was a little, well, hard.

I practically threw a pillow over it.

Eventually I got to sleep.

*

Okay, think about it for a second.

If she was somebody else, somebody not my sister, there’d be nothing really wrong about it. I mean, I’m twenty six, I’m a guy, I sort of accidentally stumble on to this girl naked — and she’s somebody I know, somebody I like — a lot. My roommate, for god’s sake. My really pretty roommate. And then she comes home, comes and sits on by bed and we talk about her getting naked in front of a bunch of strangers, which, I’ve got to admit, is a little bit of a turn-on for me. If I got a little, you know, excited by that whole situation, it wouldn’t have been abnormal or anything. Just one of those three quarters erotic things that happen between people — and especially people in our twenties, when half your whole life is just pinballing around and bouncing off people while your body tries to find somebody to, like, mate with and your soul gets dragged along behind, falling in and out of love basically in obedience to your genes.

Then I probably would have gone to sleep that night happy, thinking that something might happen or something might not, but it was a little more likely now that something might, and if thinking that gave me a bit of a stiffie, I mean, normal, right?

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