Watch your brother, watch your brother, the girl thought to herself. Wondering why they always said to watch him when he never did anything worth looking at. He just sat there, as always, a not-quite-finished lump of clay trying to be a boy.
The girl asked her mom once what was wrong with him; her mom said nothing was wrong with him, coming down hard on the word wrong so that it rang in the girl’s ears for days and days, echoing like a bell each time she looked at him. There is nothing wrong with your brother, her mom had repeated, but this time her voice lingered on the word brother like it was too heavy to push out of her mouth.
She sighed and reached out to cup the girl’s cheeks; then her hands moved to her braids, letting them slip through her fists with a little tug at the end. Now watch your brother for me, she said just like she always did.
He had a silly putty face that she found by turns funny and vaguely frightening. She picked up this toy and that, choosing for color and shape and sound, but his eyes did not even shift to follow her hands, so there was no sense trying to get him to smile, an occurrence as random as his farts.
The girl moved up close to him and said his name directly into the cupped shell of his ear. She waved her hand in front of his eyes – nothing. Still staring at his ear, she reached out the tip of her tongue to touch the tiny blond hairs that whorled across the ear lobe. He giggled then, and she felt the wall between them shift just a fraction.
That’s how she thought of his silence – a clear boundary thicker and more rubbery than glass, unbreakable, a cube that he sat in rather than something he produced. She knew that if she could get inside that cube with him, they could talk. She was curious what he would say, what his voice sounded like, and if he minded the diaper he had to wear.
She licked at his earlobe again and again he giggled, a prolonged sound with a strange music to it. She stared at the side of his face, at the fat roundness of his cheek, it’s blonde down of fuzz, at the way the architecture of his ear swirled inward like a seashell, the opening like a keyhole she could put her eye to and see all the way inside of him to the place where he patiently waited and watched for her.