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If There Is No What

Ruth Blank

It’s unbelievable that they got Meggie and me one room. They’re so clueless. We used to love sharing a room, it’s true. At least I did. Before Dad put in central air, on hot nights, they’d have me sleep on the floor of her room because it had a window air conditioner. I’d make her laugh, sometimes by tickling, but also by saying stupid stuff like a joke I learned from a joke book: “Cheer up, things could be worse. So I cheered up, and sure enough, things were worse.” I’m sure she didn’t get it, but everything cracked us up those nights and we’d laugh until Dad came in and screamed at us to get to sleep. And then we’d just laugh more quietly.

This chair is pretty comfortable. Goodnight.

*  *  *
I went to Madame Tussaud’s with Meggie. We took the Underground, but we stood at opposite ends of the car. I had to keep an eye on her because she knew which stop we wanted and I didn’t. For some reason, I can’t read anymore. That’s why I’m seeing you, of course, but we never talk about my not reading. We talk about everything else which is strange because the problem is that I can’t read.

Of course, Mom and Dad know I can’t ride the Underground without Meggie even though they make it sound as though she’s the one that can’t ride without me. No one’s going to attack her. This is London after all. And there’s no worry about her getting lost. Everyone always wants to help her.

I saw her exit when the loudspeaker said Baker Street. She walked fast and I lagged behind, but I could see her even in the crowd because she was wearing a pink slicker.

Madame Tussaud’s was stupid. They keep it kind of dark; just the exhibits are lit. There were lots of tourists in wet raincoats so that it was both steamy and creepy. I got the headphones that tell stories about all the figures. Not that I care where David Beckham was born or what leisure activities Prince Harry likes, but I wouldn’t know what’s going on without the audio guide. I wish the whole world had an audio guide.

Meggie spent a lot of time looking at the murderers: Jack the Ripper, Lee Harvey Oswald and some famous British murderers—a guy called The Black Panther and a girl named Mary Bell, who if you can believe the wax figure, was kind of pretty in a '60s sort of way. They had her in a leather jacket with a scowl on her face that was kind of sexy, like she was every kind of bad. The background was rickety old buildings barely lit on narrow streets and it looked as though something terrible would happen any second. I wonder if Meggie really liked the dark scenes they set up for the murderers, or if she wanted me to think she liked them since I’m sure she knew I was behind her.

I followed Meggie’s raincoat back to the hotel. I’m supposed to protect her, but there I was, trailing her like a calf following its mama. I don’t feel like her older brother anymore, though I’d never tell her that; I don’t like telling you for that matter. When I was almost twelve and she had just turned ten, we were playing Uno on the floor of her room. She was wearing a loose nightgown, and when she leaned forward to pick up a card, it kind of dipped open and I could see that she had breasts, more or less. It shocked me and I could feel my whole body get warm. Somehow, she didn’t notice me staring every time she leaned over and when she wanted to quit, I said, “one more game,” and felt disgusting and thrilled all day and even though she didn’t know. It felt like she had something on me.

In the lobby, Meggie did a quick about-face and left the hotel. I guess she didn’t want to ride up in the elevator with me any more than I wanted to ride up with her.

Now we’re at dinner with our parents at Veeraswammy, which serves fancy Indian food. Dad is on his second glass of gin. He is asking how we liked Madame Tussaud’s, as though he thinks Meggie and I do things together. It must be nice to be able to ignore so much.

I’m standing outside, smoking and talking into this thing. It’s not quite dark yet. I know that people walking by can hear me talking, but they don't look at me. In fact, people in London don’t look at each other, I guess out of politeness. If someone looks you in the eye, you know they’re from another country. I’m going to have to go back inside before Dad sends Meggie out to get me. Mom, Dad, and Meggie are going to the theater tonight. I plan to walk around.

*  *  *

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