by Claudia Smith

The new house wasn't new, it was only new to us. There were water stains on the ceiling. Cracks in the walls crawled with giant cockroaches at night. The cockroaches were as big as the palms of my father's hands. They looked like prehistoric creatures to me, and they frightened me, just as most things did in this unfamiliar place. The burnt orange shag carpet felt like something alive under my feet. It smelled wet and faintly obscene. "Cat piss," my new big sister Lisa whispered to me.

I wasn't supposed to call him Dad anymore. We all had to call him Father now.

"We're going to be so happy," Chris Ann told me. She was my father's new wife. So was Mia. My mother was wife number one. She was going to teach Chris Ann and Mia how to make shampoo out of soap flakes and chamomile tea, how to live off of a summer garden, and how to make the children happy with sticks and corn husk dolls. It would be better here for Chris Ann than it was in Arlington, where the envelopes with little windows piled so high that Chris Ann had panic attacks. Bills, bills, bills. She fell into the trap of a capitalist society that only values appearances, my Mom explained to me. My Mom believed we could rescue her, and save Lisa, too.

"Abigail has never played with anything store-bought, have you Abigail," my Mom said. Her lips were pursed and her eyes squinty, which meant I'd better not whine when I gave her my answer. I nodded my head. What I really wanted was a Madame Alexander doll, like Lisa's. The doll's name was Cordelia. She wore a red velvet coat and bonnet, and a soft bunny fur purse open on either end called a muff. Cordelia was the only toy Lisa was allowed to bring with her and she wouldn't let me touch her.

"She's had that doll for years," Chris Ann whispered to my mother apologetically. Mom shrugged her shoulders and Chris Ann slumped hers. I wished my Mom weren't so bossy all the time. I thought Chris Ann was the prettiest woman I'd ever seen, outside of television. And now that we didn't have television I thought maybe I didn't remember correctly, maybe none of those women were as pretty. She was even prettier than Mary Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. Her long hair hung in two smooth panels down either side of her face. In the sunlight it looked like dark honey. She always smelled of lemons and her eyes were different colors. Hazel, my mother told me. Different colored eyes are called hazel.

I didn't know why my Dad was always doing it with Mia. Her breath smelled moldy and she told me that I was a droll little creature. I didn't know what droll meant but I didn't think she was really talking to me, anyway. Whenever she said stuff to me or to Lisa, it always seemed like she was talking to my Dad and not us.

I wanted Lisa and Chris Ann to always be with me, even though I could tell Lisa wished we would get out of her life. She said that to my Mom once, when Mom told her she couldn't go to the library anymore. "You aren't the boss of my brain," Lisa screamed, "Get out of my life!" After I heard her say that I thought it was a good expression. Get out of my life was meaner than saying, leave me alone. Get out of my room. It was the way I felt sometimes, when Mia did stuff like climb in my Dad's lap or unzip his pants at the dinner table. "Get out of my life!" I almost said to her once. But my Mom was looking at me like I wasn't being a good example, so I just kicked my feet against the table legs instead. "She's a drool little creature," I whispered to Lisa after we washed our teeth with yucky baking soda and she laughed.

"Should we get dinner ready?" Chris Ann asked my Mom. She was wearing a Mexican dress that looked like my Mom's. Chris Ann liked to match my mother. She said they were the Bobsy twins. Whatever that meant.

"We should wait for Father," Mom told her, and Chris Ann nodded. We could hear the sex sounds coming from out of the bathroom. My Dad made louder noises with Mia than I'd ever heard him make ever. He said things like "I am the Light!" and "Let it be!" and weird prophet stuff like that.

"Abigail and I don't want to wait for Lionel," Lisa said, looking straight at my Mom. She was so bold. "We want to go outside and play."

"Oh, let's take the girls out on the porch," Chris Ann said and my Mom said okay.

Outside was cooler than inside. Lisa tucked the bottom of her shirt into the neck hole, turning it into a halter top.

"Want me to show you how?" she asked me.

"I can do it," I told her.

"Now we look sexy," she explained, and she opened her arms wide and chased me through the weeds. I couldn't run fast enough and she caught me before I made it to the juniper tree.

"I'm Wonder Woman!" I said. I'd never seen Wonder Woman on television. but Lisa had told me all about her.

"Wonder Woman is stupid," she said, "besides, I'm Wonder Woman and you're Wonder Girl. We're Charlie's Angels."

"Okay," I agreed. The sun was getting low and the mosquitoes were biting our tummies. I hated Texas. I hated the bugs and I hated the way it made you stinky and sweaty and I hated the sky that was so big it made you feel like it might swallow you up.

"I hate Texas. I hate the mosquitoes." I said.

"I'm Texan," Lisa said.

"I know, I just don't like it here, but I like you," I told her. But she was already walking away from me. I wanted to cry.

"And don't be a crybaby," she said, without turning around, "Why don't you just stay here and cry you stupid crybaby? Your Daddy doesn't want yall anymore, can't you tell? He doesn't even like you because you're his daughter and the bible says you can't have sexual intercourse with your daughter. Because that's all he wants to do, you know. Have intercourse."

When I followed her anyway she stretched her arms out wide and spun around so fast that her hair fanned out around her. When she looked at me her hazel eyes were fierce. She held up her palms and shouted "Stoplight!" which meant I had to freeze.

I watched her walk away and I waited for a long time, but she didn't come back to say "Green light!" The mosquitoes were biting me and I didn't even slap them. After they sucked on me so much I couldn't stand it anymore, I walked back to the porch.

My Mom and Chris Ann were sitting cross legged, laughing and swatting mosquitoes from each other's legs. I remembered seeing horses swatting flies off of one another with their tails during the long drive down here. We were like a real-life family, like those horse families that lived on the ranches in West Texas. There was a pitcher of homemade lemonade on the steps and Chris Ann poured me a glass.

"You are such a wiener," Lisa told me and pinched my butt. She showed me the white spots on her fingernails.

"That tells how many boyfriends you are going to have," she said. She lifted my hand and placed it against her palm, then blew on my fingers and whistled low. I wanted to whistle like that.

"Fifteen!" she said, as if I'd done something I should be proud of, "that's a lot. I only have five."

We could hear moans and groans from inside the house. I didn't care so much if I thought of them more like something mechanical, an old air conditioner, maybe, or a vacuum cleaner in another room.

I can still hear the chug-chugging of the train that passed every evening. It was almost a mile away, but it sounded as if it was driving through us. When the train whistled, we stopped to listen. It sounded distant, hollow. "A ghost train," I whispered into Lisa's ear. She took my hand in hers and squeezed it tight. I waited for the whistle to get higher and shriek over their voices. You couldn't hear them at all, when the train passed us by.

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