The Middle Child

Art by Zuha Nasim
Writing by Gabby Maloy

The house your parents own, or the one they have two mortgages on, looks just the same as it always has. 

The doormat is different, and the grass in the front yard is much taller, but all else looks much like you remember. Your sister does, as well. She meets you on the front stoop for the first time in ten years. You’re both older now, wearing more comfortable shoes and carrying assortments of things in your pockets. You embrace one another, your hands meeting the back of her winter coat, hers finding their way to your shoulders and pressing down softly. Neither of you know why you were asked to return to the house that your parents own, and both wonder as to what it could possibly be that prompted this unprecedented summons.

You join your mother and father at the dining room table for a meal, and make curious eye contact with your sister, who urges you to break the silence. You do. You ask what it is that has required your return.

“We had another child while you were away,” your father says casually.

You and your sister exchange glances.

“Why have you waited until now to tell us?” You ask.

“Because we plan to eat him,” he answers.

Your sister’s eyes widen, yours unmoving, unblinking.

“Why?” You ask.

“He just didn’t turn out right,” he answers.

You bring the spoon in hand to your lips but find it empty. The experience is echoed as you reach for a drink of wine, your glass inconveniently dry.

“Why did you call us here?” You ask.

“We want you all to meet before we kill him. He’s about your height and looks just like your sister.”

Her body stiffens, and her fingers grip the edges of the dining room table.

“He has the loveliest eyes and large, strong hands,” your father says. “I imagine he’ll taste something like rabbit or cat.”

A pause.

“I’m just pulling your legs; don’t worry, I would never eat a cat.”

You make the decision, in that moment, to spare your sister any greater grief, and make an excuse for the both of you to leave. Your parents protest, if only for the sake of saying they had, and you both head toward the front door. You’ve forgotten your jackets in the hall closet, you realize, and ask your sister to give you a moment to retrieve them.

You walk up the flight of wooden steps, each creaking louder than the last, and feel along the wall for that familiar light switch. All is now bright, and as you fumble through a sea of coats and hangers, you notice a figure leering from the end of the hall. 

He walks towards you, slowly. 

Your father was right; you’re nearly his exact height, and his features are the spitting image of your sister’s.

“Hello,” you say hesitantly.

“Hello,” he answers. 

You look him up and down once more. He indeed has a lovely set of eyes, and, though his hands are at his back and therefore out of sight, you imagine they’d be rather large and rather strong.

“Do you know?” You ask him.

“Yes,” he replies.

“You don’t mind?” You ask him.

“Not at all,” he replies.

“Why not?” You ask him.

“Some children just don’t turn out right,” he replies.

A pause.

You close the door of the hall closet gently. You turn away from the boy who is soon to die in the house that your parents own, and walk down the flight of wooden stairs to rejoin your mother, sister and father, once again breaking the silence and leading the way to the front stoop.

Your sister stands there for a long moment in the cold. After the goodbyes have been exchanged. After the door has been shut and the blinds have been drawn. After it is only you and only her and only the boy who is soon to die in the house that your parents own.

She turns to you.

“Do you think we’ve made a mistake?”

“In doing what?”

“In not meeting him.”

“I don’t believe you’d have benefited from it.”

“I can’t help but wonder of him, though. What do you think he was like?”

A pause.

You bury your hands in the pockets of your winter coat, and look from your sister’s eyes to the ground below.

“I can’t know for sure, but I imagine that he’ll taste more like cat, than rabbit.”