art by Eleanor Bennett
by K. S. O'Neill
Is the President
Actually a Midget?
This Summer's Greatest
Ugh. I crumple the paper and toss it onto the pile on the floor. I've been trying to write a poem based on late twentieth-century tabloid headlines, but I can't get the tone. And I have a dance piece due in a week I need to get to work on, a tricky bit of classical ballet on the rise and fall of antibiotics.
I close my notebook and reach out to my sister, who sits in front of me in our sloppy, comfortable den. She murmurs and folds back into my lap without looking up from her reading, and I ruffle my hands through her thick hair.
She is teeming with lice. My fingers move happily, grooming gently through her hair, a game older than the pyramids.
My history lectures echo in my head; humans have groomed for lice since, well, since before we were humans. Our nails evolved to do this, to help control the things when they were parasites. I gently fold another lock of hair across to expose a bare line of scalp, see movement; without thinking my fingers deftly catch a fat one and tug it loose. I examine it wriggling for a moment, then pop it between my teeth.
Contentment floods through me, and a tiny taste of blood. Waves of chemical data hit my jaw, my taste buds, my throat.
She's fine. I stroke her hair, and she shifts a little in my lap. I know things now; she's calm, she's not in love. She's not sick. She's not on her period. There's a little acrid bite to it, a little memory of thin and bitter.
"You forgot to eat yesterday," I tell her. "Again."