by Lindsay Redifer

I have a new zit. It’s wedged just under my nose, right on the skin of my upper lip, so it hurts when I talk. I want to pop it, but I know this zit. It will rip through my skin fiber by tiny fiber, and the pain will last for days. The smart thing to do is leave it alone, but I know I’ll attack it before too long.

I try not to think about the growing blemish on my face and focus on baby brother asleep in his crib. I can almost see him from my hiding place in my closet, but I can’t open the closet doors too much or else everything packed into the small space will tumble out. Before he was born my step-mother bought everything she could think of for a new baby boy and then bought it all again in a bigger size, claiming “he’ll grow so fast!” She spent Father’s money faster than ever while she was pregnant.

I put my hand in my pocket to feel the small objects floating around inside. A dried cherry, a small button, a balled up piece of napkin and a silver candy ball. I’m not sure which one will work; I’ll have to try each, but I need to be careful. This must look like an accident.

My zit is really hurting now. It’s almost daring me to pop it. I give it a test squeeze and the pain brings a black cloud into my eyes. No, I can’t. I’ll just have to live with it.

I reposition myself so that I’m turned ever so slightly towards the opening in the closet door. I can just hear him breathing, my little brother. He looks almost innocent like this. This is how he should die, peacefully, in his sleep.

I learned about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, the other day and I knew it was perfect. Lots of babies simply died — no explanation, no guilty siblings. There was simply nothing to be done about done about it, it just happens. And always while they sleep.

I’ll start with the silver ball. It looks sturdy, like a bullet, but truthfully it will melt quickly. I’m hoping it will land just in the opening of his throat, stop his breathing and then melt away leaving no evidence. I take aim and then throw.

The bang off of the side of his crib tells me I’ve missed. No matter. I’ve still got the balled up paper. This will also eventually dissolve in his stomach, it will just take longer. And no one would guess that I threw it. Me, the loving sister, kill the little baby boy? Please. What nonsense.

I throw the paper and it falls terribly short. Damn. Ah well. The cherry will do the job. I take it out and study the crib closely. Just how hard and how high do I need to throw it? This is like Angry Birds but with real death. The projectile must be just right to make the palace of sticks fall and the tiny pig perish.

No, on second thought, the only way to do this is the dangerous way, with a button. Resigned, I eat the cherry and picture the arc of its flight in my head. Yes, I’ve got it now.

“Ming,” my father calls. Oh no. I only have a moment. “Ming? Where did you go?”

I lob the button just as I imagined and, success! It falls in the crib. But I hear no choking, no desperate gasps. I just hear sweet, peaceful breathing. And Father is walking towards the room. Quickly I slip out of the closet and stand by the crib, pretending to admire my new baby brother. The door opens and I turn as if I’m surprised by my father’s presence.

“Ming! Where have you been? I’ve been calling you for ages.”

”Have you, Father? I was just visiting baby brother and I just forgot about everything else. Look how sweet he is when he’s sleeping.”

Father takes a deep breath and then peers over the crib with me. He sees the button and
reaches in to retrieve it.

“We have to be careful with little things like this. Babies can choke, you know.”

Step Mother is clicking around with an urgency. “Ming! Are you ready? We have no time at all. We need to get to the bureau.” She stops and takes a good look at me. “Oh no. You’re no wearing those old things, are you?” She’s talking about my shoes. They’re an old pair of American bowling shoes, a gift from my mother. My real mother.

They’re scuffed and not the prettiest color, but they make my feet look American; obstinate, opinionated and free. But most of all they’re flat, something Step Mother can’t stand. She loves her high heels so much she hiked the Great Wall in them.

Step Mother looks at me a bit closer. “Oh my goodness! What is on your face?” Before I can stop her, she’s moved in with her long, pink nails and taken hold of my zit. The pain is more than I can bare and then even more. I watch Step Mother’s face recede away from me, getting smaller and smaller and then there’s only darkness.

When I come to I’m lying on the floor and there’s a bandage on my face. The pain is positively awful. I hate to touch it but I do. The fresh bandage makes me hopeful. I can’t go to the bureau like this! I’ll have to stay home! Thank you, Step Mother!

“Ming, get up.” Father stands over me impatiently. “Come on, we have to get moving.”

“What happened?”

“You were so ridiculous,” he says, closing his eyes in exasperation, “fainting like that. Really, Ming. Have a little class.” I want to defend myself — zits aren’t meant to be popped by someone who can’t feel them. It’s my job to kill my blemishes and one that I take seriously, but Father has always had nice skin and has no sympathy for me. He’s certain these zits are evidence of my teenage stubbornness.

I sit up and then I see my feet. They’re bare. What happened to my shoes?

“They’re gone. I threw them out,” Step Mother says. I hate how well she reads minds. I don’t want her rummaging around in my thoughts. “Don’t worry. I have the perfect solution.”

At the bureau, I can hardly stand. My zit-turned-open-wound is banging with pain and making it impossible to talk or even smile. I’m wobbling terribly in Step Mother’s high heels. Her feet are much smaller than mine, she made sure to tell us all, and these shoes are least three sizes too small and much taller than I’m used to. Between keeping my balance and avoiding conversation, I can barely focus.

Someone slides a piece of paper over to me and demands that I sign it. I don’t want to give up my name, but apparently this isn’t my decision. It’s been made by the new woman and baby in my life without any discussion. I sign.

Father and Step Mother sign another paper saying that little brother’s name is now Ming. I don’t know what my name is. Apparently I’ve missed that discussion as well. Did they thank me? Shake my hand? I can’t remember. All I remember is the water that filled my eyes and made me feel as if I were swimming away. I seemed to drift away on a different current, leaving Father, Step Mother and little Ming alone on their island.

Someone at the bureau taps me on the shoulder and brings me to the surface. “Are you alright? Do you need to sit down?” I blink the tears away. “No, thank you. I’m just very happy today. I feel so honored to give Little Brother my name.”