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Literature Details
Published:  May 1, 2005
Print:  Printable PDF

Author Details
Author:  Alison Andrews
Alison Andrews is a graduate of Texas Christian University. A former English teacher and graduate student, she is also a past recipient of the Dallas Museum of Art's Arts and Letters Live Award. She lives near Fort Worth, Texas with her husband and daughter.
Don't Be Cruel
by Alison Andrews
It must be a rush. To be a man. To be cruel—to be loved for it.

I don’t know what that power feels like. I do know how to survive the bastards. How to stop begging them to come back and hurt you again. How to sharpen your edges—it’s necessary, if you want to stay alive. I’ve got jagged edges—you could cut yourself on my elbow. Me, I was a skinny kid, with a bony little butt. Holding me on her lap, my mama used to say I’d been eating razor blade soup. My steady diet, these days.

Cherie Redmon’s too soft to survive. My brother says her boyfriend Jason’s sleeping around on her with a teenager—he wants to me talk to Cherie, wake her up. Really, though, what’s the use. Either she won’t believe me or she will, it’s all the same in the end. She’ll just offer herself up again. I’ve seen it happen. Look hard at a woman in love—watch her bones dissolve.

My brother went to kindergarten with Cherie Redmond. She broke the hearts of many five-year-olds. Her favorite boy she picked with the fairy wand after nap time—that boy was special the rest of the day, he glowed as he pulled Cherie’s white-blond pigtails and made her squeal with delight. My brother remembers the fairy wand, though Cherie’s forgotten it, he says.

The only mean thing I saw Jason do to Cherie? He told a story, she corrected a detail, he jerked his hand away from her. Didn’t touch her again while I was watching them.

Tell me something, I say to my brother, the way I did when we used to lie in bed together, head to toe and toe to head. It was warmer that way. Now it’s him on the floor and me on the couch with my eyes closed and my arm dangling. My fingers a shallow empty cup. His bare foot inches from my hand. My fingers burn, go numb, but I won’t move.

Tell me something, I say again.
Why do I ask for things I don’t want?
So I know when they’re coming.

My brother tells me something and I see what he says. Like a dream you can’t wake up from. I see Jason and a high school girl in his Mustang, their faces warped with laughter. I watch Jason slip his hand down the front of her shirt. Her lips move.

I see what my brother says but I hear nothing.

I see Cherie asleep in her parents’ house, in her narrow room, in the white wrought-iron daybed she’s slept in for years. I watch her sleep, pure as snowflakes drifting, unaware of the frozen ground below. I see the Elvis poster she loves. Elvis watches both of us with sleepy, repentant eyes. Don’t be cruel, to a heart that’s true.

I want to run my fingernail down her throat, from the jawbone to the collarbone—where a knife would travel, but gentle. I want to touch her, wake her, warn her.

Why mess with her? I ask my brother. My voice shakes but I force the words out. She’s just a dumb blond bitch who doesn’t know what’s good for her. Stay out of it—she’ll find out on her own.

You’re jealous, my brother says. He rolls himself up, onto his feet—his hands never touch the floor. Oh, he’s always been graceful, my brother—and he’s always gotten whatever he wanted.

He stands over me. I close my eyes and feel my pulse flutter in my throat. Above me, over me, my brother traces my collarbone with his thumb. The bone juts out under the skin. Razor blade soup, like I said. He pinches the collarbone between his thumb and forefinger. It’s the bone I broke—he broke— we were wrestling and he threw me across the room like a rag doll.

He wraps his hands around my throat. Remember what we always said?

I remember, I say, but I won’t open my eyes. I run my fingernail soft down his arm.

Nothing’s changed, he said. He said that to me.

I am his but he was never mine. I don’t have the fairy wand.

Cherie’s story is not my story. I don’t know how my story will end, but I know some things that happen before it ends—if it ends. I know how you cry so hard you turn inside out, your heart bloody from rasping sobs. I know how you stop sleeping because you’re afraid of your dreams. How music, every love song ever written, follows you, marks you, hammers you, how you search the dark for Elvis’s eyes, how you touch, how you hold yourself, how you pray you won’t dissolve.