Fault Lines

        You dissociate at the breakfast table, your expression blank and jaw moving mindlessly, as if you are automated–– we have done this routine so many times maybe we are. I whine, pleading with our mother to make you stop staring at me while I eat. Maybe this primary school scene is a microcosm of our worlds: me, fighting to be seen; you, smart enough to know being seen is never worth it. She tells us to open the Bible. We shove our cereal bowls aside and pretend we understand.

        Growing up our bedrooms are side by side, a thin wall dividing the space we are allowed to take up, which part of the floorplan we can claim as our own. When I am an infantile insomniac, and it is late into the night, I press my ear against the wall and listen closely, sifting through the sheetrock like a metal detector through sand, trying to uncover your breath. Like it is some precious thing.

        You sound like our mother in your sleep, soft and rhythmic like a wave, while I take after our father, mouth wide open and gasping for air. To imagine your stomach rising and falling feels impossible; you lie stationary like a corpse. I count each breath on my fingers until I realize that I am unsure what number comes next. For as long as I can remember, this is the closest I feel to you, for I have lived with you all my life yet I have never known you. The pictures of you that exist in my mind never come together to tell a story. Memories of you throwing a baseball, a wooden spoon snapping against the back of your thigh, a perpetually unmoving mouth. If you spoke to me, would your lips form I love you? And if so, could you promise me that they mean it? 

        Suddenly I am twelve and you are soon graduating high school. You amble into my bedroom, an age-inappropriate night light projecting your silhouette against the lavender walls, and lie right on top of me. We do not speak, but I feel the rise and fall of your stomach as you breathe. I am sorry, you say at last, I should have been a better brother. You kiss my cheek, and I cannot move my arms to wipe away the tears.

        This is not your fault.

        When we grow up and we learn to love one another–– not as siblings but as people–– we will see that the thin wall has created a void. A space between us we will spend the rest of our lives trying to fill. We shift through the memories, asking one another what we remember and what we wish we couldn’t. 

        This is not our fault.

        At the restaurant, elbow to elbow, we whisper while staring straight ahead, guarding our mouths with red plastic tumblers of ice water. And this is how we show our understanding–– in the only way we can. I breathe hushed, frantic insults directed at everyone but you, and in exchange I absorb tidbits about your life which, like everything in our family, is told quietly like a secret–– your new house, your fiance, how you feel about our state’s senators. 

        And our father watches but he cannot make out the words.


Biographical Note: Abigail Wells, 20, was raised in Arizona’s East Valley and is a senior at Middle Tennessee State University, where she studies English literature. She has been published in Collage Magazine, Off Center Magazine, and Girls Right the World international literary journal. Wells was a selected poetry finalist representing MTSU for the 2020 Southern Literary Festival & was a recipient of the 2021 Richard C. & Virginia Peck Award for her creative writing. This is her first published prose piece.