Et Tu Brutal

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March 15, 2015 by The Citron Review

by Ann Stewart McBee 


pūnīre akin to poena: penalty, pain

Sammie and I were studying vocab, but I kept thinking about how the Latin roots, which the teacher said would help us remember, can be so misleading. Like paradox comes from Latin for “beyond belief” but you can believe a paradox easy. And profane just means “outside the temple,” and discord means “the heart asunder.” Sammie was being a grouch, more than usual even, throwing my lighter at me after I was a gentleman and gave her one of my squares. She finally told me that Brittney Phillips spread a rumor that Sammie was fingering herself in the bathroom stall at school, when really she was just putting in a tampon. I smiled in a dirty way, and that made her even saltier. So she slapped me hard across the cheek, and The Game was on.

It could be a hanger, or the cord on the PlayStation, or a belt, or a fist. But it was a bad summer for house flies, so we used the handle of the swatter I kept in my room. The object was to see what marks she could make. Sometimes it was just red, swollen lines. Sometimes it was tiny scratches. Sometimes long bruises that were purple on the inside and orange on the outside. I would see them and know: Sammie was here. What you couldn’t see is that my skin tingled and got moist all over. I’d close my eyes and see cartoon hearts exploding.

, equivalent frag – (variant stem frangere: to break) + – ilis, – ile: tendency toward

What I know for sure:

1) Sammie took the pictures. I can see part of her thumb in one of them.

2) The pictures are of me: my arm, my neck, my lower back. You can see my tan lines and my zits clear as everything else.

3) I have a weird relationship with pain.

What’s probably true:

1) I used a belt to make the constellation on my neck and the octopus on my arm. The moons on my back were made by the boots of Junior Rearden and his idiot henchmen. But somehow I remember that when I tied the belt to the doorknob, it was cross country season, and my time was 22:06. Rearden and his crew caught me during last winter, when the sidewalks needed fixing. I was at 19:30, but I tripped.

2) People can remember things that didn’t happen, and forget things that did happen, if they try hard enough.

3) It was Momma’s potato salad that made everyone at the church picnic sick, including fat old Mrs. Appleby, who is in the hospital and might even die of dehydration.

What’s unlikely:

1) Pastor Pete was so sore about the laxative incident, even though no one at church noticed, and boys will be boys, and no one understands that more than him, because he used to fool around until he found Jesus, who says to always turn the other cheek, so he throttled and kicked me.

2) Sammie got excited and took The Game too far. Momma said this would happen.

3) Appleby’s coated chicken made everyone at the picnic sick. It was totally pink at the bone.

What definitely isn’t true:

1) Mothers always believe their sons, even when it’s obvious they’re lying.

to long for, require, equivalent de: removal of + sider – (stem sidus): heavenly body

Sammie catches the football and holds it like a baby. Her hair is tied up, but the front hairs have fallen out everywhere, and they stick to the trails of sweat running down her temple. Her shadow against the U-haul truck is like a black comet. Every time she throws she makes a wild dog sound. The red blotches on her cheeks from the heat are shaped like kisses goodbye.

heavy, devoid of feeling, irrational

Momma’s room is dark and the fan is on full blast. Pastor Pete has gone out to buy Gatorade and Saltines after helping her into bed from the toilet, and the house is very quiet. I hold the bendy straw to Momma’s lips, and turn the washcloth over so the cooler side is on her head.

“Thanks baby,” she whispers. “You’re not sick are you?” She’s shivering and gray as a zombie.

“Not yet. Did you take some Pepto?”

“Yes…” Then suddenly her voice isn’t a whisper anymore. Her eyes go wide and deep, and she lifts her head off the pillow and stares off behind me.

“You get away from him…” She’s shrieking. “Don’t you hurt him, Satan, do you hear me? Leave my baby alone!

I look behind me, but of course nobody is there.

stem contūsiō: to bruise, crush, equivalent to con – together with + – tud (variant stem tundere): to beat

22:06 is the time is takes for the fever to take hold. It hits me like a lighter. It’s not a good tingle. It’s not a good moistness. Mrs. Appleby’s puke was orange on the outside. I put a piece of broken sidewalk in the jar of mayonnaise before I left it in the car. Sammie’s face in the back of her parents’ car was a doorknob. My belt is braided and stiff in places, like coated chicken. Pete has a belt buckle made of turquoise. A bruise starts off turquoise and ends purple, like a paradox. The German word for what I feel for Sammy is verlieben, from Latin lubēre: to be pleasing. I can’t stop thinking about how tampons are used. Skin barely holds in blood. You can see it trying to come out like an octopus. Sammie was my constellation. I never cared that she was outside the temple. She never cared that I have a cartoon heart. I am standing over my own shoulder watching myself dab Momma’s cheek with a washcloth. Please don’t hurt her, I scream. But it’s too late, and I’m pink at the bone.


Ann Stewart McBee was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She earned her PhD in creative writing at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where she still teaches undergraduate composition and creative writing, and served as an editor for Cream City Review. Her work has appeared in Ellipsis, Untamed Ink, So to Speak, and At Length among others. She lives in Milwaukee with her husband and a mischievous terrier. Her novel Veiled Men, is looking for a home.


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