Rachel was having fun crushing aluminum cans. She’d position one; examine it with a furrow between her wispy brows, and then leap. Then she’d grin when the metal accordioned under her light-up sneakers.
She enjoyed it while she could. Eventually we’d be interrupted by a bellow from the stairwell. “The ogre.” she’d whisper with a grin as dad’s footsteps creaked over the rotting wood of the hallway, warning us to be quiet. I took her hand and led her to our makeshift balcony before this could happen.
The fire escape left imprints in our bare legs as we sat crisscrossed. Puberty had left me at the mercy of salivating boys also warring with it. A few of them called up to me, compliments punctuated by their snorts and uncertain leers. I ignored them and focused instead on my sister.
She’d found a spindly brown spider and was pulling its legs off. I wanted to join her; it would be a distraction from the boy’s hunger. Instead I reached out took her wrist, shaking it until she released the mangled bug. “Not here.”
“Hey.” She whined, affronted. Rachel’s mouth pouted even as she watched the spider fall. Her gaze pursued it until some passerby’s sole ended its little life on the cement below us. She looked back up at me. “People don’t like spiders. No one would be sad.”
I nodded and shifted, trying to get comfortable on the grate of the fire escape. People didn’t like spiders. It didn’t matter that people were far more dangerous to spiders then spiders to people. Spiders got squished if they were seen. The smart ones stayed hidden. “It’s not about the spider.” I said. I didn’t feel like explaining the complexities of our lives to my little sister. She was too young to understand even if I did.
“The boys are looking at you.” Rachel said her words lyrical and singsong. Rachel was clever and knew their attention bothered me. She stared at the group of them across the street from us. They watched me back, nervous like kittens on their first hunt, all desire no grace. I shredded the edge of my shorts, feeling better when the fabric tore. It helped quell disjointed dangerous thoughts spawned in my head whenever one of them laughed or jostled another. “You gonna have a boyfriend?” Rachel leaned forward so close I could feel her warm breath on my lips.
The growl vibrated my throat.
Rachel’s eyes narrowed and she backed down quick. I was bigger than her.
“No.” I said. Smart spiders stayed hidden. Dad taught me that, Rachel would learn it eventually. I stood up and went back inside.