pages The Great Responsibility

by Rusty Barnes

Published in Issue No. 100 ~ September, 2005

Carlos Bob lives and sleeps in the backmost room of the modular addition

of a trailer in the Whispering Pines Trailer Court. He’s a confused boy, not

only because of his name, some ethnic mismatch his mama dreamed up with her
girls before she fell asleep with the plastic tube around her arm still. He’s

confused because his little sister is missing since this morning, and no one

seems to want to find her. Mama’s girlfriends left a while ago, smirking among

themselves and bumping into each other before peeling out in the dirt drive,

and Sissy, the big one, patted him on the head and told him to be a good
hero. He said he would, but he doesn’t feel much that way right now, more like

his belly’s shaking.

He huddles in a pool of blankets on the top bunk with his Spiderman
comics and dreams of being able to rip the side of the trailer and walk into

the storm of life out there,
rain sheeting off his skin-tight red and blue suit like a movie. He will find

her somewhere
in a nameless city with dark foreboding streets and a garish street lamp where

lug-muscled thugs will try to stop him, no match for his web-wrapped fists and

spider-senses. He will whip his way through them like Mama does the cobwebs

she cleans.

Tanya is not so little, he guesses as he jumps down from the bunk bed.

She’s a big girl for her age, which is four. She doesn’t talk much yet, but

likes to walk through the neighbor’s flower garden, and normally Carlos Bob
goes with her, but today he has chosen to stay inside and draw Spidey and Doc

Ock and Vernon, and Tanya has not come back. He’s
worried too about Mama, who is lying in the middle of the sofa. It looks as if

she’s thrown
up a little bit, and he lifts the edge of her shirt — pale fishy skin — and

wipes off her mouth.

Daddy Bill will come home soon from the university with Tanya, Carlos Bob

hopes, and will turn off Mama’s weird music that she plays during the day,
maybe take them out for thick cheeseburgers and fries not too hot to hold in

your hand. By the time they come home Mama will be awake and will have cleaned

the ashtrays of their gunk and pulled her hair back, and they will all sit on

the couch together and drink pop while they watch cartoons
on video. But he should get Tanya first.

Carlos Bob opens the screen door, holds it carefully and doesn’t let it

slam for fear of waking Mama. He steps out onto the green long-haired lawn,

still wet from the rain, and cuts across the board bridge over the drainage
ditch, where he and Tanya floated his plastic boats yesterday. He can see the

tugboat trapped at the edge of the fall, moving over and over. He steps into

the knee-deep water and tosses the tiny boat onto the grass, and while he does

he catches a hint of red at the corner of his vision, and steps over to the
slight fall knowing already what he will see, the back of Tanya’s tiny skirt

bobbing madly in the brown water below.

He jumps down in to pick her up and doesn’t realize how deep it is, and

he’s over his head and struggling a little. He thinks of what Spidey would do,

imagines being able to capture air inside a balloon of spider-silk, imagines

pulling his sister in and letting her breathe
it, and he wishes it were true, he can almost touch her, and the water closes

over his sight, when he feels a big hand on the back of his shirt and feels
himself hauled into the air, and he coughs dirty water onto the grass.

When he wipes his eyes clear he can see Daddy Bill bent over Tanya a
little ways away. Daddy’s cursing to himself, and she’s still there silent, her

bag lunch still tied to her dress-sash. He can smell the banana in her lunch,

and he knows it’s next to the PBJ and Little Debbie snack cake, because he
packed it for her, with a smiling Spidey on a napkin, so she would know she
would be safe. Carlos Bob wishes the thing would all end, wishes Mama would

wake up and hold him and Tanya too, but Daddy Bill is just sitting there now

watching the water run from Tanya’s mouth.

He remembers the music this morning, Mama and Tanya and him, swaying and

singing about flowers and hairs and eyes, and the thought of Tanya walking
through the water, the marigolds ticked behind her ears like two big orange

eyes, like the antenna-eared aliens they saw on TV, would be more than OK.
Would be cool. There is still a chance she will get up and walk to him, he
thinks, and he will encase her forever in the protective cocoon of web he has

prepared for the great responsibility sisters are, and there they’ll stay
together telling stories until Mama or Daddy Bill come to unwrap them gently

and put them to bed.