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Footstool Sister

Martheaus Perkins

My birthday is a crime scene. No one has their story straight. 

Momma says I was first out; I used my twin sister’s face as a footstool: my gumdrop toes stretching toward life, inching sis’ soft forehead toward an ovary, toward a deadly neck cord, noosing her, feticide before I could even open my eyes, discarding my mother’s ability to have more little sisters. 


This is not true, even though I believed it for ten years and swore it was what Momma told me. 

Grandma says I never had a sister; Grandma was there when the fluorescent lights first singed my thin eyelids, saw the nurses’ eyes pop through their masks and hairnets when they saw a bleak-white baby come out of a dark black woman, held me—her daughter’s only son—to the window so Auntie Lou could see me, heard Auntie Lou scream at the sight of me—well, more at the sight of “His nuts! Oh Lord, what’s wrong with his nuts! They’re like acorns, poor baby!” They say my testicles were the only shade of black on me. 


This is not true—at least it’s not true anymore. 

Momma says they tried to have a natural birth but switched to a cesarean; my baby claws latched to her so deep they had to cut me out, the 39 hours of labor, oh the humanity, my desperate attempt to fight nature, to kill Macbeth, and—in all the excitement—I left a wound in her womb that will never heal. 


Momma still references the scar. But I never latched onto anyone. 

Momma and Grandma later say that I was born asleep: too lazy to show up to my own birth awake, so serene they thought I was dead, “I don’t hear him, I can’t hear my baby,” too peace-infused, my cheeks red with life’s promises. “Dr. Nidson, what color is he?” my mom asked. They had to pinch my ass to wake me up. Wahhh, wahhh, “Thank Jesus.” 


I like the idea of this being true. 

Momma says they brought her the wrong baby. Three babies graced the incubators that day: one Latin brown, one African American brown, and one confusedly white. They brought it sheathed in a cloak, like a hidden set up to a yo momma joke, placed it among the limp things my mother’s hands had become, opened up the present, and she saw the Motherland hue, “Um. This isn’t my son.” Damn, I was so close to going home with Mr. and Mrs. Martinez; Did someone check the baby tag, must have been a typo. Who knows if my incubator brothers made it to adulthood with the same story? Who’s to say what’s true anymore? 


The key to a murder mystery is a red herring. 

Aunt says I did have a sister, only not when I thought; she says my Momma was going to have a little girl after me, her name is an old sprite in her memory, not quite tangible but maybe it started with a J. I was two, she was a miscarriage. Aunt says Momma was so sick after she had me, playing footsie with death, scarred womb, never recovered, couldn’t bear another child. 


The other trick to a murder mystery is to suspect everyone. 

I told myself the lie when I was five; there’s a haze in memory, a virus that makes the unclear believable, that makes a five-year-old misconstrue his mother’s attempt to explain why he doesn’t have a sister into a thriller, where the scars he left when he was stretching into life did kill his sister, where he casts himself as the murderer in the tongue-and-chic play. 

Martheaus Perkins is an undergraduate at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. He is an African American writer, and his heroes include Maya Angelou, Billy Collins, and Langston Hughes. His work has appeared in South Florida Poetry Journal, Sepia Quarterly, and Longleaf Review. He has two long-term dreams: seeing a panda in the wild and publishing a full-length collection. 

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