You need to put the diaper on the other way, stupid, your brother lectures you, as if you hadn’t practically changed his diaper growing up, such a hot mess, from day one. Though you are twins, Jade wasn’t truly potty trained until years after you, pissing in his bedsheets till he was four, five years old. You two aren’t all that similar, as a matter of fact. As a baby he never cried, he didn’t speak really until he was six or seven and even then words were spare. For Mama his cough was a gift from God.
You on the other hand, you’re a talker. You’re a girl that speaks your damn mind. Like, when he’s standing there, hovering behind you at the kitchen counter, your hands smelling like shit and goddamnit will you hand me a wipe and every time he shifts his weight he makes a shhh shhh sound and it’s driving you straight insane. The pockets of his cargo shorts are filled with change. Soon he’s going to the Kroger to cash it all out and he swears there may be twenty bucks worth in there. All morning he’s flipping couch cushions and floor mats in the car and digging in all your dress pockets, you only wear dresses with pockets because we girls have to suffer different than boys and goddamnit I want pockets just like boys. Your Aunt Valentine is helping you with groceries and baby stuff, so much damn baby stuff who knew babies needed so much stuff, but she already pushes her food stamps to the limit feeding your two hungry mouths and you think come on she’s gotta party too and you are fifteen years old, old enough to get a job pushing carts in the Walmart parking lot or scrubbing dishes in the back of O’Charleys. You know you can handle this. You know sure well you are both old enough to contribute to this family and your brother he’s going to go out and get a job, he says, right after he gets that cash.
When you turn around to grab the wipe you look at Jade for a long hard minute and sometimes it really is like looking in the mirror and sometimes it is like looking at a stranger or at least like looking in one of those carnival mirrors that make your body wiggly and long, slightly off and funnier looking but it’s still you. You are twins but not the kind that look alike but you look alike enough but he, Baby Reed, he doesn’t look like either of you. He’s like he was brought in by the postman, but he wasn’t, he was made right in this house, right here by this family.
You give your brother a look that says, this is a real messy one and your brother gives you a look back that says, I wiped his ass last time, Camryn. You two communicate this way, in unspokens, much more than actual talking. Like you said you like to talk, but you don’t even have to with Jade you’re just what they call on the same wavelength, like two colors of just a slightly different shade of blue. Or green. Jade’s favorite color is green. So everything for your baby is this awful shade of lime green that looks just like…You even stole some paint from the Walmart in that awful shade of lime green and one night Jade went out and got a Hot-n-Ready and you two and Aunt Valentine put on your holiest tees and started painting Reed’s room and though you hated that color by the time it was up on the walls you said well, this actually is kind of nice it reminds me of a fresh bite of kiwi, a fruit you only had once but you now considered your favorite fruit. You tried it when another classmate with shiny white ass sneakers in the sixth grade brought it in and she told you Yeah, you bite the furry stuff and you took a bite out of that itchy scratchy layer of green hairs and even with that, even after the girls at the table started laughing at you you thought this is the best thing I’ve ever tasted and when you look at the wall you think of that fruit and you smile inside your belly and inside your heart.
No one knows the truth about Reed except you and your brother, not even Aunt Valentine. When your belly started getting bigger you told her you were simply eating a lot of sugary cereals and frozen corndogs and when you got even bigger you said it must have been immaculate convention, you mean conception and she slapped you across your face so hard you hit the carpet and got a rug burn on your cheek (Don’t exaggerate, she later said, I was just waking your ass into motherhood.). When you got back up she was sitting on the couch, one leg crossed over the other, all calm with a TV remote in her hand, and she said this baby’s gonna be the healthiest, happiest baby in all of Deridder, as if she was making a promise not to bring anymore unhappiness into this house, into this family, as if she were saying your baby would be different than the other babies in town born to girls just like you with breasts barely perky enough to salute a one-star general, the girls without fathers or mothers or neither with babies made from immaculate convention, you got one in the oven and this muffin’s gonna be a beautiful little treat. Valentine could have said a whole bunch of mean things like hey be glad your mama OD’ed when you were three but she didn’t and she didn’t quite ask where the baby came from either she just said this muffin’s gonna be a beautiful little treat and that made you feel so good for maybe the first time in your life, even better, even better than when you had that first and only bite of kiwi.
You are wiping and wiping and your baby’s bottom is so squeaky clean you could probably kiss his toosh and your teeth would get brighter, and your brother he snickers and he goes up and plants a kiss right on your baby’s ass saying he hadn’t had a dentist appointment since he was maybe six years old and hey he needed a shine.
You love Jade with all of your heart and you know he didn’t mean anything by it he needed the loving. Like every night when it got dark and the TV in the family room went quiet he’d crawl into bed with you and hug you tight, and about half those nights he’d cry hard and soft into your hair. Those nights you’d rock him to sleep, going hey, hey hey you’re a monkee, a song you remember from somewhere in the youth that you never quite had, maybe in an aisle in the Kroger when your Mama had you two buckled up side by side in the buggie, the loudspeaker telling you you were a monkey, a fun little good time creature swinging from some tropical trees in a faraway land, or sometimes you’d sing swing low, sweet chariot, and you knew a chariot was a magical word that meant something that would take you a place other than here, and that comforted him into such a special place, a place so different than here, a place where kiwis grow on every tree and loose change flows in the rivers and beautiful babies are born with rumps as sweet and soft as muffins you went there together.