The Things We Don’t Say
I always kinda knew this, but, nonetheless, I was surprised to come home to a sign above the garage that said, “You are not the favorite daughter.” I pulled into the garage, waited, checked, and five minutes after I got home, the sign was gone. Either I imagined it, or the sign was meant for me alone. I always knew that my parents liked Ally better. She was pretty; I was smart. People prefer beauty to brains. I wasn’t really offended just more relieved to have my suspicions confirmed.
Then, I brought my CVS bag in from the car. It was filled with Carmex chapstick for me, Vanicream lotion for my mom—she has sensitive skin—and Luden’s cough drops for Dad. He doesn’t have a cough. He just likes the taste. I didn’t get anything for Ally. She doesn’t believe in buying anything beyond prescription medications at drugstores. Her makeup she gets in luxurious salons or online.
In the living room, above dad’s head, there was another sign. These signs looked like some kindergarten kid had drawn them. They had crooked letters, but it added to their character. “Your mom can be a bitch sometimes.”
“Um, Dad,” I said, “did you make that sign?”
“What sign?” he asked as he looked up. “No,” he said, setting down the remote, “but don’t you think it’s true?”
I didn’t respond. The sign thing was starting to seem like those thought bubbles in cartoons. The whole thing was a little weird. I wondered who was behind the signs and where it would stop.
Did I really want to know what everyone was thinking?
Ally came down from her room. A boy was there. The sign above her head followed her down like a bouncing ball in videos. Her sign said, “I am so hot.” The boy’s sign said, “She’s not as hot as she thinks.”
I bit my lip and tried not to laugh.
“Do you, um, know about the signs?” I asked them.
They hadn’t put their clothes back together as well as they could have.
“What signs?” They asked in unison as they looked at dad’s.
Ally was wearing a sporty girly outfit. I just had on an oversized sweater and bulky jeans.
“Did you make that?” the boy asked. “How did you hang it?”
“Look up,” I said.
He observed the sign above his head.
“Wow,” he said. “Cool, mystical.”
“That’s what you’re thinking?” Ally asked, observing his sign with disgust.
“That’s what you’re thinking?” he said laughing.
Mom came in. Hers said, “If I’m bitchy, it’s only because I haven’t had sex in three weeks.”
On seeing Mom’s sign, Dad tried to get his sign to go away.
“I’m sorry,” he said. His face was turning red. I didn’t want to know more details.
Then, my sign appeared. It said, “The boy is hot.”
“Oh, God,” I thought.
“Hey, thanks,” he said.
“He’d never go for you in a million years,” Ally’s sign said. “He doesn’t like fat chicks.”
My face turned red.
The boy turned to her, said, “Ally, you’re a bitch.”
The signs faded away. The boy would leave. I wished I could leave.
“Rebecca, right?” the boy said.
“Yeah,” I said, my face as red as dad’s unnecessary cough drops. He was chewing on them loudly. They were looking at me, all of them.
“Sorry,” I said. What else could I say? I supposed he was going to make a joke.
“I’m leaving,” he said.
“Yeah, I don’t blame you. I don’t know what’s up with the signs.”
“Sorry about your parents and Ally. But the signs are kind of cool in a way, don’t you think?”
The signs were back. My sign was dancing and saying, “You are really, really, really hot.”
Ally’s sign was saying, “Rebecca is a loser.”
Dad’s sign was apologizing to Mom and asking if she wanted to have sex. Mom’s sign said, “What are you waiting for?” They went rather obviously upstairs, and then it was me, Ally, and the boy, whose name I still didn’t know.
He went to the closet to grab his jacket. My sign said, “You were nice. Sorry about Ally.”
I picked up the book I was reading. Ally went upstairs. The boy came back over.
“Good book?” he asked.
“Look, it’s okay. You can go.”
“You get ignored a lot.”
My sign said, “Look at me. Look at her. What do you think?”
Ally had Barbie blonde hair. I had hair the color of maple icing, the kind that no one wants to eat. Ally had contacts that made her eyes change color every day of the week. I had glasses the thickness of a glass milk bottle, the old fashioned kind. She was modern and pretty. I was the sister who read books and spent my Saturdays alone.
“You’re nice too,” his sign said.
He said, out loud, “You have a pretty smile.” And then I didn’t know what to do.
“Look, just go,” I said. But he looked at my sign for guidance. “I still think you’re hot,” my sign said. He had a short haircut and muscles. I doubted that he ever read. “But I don’t date brainless boys,” my sign added.
“I like reading British novels,” he told me. “Like Graham Greene and E.M. Forester.”
“God, this is so embarrassing,” I thought. My sign told him this. “You can go now,” I said.
“But what if,” he said. His sign said, “I think you’re hot too.” I wondered if the sign could lie.
Upstairs, I could hear my parents making love too loudly. I guess they figured we all knew what they were doing.
“You two were quieter,” I said.
“Oh, we just fooled around some.”
“I couldn’t,” his sign said. “So I made up some lame excuse.”
“This is really weird,” I said. “All of it.”
“Yeah, everything,” he said, “except this.”
He took my hand in his and kissed it like we were characters in some old time movie.
“Do you like old time movies?” I asked him.
“Love them,” he said. His sign added details about which leading ladies he particularly preferred. He liked Rosalind Russell and Myrna Loy.
I set the book down and looked at him. He sat down beside me. Maybe this was just a dream? Otherwise, how could I explain the signs? So, I did something I never did. I leaned over and kissed Ally’s boy. “Fireworks,” his sign said. “She’s hot,” it added. “Hotter than her sister.”
“Your sign is crazy,” I said.
My sign said, “I really, really like you.”
“I wish my sign would shut up,” I said.
“My name’s Jake,” he said.
“Jake,” I repeated. And then we kissed more.
Upstairs, my mom was saying, “Do me.” My dad was screaming “God, yes. “ In the living room, our signs danced together as I kissed Jake and kissed Jake. It sounded like my parents were doing the same on the floor above us, and Ally was the only one who was alone.
Lori D’Angelo’s work has appeared in various literary journals including The Bakery, Connotation Press, Drunken Boat, Everyday Genius, Forge, Gargoyle, Gravel, Hamilton Stone Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Heavy Feather Review, Juked, Literary Mama, Manifest Station, The New Verse News, Prime Number Magazine, Red Lighbulbs, r.kv.r.y., Reed Magazine, Stirring: A Literary Collection, TAB, and Word Riot. She is a fellow at Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, a grant recipient from the Elizabeth George Foundation, and an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Fiction Workshop. She lives in Virginia with her family.